Hot topic: fires for all properties

Fires remain at the heart of the British home, but with so much choice, including fuel type and product choice, before you even consider the design, it can be difficult for housing providers to know where to start. Richard Beaman, commercial director for Valor and Robinson Willey, considers the benefits of both gas and electric models to social housing providers and their tenants.

With as many as 2.4 million people living in fuel poverty and excess winter deaths on the rise, affordable warmth remains a priority for any housing provider. Gas and electric fires remain a staple heat source for millions of social housing tenants, providing effective single-room heating without having to incur the costs of heating the whole house.

There are a range of benefits with both gas and electric fires – and each can deliver something different for tenants.

Going for gas
Gas fires remain extremely popular in UK homes, boasting high-efficiencies, flexible installation and stylish design. Gone are the gas-guzzling decorative gas fires from the 1980s, replaced with a new generation of gas fires that are capable of delivering heat efficiencies of up to 89 per cent and heat outputs of 4.8 kW – without sacrificing realism and authenticity.

Since the decline of solid fuel as the main heating source, gas fires have become the ‘heart’ of the British home. Unbeatable when it comes to aesthetics, they offer consistent warmth and comfort. It’s clear from customer feedback that the integrity of the flame effect will always be in demand – after all, it is this that sets gas fires apart from their electric counterparts.

Gas fires are available in inset, outset, balanced flue, radiant and stove models, depending on the style of the property, design preference, safety requirements and availability of a chimney/flue.

They are clean and convenient, with fully controllable heat which can be turned on or off in an instant. Safety is a big consideration of course, so look for manufacturers that can demonstrate the highest standards of testing and safety accreditations.

One of the biggest benefits of gas is in the running costs. Natural gas is still the lowest-cost fuel supplied for the same kW usage and is kinder to the environment with life-cycle CO2 emissions nearly half that of mains electricity. Models with heat exchangers are ideal when looking for a high heat performance and for those homes trapped in fuel poverty, the low running costs provided by a gas fire as a single room heater is a welcome relief. Households can benefit from all the warmth and comfort of a gas fire without having to worry about excessive bills.

In years gone by, properties could only have a gas fire if they had a chimney, but this is no longer the case thanks to the development of balanced flue gas fires, which include some of the most energy-efficient models on the market.

A balanced flue gas fire simply requires an outside wall for installation, which means housing providers can install a gas fire into virtually any home with a gas point. And with continued innovation in product design, from gas stoves to landscape models, gas fires have never looked better.

Electric avenue
The latest electric fires and suites are cheaper to run, easier to use and safer than ever before, which makes them an increasingly popular heating source for social housing properties.

Electric fires tend to be available as inset or stove models, or as a complete suite incorporating an inset fire within a surround. The heat is provided via a fan heater between 1 kW and 2 kW, which means instant and reliable heat on demand, often with remote control and a choice of heat settings on the latest products.

All electric fires are 100 per cent efficient at point of use, which means all of the energy used is converted into heat, and with no efficiency advantages available, the biggest difference between products from different brands will often come down to the visual effect of the flame. Low-cost models inevitably come with an uninspiring flame effect and it’s important to look for unique flame technology when choosing your manufacturer.

Electric fires have a big advantage over any other fuel type because the flame effect can usually be used independently of the heat. This enables the fire to be used all year-round to provide all the atmosphere and ambience of a focal-point fire, even in the summer months when additional heat is not required.

They are also incredibly easy to install because they simply need a plug socket and – in the case of electric stoves – can even be moved from room to room. This can deliver valuable savings on installation, of course, particularly across large property portfolios or in homes that have an obsolete back boiler system, where the costs of removing an old back boiler, bricking up the chimney, plastering, venting the opening and replacing the skirting boards can soon mount up.

As with any appliance, safety is paramount and there are a wide range of models designed specifically to meet the demands of the social housing sector, with features such as thermostats, one-piece moulded fuel beds, kettle plugs and dedicated safety cut-out functions. The result, of course, is added peace of mind that the appliance is fit for purpose, particularly for homes with vulnerable occupants.

For an extra indication of safety, look for independent testing certificates such as BEAB, which means the product has achieved the highest levels of safety, and for certifications such as FSC to make sure it ticks the necessary PPQ requirements demanded by housing providers.

Of course, none of this is relevant unless the products are easy to operate. Manufacturers have taken steps to ensure that electric fires and suites are easy to use and nowhere is this more important than in the social housing sector, where it is inevitably crucial that all residents can operate their heating products easily and safely.

Any housing provider should demand top side control, which gives elderly residents or those with mobility problems easy access to control their electric fire or suite.