Once considered the “heart” of the house around which the family gathered, the fireplace, or hearth, for centuries used to be the only source of heating and there was one in any ancient house. Still in our days the fireplace embodies a timeless fascination, able to evoke special atmospheres, although it has gone through necessary transformations compared to the traditional wood fireplaces. Today’s fireplaces come in a variety of options to choose from, based not only on aesthetics or size, but also on their functioning, the combustible they burn and the kind of installation.
Beyond wood: how to choose a fireplace?
Undoubtedly wood fireplaces have an undisputed charm. However, there are some downsides - lighting or putting out cannot be programmed, the fire is fed manually, it is not easy to stock wood - that have led to also use other kinds of combustibles. The most valid alternative to wood fireplaces certainly are pellet fireplaces, highly thermal efficient, ecologic and clean, available in easily transportable bags and obtained from the wastes of wood processing. Since it needs to be plugged to electric power in order to work, the enormous advantage of this kind of fireplace is that it can be controlled electronically, lighting and putting out can be programmed even remotely and it is more economically convenient compared to traditional fossil fuels. Good alternatives to wood and pellet, aside from gas, are natural fuels like corn, nuts shells or sunflowers seeds and bio-ethanol, an ecologic fuel produced through the fermentation of green substances, that does not release smoke or smells. The main plus of bioethanol fireplaces is that they are vent-free, what makes it easy to installe them in any space, including the outdoor.
Where to locate a fireplace in the project phase
Unless you opt for a bio-ethanol fireplace, and especially in apartment buildings, the installation of a design fireplace is strictly bound to the availability of a chimney which characteristics respond to precise rules. Once the chimney location is ascertained, the living area is normally the environment that best than others lends well to host a fireplace, as it is the most used room and the one where we welcome our guests. Depending on the model you opt for, fireplaces can be installed aga.nist a wall, at the center of a wall, in the corner or, if the room size allows, central to a room, touching the floor or even suspended to get a striking scenic effect. Double sided or even three sided fireplaces are elegant and of extraordinary visual impact. They are used to visually separate two areas or to zone the two spaces within a same area according to their function – dining and living area for instance. Fireplaces can also be used outdoor. Outdoor fireplaces are available in several models and allow to enjoy the outdoor areas also with low temperatures.
Fireplace as an alternative to the classic heating system
Apart from being a mere aesthetic choice, a fireplace can make for a valid alternative to the classic heating system. While examining the different types of fireplaces it is worth noticing that the hearth, that is where the real combustion takes place - reason why it is also called “combustion chamber”- can be open or close. In the former case heat is distributed by irradiation or convection and is therefore abundantly subject to dispersion; in the second case a ceramic glass makes the fireplace safer from sparks and even more efficient in terms of heat diffusion. Generally a fireplace is only functional to warm up the room where it is placed, unless there is a boiler fireplace that branched to a pipe system brings the heat to the whole house. It can run with air and water, hence connecting with the traditional heating system based on radiators or heating panels; in the most advanced versions, boiler fireplaces also produce hot sanitary water, thus fully replacing the classic boiler with a great impact on energy efficiency.
Fireplaces in history. From hearth to modern furnishing element
Until the Middle Age, fireplaces were centrally positioned in a room so to allow the heat to spread homogeneously. Around 1000 this setting caused numerous fires, some of which devastating (like in London and Lubeck), due to the houses being mainly built in wood and straw. To end these accidents, houses started being built in stone and bricks. It was then possible to move the fireplace to the walls, which were not flammable any longer, and to put one in every room for heating, but also for cooking. Wall-mounted fireplaces had some flaws too, especially related to fumes and the non-homogeneous heat irradiation. However, they stayed on the wave until the XIV century, despite some slight changes that led to the semi built-in model that established until 1600. Only towards the end of 1700 scientific studies allowed to delve into diverse techniques and materials to increase fireplaces efficiency and safety, until we got to the modern fireplaces we know today.
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