Moving into a home with a fireplace

Written by Douglas Ross in Buying

A fire within a fireplace

When searching for homes for sale or rent with view.com.au, simply use the keyword “fireplace” in the filters section to find homes suited for those winter months. 

Moving into an old Victorian terrace often comes with the same question, “Can we use the fireplace?”. While renters may not be able to use a fireplace within a home (this is often made explicit in a rental agreement), home owners can decide whether to keep their fireplaces ornamental or reopen them for use.

What are the benefits of a fireplace?

The greatest benefit of a fireplace is its aesthetic influence on the home, and the clear benefit of having an open fire in the winter months. In essence: it’s cozy and warm.

A dog sits by a fire

It isn’t quite clear whether heating your home with fireplaces is cheaper than using modern heating systems, as older fireplaces are often not optimised to effectively spread the heat they produce (most of the heat in many older fireplaces escapes through the chimney). This means you potentially spend more money on feeding these fires with the fuel (wood). Modern wood heaters are designed to maximise the heating efficiency, so you may consider using the existing chimney and flu system in your home for a modern wood heater.

However, don’t use it as a furnace, and only use a fireplace for several hours at a time. Sourcing affordable wood and burning it effectively, however, can be a potential way to heat a singular room and so lower your energy prices (and optimise the sustainability of your home) as long as you are willing to live in a more compartmentalised way during winter (sacrificing on having every room of the house heated throughout the night in winter).

Blocking or unblocking an old fireplace

You may choose to block up your fireplace when moving into a new home. This can either be a small job of effectively closing off a fireplace’s flu system, or removing the hearth (the concrete/stone slab at the floor of the fireplace) and blocking up the entire fireplace to hide it behind a wall. One is understandably much more expensive than the other, but both should be done by a professional.

Opening up/unblocking an old fireplace is much more involved and should almost always be done by a professional. This is because they have the equipment (i.e. cameras) and knowledge to identify faults in the existing fireplace and chimney system, such as moisture damage or cracks and holes.

Remember to have a builder/conveyancer inspect all chimneys or hidden chimneys prior to buying a home, to identify whether they are in use and whether they pose a structural threat to the property if accessed/removed. Fireplaces and chimneys of older homes, especially period homes, undergo transformations over the years, so it is important to have a professional identify the exact condition of your fireplaces.

How to use your fireplace

A professional chimney sweeper will ensure there isn’t an excess build-up of soot and creosote along the chimney walls, which can cause chimney fires, as well as make sure you have a flue cover at the top of the chimney to prevent roof fires from embers.

Burning embers

Once you know the fireplace is ready for use, open a window within the room to ensure any air pressure forced down the chimney can escape and get lighting. You may want a professional to also install piping between the outside and the chimney, to allow better airflow and reduce the chimney’s need to draw on air within your home through the various cracks and gaps that may exist around the home.

As for maintenance, make sure you have your chimney inspected annually, predominantly for the build-up of soot and creosote, but also for any structural damage or acidic damage to the masonry caused by that soot and creosote. It is best to have your chimney inspected in early Spring, after you have had a full season’s use of it but before the warmer and humid weather has a chance to mix with the creosote and cause the formation of those corrosive acids.

Wood burning tips

A wood pile

  • Burn aged wood, not ‘green’ wood. This should be wood that has been dried and aged for at least six months, as it burns more efficiently than fresh green wood and does not produce the same level of soot and creosote.
  • Burn hardwoods, rather than softwoods. In Australia, the most accessible hardwoods are River Red Gum wood in NSW, Vic and SA; Ironbark and Box wood in NT and Qld; Jarrah and Wandoo wood in WA; and Brown Peppermint wood in TAS.
  • Burn sustainably-sourced woods, that are produced in plantations.
  • Store your wood off the ground, to avoid it encountering ground moisture.
  • Split your wood to ensure it dries quickly.

When searching for homes for sale or rent with view.com.au, simply use the keyword “fireplace” in the filters section to find homes suited for those winter months.