Renovation & Design

Hot new fireplace models go beyond heat


Sitting in front of a fire is an event, a most enjoyable and comforting way to spend time. A fireplace is a pivotal design element in any space. Setting and lighting the fire marks the beginning of a special time for you whether you are alone or visiting with family and guests. It's part of the entertaining ritual.

There has been an interesting shift in the importance given to the fireplace with today's new builds, Homes are designed with well-sealed windows and doors, safe, high-quality insulating materials and efficient heating and cooling systems. Rather than the fireplace being a heat source for the house, the objective of lighting a fire is now more about how it looks and sounds.

And today's environmentally sound accent on keeping it clean has led to innovative designs that keep the home fire's burning bright.

Renaissance Fireplaces has designed a wood-burning fireplace that is so clean-burning that, with normal air-dried firewood, there is typically no visible smoke within two minutes of lighting the fire, even with the door open. The key to lowering emissions is to achieve and maintain very high temperatures which allow volatile gasses and particulates to burn.

The Rumford model is big, bold and beautiful, its purpose is to look grand and burn clean, not heat the house. The herringbone firebox is tall and angled, and construction materials insulate the unit to allow for a hot fire while keeping the outside of the unit cool and safe.

Due to its size, weight and internal design, this is a high-end, traditional fireplace planned for either new builds or renovations that have the proper space and footings to install the Rumford.

At the other end of the fire spectrum are the bioethanol burners and fireplace inserts. These were never meant to be a major heat source -- they're visual fun, while at the same time clean-burning. The combustion of this fuel results in some heat, steam and carbon dioxide. No soot, smoke, no ashes.

The versatility of EcoSmart fires promotes imaginative and engaging design settings in any room, and at new heights. Because the bioethanol burns clean, there is no need for a flue. The freestanding fireplace units can be set up anywhere, swivelled, moved from room to room, even outside.

Designs range from a simple box framed in white or black to a sleek v-shaped unit that looks like a half-opened computer. Outdoor units have mesh or glass surrounds to protect the flame from wind.

In the modern kitchen installation, multiple XL900 burners are lined up above the counter. Paired with bold light fixtures, natural materials and a dark palette, a fire feature makes a striking statement, especially when the flame is brought to eye level.

The bioethanol units are particularly suited to contemporary design, sleek and able to slip into any space large or small. But there is also a place for these units in older homes where the fireplace is no longer functioning. Fireplace inserts need no flue, so that dark hole can be revitalized at little cost.

Debbie Travis' House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please email your questions to You can follow Debbie on Twitter at, and visit Debbie's new website,


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