Oh the lovely fire. Its energy heats us, empowers us, calms us down, creates a snug atmosphere and brings a piece of raw nature into our households. Planning a new home without it would seem as if being crazy enough to agree with missing out on something so important, so vital. Well, it seems like we are crazy enough.
Our story of a fire place has been a long one. It stretches a good 10 years back to my very first house ideas. In fact, my early designs comprised of a circular layout. I still consider the round shape a great form, however, ideally working on a small one room footprint. For a complex house with rooms and interior walls it is a relatively challenging concept.
Since then, I have always been picturing my perfect home with a decently sized fire place in a living room or an open plan kitchen-living area. Later, after learning about different types of fire places and the way they release heat, I considered the old fashioned solid masonry oven stove to be our ultimate winner. As our journey to building a house was closing in, so did my research into pretty much everything related to it. I started connecting the dots. When applying for the building permission our architectural plans still featured a chimney and a fire place. Mind, it was not an oven stove any more. Our downsizing did not stop there. I guess in my Changes I even forgot to mention the fact, that at that point we actually took the fire place off our plans for good.
The lovely radiant heat of accumulation stoves has been working all over Europe for centuries. Yet, the important factor to recognize is that the buildings they were used to heat have not been built to our current energy standards. I have been to houses, some older, some newer, where this kind of heating was used as the main energy source. I have seen buildings with standard fire places and small accumulation fire stoves. I've looked at hard core facts and reviews of inhabitants using fires in very well insulated and passive houses. The conclusion we made surprised even ourselves. It was not an easy decision to make.
We sat down by our kitchen table and wrote down the pros and cons of having a fire place in a very low energy/passive standard house. The list follows:
- a main or a back up heat source
- an atmosphere and ambient light created by a burning fire
- a psychological central gathering place
- a healthy radiant heat which positively ionises the air
- an ultimate off grid heating solution in case of electricity being down or another emergency situation
- rarely used due to no need for additional heat - as per reviews of people with relevant experience
- a costly specially insulated chimney with separate oxygen inlet which has to be regularly serviced
- a special costly stove with a very little slow-release heat output suitable for low energy houses
- a sacrifice of space taken by the fire place as well as the extra "safe zone" around it
- the atmosphere of burning fire, although nice, lasts only a short period of time. After that, your stove accumulates and any additional wood put in is not only unneccessary, but has damaging consequences to the stove as well as the chimney
- the maintenance required - preparation of fire wood, taking care of ashes, cleaning off dust, sawdust and smoke blackened glass
- the pollution to the atmosphere is still fairly high even when using properly dried wood and keeping the correct wood-burning instructions
- dust particals from burning can be connected to respiratory health issues
- due to its fire hazard having a fire place raises a cost of house insurance
- child safety
- can't be automated and temperature controlled
- a lack of future optimization - basically, you can't make wood burn any better
- the lazyness factor - this last point is a specific one for us
So, my conclusion is, that burning an occassional candle might do the trick for us. After all, it has done it so far and to avoid breathing in the paraffin, a proper bees wax candle it shall be. For other people, there is also an option of a bio fuelled fire place. It is not as authentic as the real thing and it still poses a fire-hazard, but might work for the atmosphere. We are not considering having one, but who knows? We are still very much looking forward to our exterior patio open fire though.
Good bye, my lovely fire place!