The hearth is the heart of the home

A fireplace is warm, familiar and creates a focal point in the room. Who hasn’t been beguiled by the flickering flames and whiled away many an hour in a comfy chair by the fireplace? J.W. Corley 1. wrote in 1960 (p14) that his ideal county home for the aged would focus on heating:


Whilst the risks of open fireplaces render them less likely to be used in aged care facilities, the lure of a fireplace is timeless.  Yet sadly some fireplaces are disappearing with old heating units removed and dried flower arrangements, adornments or shelving inserted into the empty void instead.


There are typically 4 types of fireplaces readily used – gas, wood burning, electric and ethanol.

Gas fireplaces are becoming more popular as the heat effect is quick, they are affordable and installation is fairly simple with no brick chimney required2. This form of heating does produce some waste product (carbon monoxide and water vapour) so require a flue or a well ventilated room3. However, with the rising costs of gas, alternatives need to be considered3. Wood fireplaces are considered to be timeless and generate good heat2. As a renewable source of energy compared to other forms of heat, wood heaters can be a carbon neutral way of heating a whole house3. However, the maintenance, cleaning and storage elements need to be considered3.

Electric heaters can be expensive to run but using reverse cycle air conditioners is very effective in terms of the power they use when compared to the heat output2. Electric fireplace technology has evolved with LED lighting technologies used to mimic flame effects and now offering energy efficient higher heat with low maintenance3. Ethanol fireplaces are low maintenance, energy efficient and easy to install2 as they don’t give off fumes such as carbon monoxide and thus don’t need flues3. However a study showed that decorative ethanol fireplaces were strong sources of fine and ultrafine particles in the room and thus having a considerable influence on air quality due to lack of ventilation4.

Interestingly, an ecovillage built in Sweden back in 1992 combines wood heating, solar energy and electric heating in a water based system5! There are many facilities looking at low carbon thermal technologies. Devine-Wright et al6 explored how older adults living in these environments feel thermal comfort is represented. A key finding was cosiness and glow are highly value and care homes can introduce fake fireplaces to provide these key elements whilst managing risk concerns6. It was suggested that in the perceived savings from low carbon heating technologies may be overestimated as it became necessary to supplement these with other “units/devices to provide the comfort, cosiness and sociability” (p288) desired by older people6.



1.      Corley, J.W., 1960. A county home for the aged (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from



4.      Schripp, T., Salthammer, T., Wientzek, S. and Wensing, M., 2014. Chamber studies on nonvented decorative fireplaces using liquid or gelled ethanol fuel. Environmental science & technology48(6),   pp.3583-3590.

5.      Linden, K.P. 1999. Hidden messages in the sociomateria: Design for sustainability and cooperation in two ecovillages in Sweden. Nordisk Arkitekturforskning:1,47-58.

6.      Devine-Wright, P., Wrapson, W., Henshaw, V. and Guy, S., 2014. Low carbon heating and older adults: comfort, cosiness and glow. Building Research & Information42(3), pp.288-299.