Frequently Asked Questions – Fireplaces

What is the right kW fireplace for my house?

This is not a straight forward question, and the answer depends on many factors and variables.

All closed combustion fireplaces carry a Kilowatt rating and we calculate how much area can be heated by applying a common formula used throughout the fireplace industry.

The room’s length x depth x height = Cubic metres (m3).

The cubic volume of the room (m3) divided by 25, plus 2 = the kilowatt rating of the fireplace needed to heat the room volume.

Which means that for every 30 cubic meters = you require 1 Kilowatt.

Where this becomes tricky is that this calculation is very subjective to variables such as the insulation of the room and house, number of windows, and the outside temperature. The desired room temperature should also be considered as well. Generally most houses in South Africa are not well sealed. With hot air rising, the room heats from the top downwards. So, if your ceiling is 2.6 meters or much, much higher, then the calculation above would not adequately apply, as you would need a higher kilowatt output. The kW of your fireplace and the heat distribution can always be complimented with a ceiling fan to circulate the hot air downwards, or you could purchase one of our Stovepro heat powered fans. Some fireplace models come with ‘optional extra’ or their own integrated fans.

Bear in mind that you can always go bigger and burn less, but that you can never go smaller and over fire, as this will damage the fireplace by trying to heat an area that it is not designed to heat, and this will nullify your warranty.

You can contact us if you have questions or require advice.

What about kW & efficiency?

The kW rating on your stove is more like a measure of the ‘ideal’ thermal output that your fireplace can maintain inside during the burning process, whilst maintaining a certain level of efficiency, and without prematurely damaging the fireplace body or internal components.

The manufacturers will choose which data suits the market they are targeting and publish accordingly. For example, a fireplace rated as 10 kW with a 75% efficiency, may be able to comfortably kick out 14 kW during the testing process without too much trouble. However, the efficiency at 14 kW may be reduced to 70%, which does not suit the manufacturer’s target market, so they publish the results based on the 10 kW figures.

The efficiency rating is supposed to be the measure of how much of a fuel’s energy is given to your room during the burning process. The ‘scientists’ set a measure for the amount of fuel to be used (weight etc) and how often the re-fuelling will take place. They then test the emitted flue gases in the flue pipe (chimney) for temperature and carbon content. This happens during the burning process and it allows them to calculate how much energy contained in a given fuel has been radiated from the stove to the room compared to how much has not been.

The difference gives you a percentage rating for how efficient the stove is. E.g. a stove with a 75% efficiency rating is effectively transferring 75% of the energy stored in the fuel consumed to heating the room. The other 25% of this potential heat energy heats the flue, and the rest is lost out the chimney. These calculations are useful in principle. The problem is that each manufacturer may use their own test conditions to measure the efficiency, which makes it very subjective! Even within regulated countries like the UK, they can choose which fuel, how much fuel, refuelling times and the oxygen intake they want to use under the test conditions.

This makes it close to impossible to measure exactly ‘like for like’, as you do not know what the test conditions set by the manufacturer are. However, some manufacturers will publish their test conditions and refuelling times which means that you have a much more genuine result and can make a better comparison with others (provided they also publish their test conditions).

Why is it important to follow the directions of 'Lighting my first fire'?

Instructions for your first fire

Don’t use your fireplace for the first 36 hours as the waterproofing needs to dry. Failure to do so will invalidate your guarantee.

Very important: When making your first fire you should leave the door slightly open, with the handle left out of the locked position. The curing paint can cause the fire rope in the door to stick to the fireplace, so avoid pressing the fire rope against the paint in the first few hours. Leave the door unlocked until the first fire dies out naturally & the fireplace has cooled down completely. The fire rope is manufactured out of specialised glass fibre & not asbestos.

 NB! – The demonstration fire done by the installer using newspapers does not qualify as an “Initial Ignition”.

