Designed to remove the chill and save energy
Indoor fireplaces are synonymous with Western Cape lifestyles, writes AnnaMarie Smith
FIREPLACES designed using new technology are increasingly seen in modern coastal homes where quality, aesthetics and comfort have been prioritised.
Newcomers to the Cape are well known for not settling into Cape winters quite as comfortably as they adjust to summer living on verandas, close to beaches and mountains. Yet, with a bit of help from a thriving fireplace industry, they are seen to convert long wet winters into sociable periods of fine living, aided by delectable viticulture and gastronomic pleasures. Depending on budget, geographical orientation and knowledge, crackling fires can be heat efficient, cost effective, environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing.
A competitive edge among suppliers and importers of different types of indoor fireplace solutions in this region makes for a broad range of choices for consumers. Expert advice provides cutting edge technology that goes beyond visual appearances and therapeutic qualities. Residents are able to invest in any number of energy-saving, heat-efficient and healthy varieties, from wood, gas, oil to electricity.
Architects and developers agree that the majority of designs for new builds in the Cape include indoor fireplaces. Cape Town architect Hanlie Booyens of BE3 Architects says indoor fireplaces are part and parcel of interior designs in the Western Cape. She says it forms an integral part of the earliest stages of planning a new home with its owners.
As a result, she says, approximately 90% of BE3’s architectural plans facilitate the installation of indoor fireplaces, either during the building process, or make provision for installation at a later stage.
Whereas some property agents say fireplaces feature more prominently in south-facing locations, as opposed to areas with northern orientations, Rawson Properties Bergvliet franchise principal John Westin says that fireplaces are not commonly listed as prerequisites for house pur- chases in this area. However, he says when homes do feature at least one fireplace, it adds to the overall aesthetics and as a result is an ideal marketing tool for selling houses in the Southern Suburbs.
Regarding traditional fireplaces, Westin says some older houses built around Bergvliet and Constantia reflect a strong British heritage dating back to the 50’s and 60’s.
In addition to good insulation for all weather conditions, he says high efficiency wood fireplaces in these houses were designed for optimal drawing capacity and minimal smoke output.
He says although some are open systems known to lose heat and produce more smoke compared to closed systems, it remains a popular choice.
Rawson Property Group founder Bill Rawson’s opinion is: “If a home owner wishes to upgrade his home, the installation of an indoor braai will probably add more to its value today than many such traditional extras as a pool or an extra garage.”
What improved the efficiency of fireplaces and wood stoves as far back as the 18th century was the convection chamber, when airflow was improved by pulling air from a basement while upward venting was facilitated. Today, expert attention to technical detail also allows for optimum heating with limited carbon emissions, energy cost savings, and clean interior air. Wood as a carbon neutral, and a greater renewable resource than the various forms of fossil fuels used to heat fires, is the most popular, and as a result modern system are designed to enable indoor air quality.
According to global research, fireplaces with an open hearth have the greatest negative impact on indoor health and the quality of the air. In countries where green building certification of homes is enforced, builders are automatically disqualified when the mixture of gases and fine particles from wood smoke is proven harmful to occupants of a building, as it does in the case of as vent-free or unvented gas fireplaces.
Industry professionals say whether home occupants burn natural gas, pellets or wood, highefficiency units draw combustion air in from the outdoors, which eliminates the waste of already heated indoor air, for the purpose of fuelling a fire.
Booyens says the best indoor heat efficiency achieved during Cape winters is through high-efficiency, closed-system wood-burning varieties.
And although gas fireplaces are popular due to easy maintenance and a smoke-free environment, in her experience these do not provide the same heat levels.