Do you know why some people might choose a closed combustion fireplace over an open fire fireplace? Or why it’s pretty important to ask a professional to help with installing your fireplace once you’ve found your perfect fireplace match? To get the answers to these questions and more, we sat down with Gideon du Preez, a sought-after fireplace installation service provider from Pretoria.
Here, he shares his expert tips and advice on everything related to selecting and installing your fireplace.
HOW DID YOU BECOME A FIREPLACE INSTALLER?
The wood-burning industry is growing, with exciting opportunities, especially when it comes to closed combustion fireplaces. These fireplaces have been very successful on the European market for more than 150 years now, simply because they are incredibly efficient – no alternative solution has taken over the market in all this time; the technology only got better
Coming from a financial background, these considerations prompted me to start an installation service delivery business with a focus on the fireplace and braai industries.
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CHALLENGES OF YOUR JOB?
In terms of carrying out safe and compliant fireplace installations, the work my team and I do is relatively high risk if not executed with due care.
Also, it is quite seasonal. The lead time to installing a fireplace during peak winter months can be two to three weeks. Some clients suddenly realise during winter that they need an immediate solution to warm up their cold houses, then contact us and expect installation to happen within a day of making their booking. Our teams are well trained to deal with all safety matters and we take pride in what we do, so expanding installation capacity with temp staff during peak periods is not an option for us; we rather advise customers to contact us as soon as possible to get their fireplaces and installations reserved.
At two to three installations per day during the winter months, we strive to satisfy around 50 customers per month. Unlike, for example, a building contractor that has one or two clients per month, we have two to three clients per day and many more enquiries coming in daily. This can at times be daunting. So, time management to deliver quality work and managing client perceptions and expectations is key but can sometimes be a challenge.
But receiving photos from satisfied clients showing their little ones, pets, and other family members snug and warm, enjoying their new fireplace, is extremely rewarding.
WHEN IS THE IDEAL TIME TO BUY A FIREPLACE AND BOOK AN INSTALLATION?
The time is now. As soon as you are ready to start the process of choosing your fireplace, we invite you to contact us.
Although we realise winter is fireplace season, we always laugh and tell clients they should have installed their fireplaces in summer and their swimming pools during winter! But, seriously, the dream scenario would be for a client to contact us long before winter sets in simply because our lead time will be shorter and more often than not there should be no stock availability concerns.
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING AND INSTALLING A FIREPLACE?
There are four essential considerations when it comes to selecting your fireplace:
1. The size and attributes of the space where your fireplace will be installed
It is essential that the kilowatt output of your fireplace matches the size of the area it has to warm. For example, if you have a 100-square-meter room with double-volume ceilings and you have a small fireplace with a low kilowatt output installed, it will not be sufficient, and therefore it won’t be a good investment.
2. Your preferred type of heat distribution
Some of the most energy-efficient fireplaces are closed combustion cast iron and closed combustion steel fireplaces. Both work well, but they distribute heat differently.
A closed combustion cast iron fireplace produces radiant heat. This means that the entire fireplace heats up and then distributes heat in all directions (mainly through the front due to the glass and vents). This radiant heat increases the temperature of everything in the room. Wood, fabrics and so on – everything in the room will heat up by one or two degrees. If you have a standard, one-storey house with standard ceilings, a closed combustion cast iron fireplace could be the right choice for you.
A closed combustion steel fireplace, like those in the Bosca range, distributes heat from the front. Where you see the flames, you’ll feel the heat. Steel fireplaces give out a more direct type of heat. If you have a smaller living space, these steel fireplace units may be for you as they can be installed closer to wooden furniture, leather couches, indoor plants, and so on.
3. The complexity of your installation
If you live in a standard, single-storey house, you will require a standard fireplace installation with your flue system going upwards through the ceiling and roof. If you live in a double-storey house and want your fireplace installed on the ground floor, it will not be a standard installation, as we will have to fit the pipes to go through the concrete slab on the top floor or through the sidewall and upwards on the outside. This will involve extra procedures like core drilling, and additional accessories will be required.
4. Your budget
It's not as straightforward as thinking that an 8 kW fireplace is the cheapest and a 20 kW fireplace is the most expensive. You can get a very expensive 8 kW fireplace and a low-priced 20 kW fireplace. So, it’s not as simple as thinking that heat output = price. I’d say quality impacts price much more than heat output.
WHAT ARE THE BASIC STEPS TO INSTALLING A FIREPLACE?
Do you want to admire your fireplace next to your flatscreen TV, or do you want it crackling away close to where you are sitting? Deciding on the position of your fireplace is the very first step in the fireplace installation process.
Is it possible for your fireplace to be installed in your preferred position? After a telephonic discussion, we usually ask clients to provide us with very specific photos of their house and the space they'd like their fireplace installed. If it sounds like a complicated installation, we are happy to go out and consult on-premise. But it needn't be a complex process – for the most part, we can supply clients with a quote based on photos or videos to speed up the process.
Once we have all the necessary information relating to your fireplace installation, we will supply you with a quote for the work. If the quote is accepted, a deposit is required to secure your booking. This deposit is a standard industry requirement. A lot of planning and prep work precedes an installation, and it is vital to know that a client is committed and that the arrangement is fixed and confirmed. Your deposit ensures that your fireplace installation will run smoothly and on schedule.
Once all the planning and groundwork has been done, and your deposit has been received, all that’s left is the actual installation. A typical standard fireplace installation for a single-storey house (with pipes going upwards through the ceiling) can be completed in three to five hours.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE YOUR FIREPLACE INSTALLATION CARRIED OUT BY A PROFESSIONAL?
Installing a fireplace yourself (or getting a non-qualified person to do so) is a genuine fire risk, and you can lose your house, or even worse, people can lose their lives.
Many fireplaces come with flue kits and basic installation guidelines. Yet, we often have to redo fireplace installations where pipes were installed incorrectly and damage has already been done. Waterproofing is another major factor. A faulty fireplace installation can cause leaking and damage to your roof.
Lastly, we ensure that your installation is done neatly and level so that your fireplace complements your living space and doesn’t end up being an eyesore in your home. We take pride in carrying out every aspect of our work to the highest standards and supply a standard one-year warranty on our workmanship.
WHAT ARE THE IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE CHOOSING A FIREPLACE INSTALLER?
Installation costs – and the installer’s capacity to do the work within a reasonable timeframe. The warranty is given on the installation. Products and technology used, for example for waterproofing.
I also think it’s essential to have a look at the installer's portfolio of previous work, visit their social media pages, and read some online Google reviews to get a sense of their previous work as well as their work ethic. All these measures will help ensure that a "fly-by-night" person does not carry out your fireplace installation.
DO YOU HAVE A FIREPLACE IN YOUR OWN HOME? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE IT FOR US?
I’ve got a 12-kW closed combustion cast iron fireplace installed in my house.
Cast iron provides good, radiant heat, so it retains heat for longer than a steel fireplace would. I have a single-storey, average-sized house, but it is open-plan in layout. My lounge area is probably 60 to 70 square meters in size, but with the open-plan area leading to the kitchen and second living area, there is a bit of heat loss due to the open-plan layout. To compensate for that, I chose to go for a cast iron closed combustion fireplace with a bigger kW output.
ANY MORE FIREPLACE TIPS YOU’D LIKE TO SHARE?
The type of wood you use in your fireplace is very important.
You should only use properly dried wood (also sometimes referred to as “seasoned wood”) in your fireplace. Source well-dried wood from a reputable wood supplier, as green wood will release moisture that can cause your fireplace to rust on the inside, and it also won’t burn as “clean” as it should. Importantly, using green wood can shorten the lifespan of your fireplace. Using pine wood is a big no-no, as its high sap content produces tarry smoke that can coat the inside of your fireplace and chimney and create a fire hazard.
It is also smart to use wood from alien or invasive tree species like blue gum or black wattle in your fireplace. These invasive tree species are already being deforested in our country and therefore perfect for use as firewood. Using wood from invasive tree species is affordable and doing so also protects our indigenous trees.
Maintain your fireplace. Book a yearly “health check” with us before winter starts or after winter to know that it’s ready for the next winter. In the case of the wood burner fireplaces, the flue system should be cleaned and serviced every year, as indicated in your user manual. This will enhance the combustion process of your fireplace and it will also increase its lifespan.
If your wood burner’s glass turns black during use, use a damp cloth, dab it in the ashes in your fireplace and wipe the glass. The ash cleans the glass nicely and it does not cost you anything. If your glass turns black too often, you may want to get your flue system cleaned or have a look at the type of wood you burn or its moisture levels.
WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK AN EXPERT…
If you’d like even more information about installing fireplaces, you can visit Gideon’s website at www.theinstallersa.co.za Be sure to have a look at the super-useful Frequently Asked Questions section – it offers even more fireplace-related information.
Also consult our full list of recommended installers.
What happens after you’ve bought and installed your new fireplace? You need to learn how to keep it prepped, cleaned and safe.