  • Empty the fireplace & ash pan. Remove tools, paperwork, & gloves from inside, & anything from on top of the fireplace.
  • Slide the lower primary & top secondary air controls wide open. With no bottom air vent, open the ash drawer below the door by about 1cm. Most Built-in Fireplaces have air vents situated below the window / door.
  • Your first fire should be started very small & be gradually built up to increase the temperature slowly over 3-4 hrs. Start the fire with a blitz & kindling, & then add 2 logs of wood when it’s burning well. Once the fire is going you can close the vents half way to 2/3rds, & overtime add 1-2 logs at each time.
  • During the first fire the paint will start curing. Some odour & even a bit of smoke may come off your fireplace, but this will go away after a few fires.
How do I make fires after the ‘first paint curing fire’?   

Instructions for Ignitions after the first fire:

  • Empty the ash pan & unclog the grate (only when cool).
  • Fully slide open the bottom, Primary air vent or the ash pan by about 1cm.
  • Fully slide open the top, Secondary air vent.
  • Add chopped wood kindling & Blitz starter blocks. Light the fire, close the door & allow the fire to burn well.
  • Add 1-2 logs of fuel to maintain fire & close the door. Feed the logs carefully into the fireplace to avoid damaging the glass window, fire brick & to avoid dislodging the baffle plate situated inside the upper part of the combustion chamber. Fuel added after this should be added when the current fuel has reached a basic fire bed.
  • After starting the fire & achieving a comfortable burn, the air vents need to be partially shut by 1 to 2/3rds & the ash pan needs to be closed.
  • Please note – a tumble dryer, extraction fan or open window within the same area of the fireplace can alter the extraction draft in the flue; create bad burning conditions & a backdraft of smoke into the room.
What is a closed combustion fireplace?

In short, closed (or slow) combustion refers to the process of burning solid fuel in a closed metal box or stove and thereby increasing the heat output, and at the same time reducing the fuel consumption by 20-30% when compared to a traditional open fireplace.

Instead of feeding fuel into a freely, oxygenated open fireplace, where it is burnt up very quickly and where much of the heat is lost up the chimney, you can now control how much oxygen your fireplace receives with various air vents on your stove.

This means that you can regulate your heat much better than with an open fireplace. In addition, by burning the fuel in a stove your fuel achieves a much higher temperature than it would if burned in an open fireplace. The result is a regulated fire with more heat for less fuel, and a monetary saving over time.

Some fireplaces have advanced technology that decreases the amount of emissions released, resulting in an environmentally friendly burn. Going for closed combustion supports eco-sustainability and is an environmentally friendly choice.

Why is closed combustion so much better than an open fireplace or hearth?

To sum it up, modern closed combustion fireplaces are efficient and with their sophisticated technology they ensure that the wood is burned as cleanly and as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, this is not so with an open fire fireplace. The first major difference is that all modern closed combustion fireplaces are sealed with a door and this ‘sealed combustion’ increases the temperature in the combustion chamber. With new technology and design, many modern units feature extra insulation in the combustion chamber such as vermiculite bricks or Accumote, which retain and reflect heat into the room. Flue gases are also expelled through clean combustion technology making them more environmentally friendly. An open fire achieves just 15% yield especially because it loses a lot of warmth up and through the chimney. A modern closed combustion fireplace achieves an average of 60 – 80% yield. The emissions from an open fire are also much higher, as the open fire emits 15 times more CO2 and 50 times more fine-particle pollutants than a closed combustion wood-burning fireplace. So, closed combustion is not only safe, but it’s also more environmentally friendly

Do I choose a cast iron or a steel fireplace?

Plate Steel Fireplaces:

Construction – Steel is an iron alloy, which is rolled into sheets before forming and the plates are welded together. The joints between the panels are welded shut. With welding technology, plate steel is the modern version of cast iron.

Heating – Steel heats up and cool down faster than cast iron; however steel doesn’t retain the heat as long, although the difference is about an hour or two in relation to fireplaces. This is ideal if you want to heat a cold home quickly or safely extinguish a fire completely before leaving home.

