Let’s talk fire!

Fire! Tadadaa I’ll take you to learn, fire! Tadadaa! Or maybe I should just let Arthur Brown sing it…

I’ve been raised with fire. Ever since I was a little boy, my parents had a cassette which burned practically every winter evening. I’ve always liked the warmth it provides, so I knew that sooner or later I’d look into the possibilities of getting fire into our house.

Then a couple of years ago Chrisje’s parents had a soapstone fireplace installed. A different mindset, a different kind of warmth. But an interesting one… Hence the search started. Let’s talk fireplaces!

Wood & pellet powered

The wood powered options all require you to haul wood, so if that’s something you don’t want to do, you’ll have to look at the other options. With that said, I find them to be the most authentic ones.

Open fireplace

Ah, the fireplace of the nobles, the elite, the kings in times long gone by now!

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Coincidentally also the one we had…

Our open fireplace in better days

This one is very, very very inefficient, most of the warmth of the fire goes up the chimney and out of the house. Don’t take my word for it, but I bet those kings and knights didn’t get their castles very warm during the long winter evenings…

Cast iron

A first improvement is to contain the fire somehow.


The cast iron contains the flames and stores some of the heat to radiate later on. However these can be extremely hot, so don’t touch! In earlier days these were also used to cook on sometimes.


A more modern attempt at improving the open fire, a cassette contains the fire as well to keep the fire within the house.

Cassette insert fireplace

Some models may be equipped with a fan and hence require electricity for proper functioning (like the one at my parents’ house). These are usually installed into an existing fireplace as an insert. You can get them in all kinds of styles: single window, corner, see-through or triple window, completely round… See the gas fireplaces for photos.


Like the cast iron one, this one stores heath to radiate it later on.

Wood Stove

Because of the huge mass they have a great capacity for heat storage, so that it’s possible to keep your house warm while only needing to burn a fire for 2 to 3 hours a day. However, they’re more expensive because of the mass of stone that goes into building one of these (at least if you get a “real” one and not one that is merely lined with soapstone): they start at approximately 1200 kg…

Pellet powered

The latest and technologically most advanced fireplaces are pellet powered. If you want something you can show off and brag about to technically less inclined ones, this is it! You feed it an amount of pellets, which then “drip” into the combustion chamber. No tugging around with logs, pellets usually come in easy to handle bags.

Pellet fireplace

It does require electricity (for the feeder and the automatic starter, if you have one, for instance). The more advanced your burner, the higher the requirements for your pellets (size, moisture, …) and the higher the price of a bag. If you’ve got the space for it, you can place a silo outside and even have them completely automated as a regular central heating system.

Gas powered

Heaven for those that are design lovers, most gas fireplaces are made to fit into a minimalist interior. The fireplace itself consists of faux-logs to hide the gas burners from sight. You have the traditional single window as a standalone…

Stanford 80

… or as a built-in…

Grand Contemporary Fireplace

… double window see through…

See-through gas fireplace

… or corner…

Corner gas fireplace

… or even triple window variant.

Three-sided gas fireplace

The obvious downside is that you need a gas connection (or a gas tank) situated where you want your fireplace. No gas, no fire! The upside is equally evident: no hauling with wooden logs or pellets, no gel that can emit odor. It’s just fire at the flick of a switch! You can even get an insert to convert a wood burning fireplace into a gas burning one, if you want to. The newer ones don’t require a chimney but can vent through the wall, giving you more freedom in where to place one.

Gel powered

As with the gas fireplaces, these (especially the smaller ones) can be aimed at design-loving-people. You might have seen these before. They’re available from very small…

Small gel fireplace

… to normal size…

Regular gel fireplace

… and usually don’t require a vent. You put the gel in it, light it up, and let it burn. These fireplaces have one purpose: to generate an atmosphere around them (and a little bit of heath). Depending on the location of your house, don’t expect to warm up your space much. Also available as insert, but why would anyone in their right mind even consider that?

Electric powered

I don’t believe in electrical heating. Except maybe for a temporary solution. But certainly not structural. It takes a lot of effort and energy to create electricity, so why waste it on heating? Make better use of it! As such, I will not provide any research on it.

Some general advice

Some other things I came across that are important to keep in mind:

  • Except for the small gel fireplaces, it is recommended to get an external source of air (thus not sucking any air out of the room you’re trying to heat to keep the fire going). The more air-tight you construct your house, the more important this becomes. Think of it like this: if your living room is completely air-tight and you light a fire without external suction, it takes oxygen (and air in general) from your living room. As this can’t be replenished, you’ll create underpressure in the room, eventually leading to air getting sucked in from somewhere. Now, a house never is completely airtight, there are always some means to get air out: your extractor, ventilation maybe, you name it. However, sucking air in through something that is meant to get polluted air out is bad, very bad. Don’t do it!
  • This was supposed to be a list, but then I didn’t find any other advice to give. Now it’s a list!

Choices, choices

So, what to choose, what to choose? It all depends on the situation and your preferences. Do you want to haul logs around or not? Is there a gas line available? Do you want to get warm (then forget the tiny gel burners or open fireplace), or cosy (then I wouldn’t go for a pellet powered to be honest)? In our case, I wanted a wood burning stove. The open fireplace is a no-go in our house (it is slowly making a comeback, but only in houses that are very energy-efficient and thus require very little heating; in such a house a regular fireplace would create too much heat!), the cast iron really doesn’t fit our style, so we are left with cassette, soapstone or pellet power. What would you choose? And, if you haven’t been in our home lately, what do you think we chose?


If any of my Norwegian friends are reading this, remember Mountain Weekend? Still have to think about the drive every time I hear this (and with all the fire I just had to think about it)