I think the very first job I ever undertook here was knocking in the fireplace in the main lounge. The original fab mantelpiece and granite surround, had been bricked in some particularly heinous 1970′s style burnt yellow bricks. In the down time between putting in the offer on the house and the legal work being completed it was looming large in my mind that this wrong needed putting right.
As it transpires our initial attempts at lighting a fire proved disastrous and the only way we could ever get the thing going properly without a 7ft pall of thick black smoke descending from the chimney was to… leave the doors and windows open! This was a setback and rather defeated the object of having the fire lit in the first place.
Through the spring that followed, all our visitors used the Lounge as a bedroom and heroically put up with the nippy winter temperatures… it was clear that we had to do something come the winter time
Now, in France there are plenty of ‘inserts’ or ‘foyer’ fireplaces for sale… these are things that you build into an existing chimney or create a new internal fireplace & flue. We’d seen a few around and with winter coming decided that we’d buy one and see how we got on with it. Well. I picked one up and we decided.. as a temporary measure to stick it into the lounge and see how it comes along.
These things have awesome specifications. It’s basically a firebox, made from cast-iron plates with a glass door. It’s an immense thing weighing in at 125kg making it a major hernia-inducing manoeuver to move it. It has a nominal heat output of 14Kw – toasty!
Wood, used as a fuel is (I guess, if you plant more trees!) close to carbon neutral and is by far the cheapest option for heating your home. In France – even with the vast majority of electricity generation being nuclear – there is extensive support for other ‘green’ energy initiatives and the insert we bought was a government approved fireplace that burns particularly efficiently and was awarded the ‘flamme vert’ certification. A bonus – you are entitled to reclaim 40% of the capital equipment price for the installation of the fire as a tax credit. Don’t pay tax? No problem, they’ll mail you the cheque as a refund! Splendid stuff and in my eyes a great example of how tax incentives help develop a mindset that supports sustainability.
Another big bonus for us is that the former owner ran a small coppice for raising his own firewood and we inherited a barn-full with a good four years worth of ‘free’ wood.
So, the insert is trucked into the fireplace and a fresh stainless steel flue is installed 4M up inside the chimney breast, a few moments later we have flames!
A couple of months into the winter and the fire is proving to be a “can’t believe we’ve never bought one before” type purchase.
The heat output is tremendous and it only took a few days to realise that it was the perfect vessel for..
Baked jacket potatoes
Baking English muffins
all manner of soups..
Basically the top surface makes for a reasonable cooker.. I’ve a healthy collection of cast-iron cookware so it means that the winter has seen lots of slow-roasts and all manner of tasty casserole & soups. The fire that’s kept us from freezing has also worked out as an impromptu wood burning aga so it’s also fed us well. Excellent stuff!