Decor and looks – Steel is the cast iron replacement which is more cost effective and a sturdier alternative to cast iron. It comes in various thicknesses. 2mm Steel is often used in decorative finishes and on some of the ‘convection’ panels that don’t take the brunt of the heat from the fireplace. The structural parts of the fireplace, such as the firebox, are generally fabricated from 4mm steel which is lined with Vermiculite brick to increase longevity of the firebox and the stove. Plate steel fireplaces tend to be plainer, and usually have more modern designs. However, Manufacturers are bringing out more decorative designs.

Drawbacks – Modern, plainer aesthetics. Steel doesn’t hold heat as long as a cast iron and the fire bricks need replacing every 2 years or so when they crumble, but this depends on your usage.

Benefits – The seams are sealed tight when welded together, which benefits the efficiency of your fireplace as no oxygen can reach the fire other then what is allowed through the air vents. Plate steel fireplaces heat up quicker than cast iron fireplaces, so it takes less time to get the fireplace to working temperature.

Cast Iron Fireplaces:

Construction – Made of melted iron which is poured into a mould. The joints between the panels are sealed with bolts and caulk.  Cast iron is old school & durable and was the only technology available a hundred years ago that allowed parts to be cast and shaped for fireplaces

Heating – Slow to heat up, but retains and radiates the heat longer than plate steel, but only by an hour or two. This is ideal if you expect your wood fireplace to keep the house warm all night. More efficient heating with less extreme variations in temperature and may stand up to higher temperatures.

Decor and looks – Made from molten iron poured into molds or “casts”. Cast iron fireplaces were manufactured before plate steel fireplaces, for no other reason than the perfection of the casting process preceding that of welding. Cast iron fireplaces come in a variety of decorative designs, and are often more traditional and contemporary in design.

Drawbacks – Replacement parts are more costly as each individual model must have its own master patterns for casting new panels and parts. It’s heavy and is often constructed of several parts that can have expansion-contraction or separation problems if overfired. Many manufacturers focus more on the decorative appeal, than on function.

Benefits – Ability to tolerate high heat and temperature changes for longer periods of time. Cast iron is a durable yet workable material that allows for panels of it to be drilled into larger, complex assemblies, like fireplaces. Disperses heat nicely, conducting heat well from one part of the stove to another. Years of cast iron manufacturing has made for creative advances in design. With a wide variety of mouldings as well as the ability to take enamel coating, you can find a cast iron wood fireplace for almost any decorative taste.

Primary air, Secondary air/Air wash, Clean burn and Tertiary air explained

Primary air

In the mid-19th century, long before the days of global warming discussions, stoves were being widely produced in Europe as cast-iron boxes with many chambers, designed with a firebox in the bottom chamber. Air entered the stove in many cases at the base of the fire bed to ignite and burn the fuel. This was known as primary air. Primary air is still used today in multifuel fireplaces as a controllable inlet at the base of the stove door. It is the primary or main combustion air inlet into the fireplace chamber under the fuel bed. This air ensures good ignition of fossil and non-fossil fuels and if it is not controlled by the air inlet control it will cause the multifuel stove to burn fiercely. Multifuel fireplaces in the not so recent past had solid cast-iron doors, as pyroceramic glass was not available. As woodburning and multifuel fireplaces advanced, secondary air was developed with panes of pyroceramic glass and better fuel combustion (a requirement to reduce emissions).

Secondary air
Secondary air is an extra addition of air through an air inlet or inlets above the fireplace door. The secondary air exit vent is close to the angled baffle plate at the top of the fire chamber, and angles downwards appearing as a narrow vent above the fireplace door and glass. This vent introduces a stream of warm air just as the unburnt gases rise to pass by the baffle plate, and enter the gas exit chamber. The warm air ignites the gases, resulting in giving a secondary burn with more heat and less emissions. The secondary warm air from the vent flows downwards behind the glass to the top of the fire bed, also aiding in secondary combustion and creating a warm air film over the glass. This hinders the smoke from blackening the glass. As the temperature in the fire chamber rises and the secondary air flowing downwards behind the glass gets hotter you can see the hot air visibly clean the glass. This action is called airwash. Woodburning fireplaces work best after initial ignition by only using this upper controllable inlet, as they burn differently than fireplaces that burn fossil fuels. The secondary air inlet should also be used to control multifuel fireplaces, once the fire is well established, with the opening up of the primary air inlet again when more fossil fuel is added or if the fuel is not combusting well.

Cleanburn or preheated Secondary air
Cleanburn is really preheated secondary air. The secondary air instead of entering the woodburning or multifuel fireplace at an inlet or inlets above the door is very often brought up via ducts from the lower back of the fireplace. The air is partially fed into the lower part of the fire chamber and rest of the hot air, is ducted above the fireplace door to a similar exit vent as described above, near the edge of the baffle plate. It again flows down over the door to give a hot air wash and into the fire chamber as hot secondary air. The next time you have a good look at a fireplace you will see the same channel just inside, above the door on both secondary air and cleanburn fireplace. The difference being the clean burn fireplace will normally have its secondary inlet control at the base of the fireplace. This preheated secondary air ignites some unburnt gases in the lower and upper parts of the fire chamber, which burn off at higher temperatures than the direct secondary air can achieve. The glass usually stays super clean with preheated secondary air systems. The result of the cleanburn or preheated secondary air is a much better combustion and lower emissions from a woodburning fireplace.

Tertiary air
Tertiary air further compliments the cleanburn system as a third air intake, which is often seen working in Norwegian fireplaces and modern/contemporary woodburning fireplaces with large combustion chambers. The air is normally drawn up the back of the fireplace via a series of chambers and it is then injected into the back of the upper combustion chamber through small steel jets. The jets of extremely hot air then ignite the remainder of the gases that only burn off at very high temperatures. As long as dry seasoned wood is being burnt, the emissions from these fireplaces are very low. Many of these contemporary/modern woodburning fireplaces carry the Din + standard for high combustion and low emissions.

Which fuel should I use in my fireplace?

Always use very dry, well seasoned wood. Use fire lighters such as Blitz & chopped kindling wood for starting the fire. Wet wood causes a smoking fireplace; soot blackened windows; a 50% drop in heat output & the fuel usage to double.

Don’t use liquid fuels, tarred wood, shavings, fine coal, pallet crates or use the fireplace like a furnace to burn garbage and waste.

What guarantees are there on the fireplaces?
  • Charnwood – 10 Year limited guarantee on all their fireplaces.
  • Invincible cast iron fireplaces & Earthfire ceramic pots – 10 year limited guarantee.
  • Spartherm, Lacunza, Kratki, Invincible (plate steel fireplaces), Hydrofire Boiler Fireplaces, Dovre, Godin – 5 year limited guarantee.
  • Canature, Sentinel – 3 year limited guarantee.
  • Hydrofire – 2 year limited guarantee for their steel fireplaces and a 5 year limited guarantee on their cast iron units.
  • Palazetti, Royal and Chad-o-Chef, Signi Fires  – come with a 2 Year limited guarantee.

All loose internal parts like the grate, ash pan, bricks and baffle plate are guaranteed for 1 year with Hydrofire, Dovre, Godin and Invincible fireplaces, and 2 years with the Charnwood fireplaces. All the guarantees are limited in the sense that there are no guarantees on the glass, paint and ceramic rope.

At the discretion of GC Fires we will either repair or replace defective parts. The labour cost to replace defective parts will be covered by the guarantee for the first year only.

GC Fires is not liable for any consequential loss or incidental loss, damage or injury what so ever caused. The guarantee will become null & void if the fireplace is not installed in accordance with the installation instructions; is not serviced annually; is subject to misuse or neglect, including the use of non-recommended fuel; or if the unit was damaged due to over firing or water leaks.

To avoid overheating you can purchase a stove thermometer which will help you manage the temperature of your fireplace.

All claims must be made in writing to GC Fires and must be accompanied by photographs and by proof of purchase. Nothing in this guarantee shall affect your statutory rights.

Do you refurbish old units?

Yes, we do outside of peak season. You are welcome to deliver it to our warehouse for a free assessment and quote. Or we can collect it for a fee. Please keep in mind that we are not magicians and that some things are just beyond repair. If that is the case, we will then advise you on the best replacement for your budget.

How long will it take for you to deliver my order once I have paid for it?

Once your order is paid for, we will package and prepare it for the courier.

It takes approximately 5 working days to ‘prep’ before dispatch (if it’s in stock), and once the courier has collected it, it takes about 2-3 days for delivery. We will email you the waybill tracking number so that you can track your order with the courier service. The courier cost is an additional charge. We deliver for free in Cape Town for orders over R5000.00.

If I place and pay for my order now, can you deliver it today?

No, unfortunately not. Once your order is paid for, we will package and prepare it for the courier. It takes approximately 5 working days to ‘prep’ before dispatch (if it’s in stock), and once the courier has collected it, it takes about 2-3 days for delivery. We will email you the waybill tracking number so that you can track your order with the courier service. The courier cost is an additional charge. We deliver free in Cape Town for orders over R5000.00.

Are you able to ship to Australia or Europe?

No, we ship to anywhere in South Africa, and you will have to arrange for further shipment from the South African destination to where you are. Our courier cost is an additional charge.

Are your prices on the website inclusive of VAT?

 Yes, all our prices include VAT.

Do you have a branch around Gauteng?

No, we are based in Cape Town. However, we ship to anywhere in South Africa. The courier cost is an additional charge.

Are pellet burners cost effective?

Most Pellet stoves have an efficiency range between 75% to 95%, which means that you are getting 75 – 95% value in fuel heat from the pellet fuel used. The other percentage heats the flue and the rest is released through flue exhaust gases. Most pellet burner models cost more than an entry level fireplace, but are in par with the price of the medium to the top of the range fireplace models. However, a pellet stove is often cheaper to install than a conventional wood-burning fireplace, because the flue is of a smaller diameter which is cheaper and less flue is often used with the whole installation. Pellet burners also have autonomous operation and operation hours can be programmed ahead of time. They are dynamic in that depending on the model, they can be connected to household hydronic systems, underfloor heating and ducting systems to heat adjacent rooms.

How many bags of pellets will I burn in my pellet burner over a winter and are wood pellets more cost effective than burning wood?

A standard 15kg bag of pellet fuel can provide up to 19.5hrs of continual heat at a nominal usage of about 0.767kg/hr. A winter’s supply of wood pellets (May, June, July & August) with the pellet burner operating 24hrs/day is a usage of about 151 bags of pellets for the full 4 months. This is obviously much less if it’s only programmed to heat on cold days or evenings only. This total is dependent on factors such as the hourly pellet burn consumption of your pellet machine model, the weather, lifestyle variations and the total amount of operational hours per day.

Pellets are slightly higher in price per season, but they burn longer than wood, and are easier and less messy to store. Wood is available everywhere and pellets have to be sourced. Luckily you won’t have to look far. GC Fires stocks and sell pellets.

How much electricity does a pellet stove use?

A pellet burner is an electrical appliance which needs to be plugged in. The cost is dependent on the current cost of the electrical kilowatt per hour as per your electricity provider, the model of pellet burner and the set programming hours of the burner. In general the usage is fairly low, with a small spike in electricity usage for ignition of the machine.

Can you run a pellet stove without electricity?

No, electricity is required for the ignition of the machine and a small usage is required for the general operation of the display panel. We suggest you use an additional surge protector plug on your unit.