Open fires: Gorgeous and good value

Got a romantic notion about having an open fire? Go ahead – it's a great way to save money, says Jimmy Lee Shreeve

As the cold and credit crunch bite, more and more people are turning to open fires to keep themselves warm and cut down on skyrocketing fuel bills. But it isn't only about saving money; there's something satisfying and primal about building your own fire – perhaps because it dates back to the dawn of our species. Looking into the flames also has a strong aesthetic, almost hypnotic, appeal.

"I always like to have an open fire wherever I hang up my hat," says London-based actor Robert Goodman, whose movie credits include Gangs of New York. "But for me, saving money is always a secondary consideration, even in austere times when I need to cut back. You simply can't beat staring into the flames on a cold winter's night – it stimulates your imagination and is often more rewarding than watching television."

As well as their romantic appeal, open fires can also save you money. Recent figures from the Solid Fuel Technology Institute (www.soliftec.com) suggest that burning wood alone, or mixed with coal, costs around half that of gas or oil – and that's leaving aside free supplies collected from skips or the countryside.

Unsurprisingly, sales of wood-burning and multi-fuel stoves are up 40 per cent on last year, according to the Solid Fuel Association (www.solidfuel.co.uk). The president of the Coal Merchants Federation reported a 20 per cent increase in sales, with fellow members enjoying similar rises in business. And the National Association of Chimney Sweeps noted a "resurgence" in demand for their services – to the point that some firms now have two- or three-month waiting lists.

Most older properties will have a fireplace, but often it will be blocked off with plasterboard or bricks. Fortunately, these can be removed fairly easily. But before you light a fire, it's important to check that the chimney is clear and hasn't been capped. It might also be necessary to hire a builder to fix any deteriorated mortar pointing in the chimney.

Another thing to find out is whether you live in a smoke-control area – a common regulation in most large towns and cities in the UK. You can check this at www.uksmokecontrolareas.co.uk. If you live in a smokeless zone, you'll have to use smokeless fuel (anthracite, for example), not wood or standard coal.

Your chimney also needs to be swept on a regular basis, which costs around £30 to £40. Gas and smokeless-fuel fires should be cleaned once a year, coal twice and wood four times a year. It's a skilled job, so only use chimney sweeps that are registered with the National Association of Chimney Sweeps (www.nacs.org.uk). Its members have to go through rigorous checks and tests before they can join.

One of the key aims of the association is to focus people's attention on heating their homes safely. "The two things we're trying to do are to eliminate the horrors and dangers of chimney fires, and to prevent the tragedies of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by blocked chimneys and flue-ways," says the association's president, Martin Glynn, who also runs BG Wright Master Sweep Services (www.chimneysweep.co.uk).

Glynn says a chimney fire typically starts when people burn green wood, which still has oil and sap in it. "This mixes with water vapour and other volatiles, goes up into a cold chimney, cools down and can roll back into the chimney where it condenses as tar." Left untreated this can become highly flammable. According to research conducted for the Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! campaign (www.co-bealarmed.co.uk), more than half of UK households have a chimney, but few are aware that not getting it swept regularly can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be fatal (around 30 deaths occur each year).

"Blockages in the chimney can alter the combustion balance or cause carbon monoxide to enter the home, instead of being safely vented from the property outside," says Bob Russell from the Guild of Master Sweeps (www.guild-of-master-sweeps.co.uk). "Even if you only use your fire at Christmas, you still need to get your chimney swept at least annually to protect yourself from the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning."

If your aim is to save money, there's another issue with open fires – as much as 90 per cent of the heat goes up the chimney. The most efficient alternative is to install a multi-fuel or wood-burning boiler/stove, which can be combined with your existing oil or gas central-heating system, or it can replace it altogether.

If you're worried about green issues, then a wood-burning stove or log fire is the way to go. Wood is considered carbon neutral because it only releases the CO2 captured by the growth of the tree. And an efficient multi-fuel fire (half wood and half smokeless fuel) produces less carbon dioxide than a gas condensing boiler. Then there are green fuels, such as Green Dragon briquettes (www.greendragonfuel.co.uk), which are made as a by-product of oil-seed rape and provide both eco-benefits and cost savings – they burn three times as long as wood and give off twice as much heat.

The ultimate in saving is to forage for wood yourself. But as actor Robert Goodman says: "You do need to be able to tell your ash from your oak." Hard woods such as ash burn far more slowly than soft woods such as cedar. And he offers another good tip: "It needs to be seasoned," he says. "Keep it off the ground and well-ventilated for a good nine months, and it'll burn a treat."

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridgeface-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture