Home Improvements - Fireplaces

Woodstove or fireplace? You choose.  © Michelle Chaplow
Woodstove or fireplace? You choose.

Woodstove or Fireplace?

by Brenda Padilla

Woodstove or fireplace? You choose. Wood is now widely available all over Andalucia and nearly all the wood-sellers will deliver to your home.

A fireplace adds a beautiful touch to any living room and these can be crafted from brick, natural stone or marble, for example.

One of the great things about a fireplace is the ambience it creates, however, if your main aim is to heat your home with wood, then be advised that 85 to 90% of the heat produced by an open fire goes straight up the chimney, making this one of the least efficient ways to heat a home. And this requires far too much wood to be considered as a viable source of every day winter heat in this part of the world.

A fireplace insert can be fitted to any fireplace, thus allowing you to enjoy both the ambience and the heat generated by a wood fire as you only loose 10% of the heat up the chimney, putting the other 90% into your home. What's more, these handy inserts along with their cousins, the woodstoves can actually save wood because they burn so efficiently.

Here are a few practical points to keep in mind when choosing and installing a woodstove or a fireplace insert in your Spanish home:

Get Good Vents

A woodstove manufacturer from Barcelona once tried to help me understand how the vent systems worked by comparing them to a car's gas pedals. "If I open them and let the air in, the combustion is faster," he explained. "If I close them, I control combustion." He recommended investing in a stove that had not only a primary vent system, but a secondary system that would allow more sophisticated control over how fast and hot the fire burns.

How to Have Clean Windows

Modern technology is also able to keep a stove's window clear so that we can enjoy the fire - rather than looking at smoke-blackened glass. To ensure this is the case, you need to buy a stove that incorporates an "air wash" system, which uses hot air injection over the glass in order to keep it clear.

Evaluate Price Differences

There are many woodstoves on the Spanish market, a good deal produced nationally complemented by a number of imports. Prices range from less than 300 euros for a basic model to more than 1,000 euros for the more luxurious models. Definitely don't go lower than 300 to 350 euros if you're making an investment you hope to enjoy long term. This is because rock bottom prices might very well represent lower quality iron, which could even crack at high temperatures.


It is highly recommended to hire a professional from a reputable "chimenea" store to install your woodstove or insert. Once the owner of one such shop in Málaga told me how a client had insisted that his builder could install his new insert. He wouldn't therefore, be needing the shop's professional installation team. A very sorry man he was when he realised - too late - that his builder had neglected to insulate between the insert and a wood mantle, which began to burn when the first fire was lit. The price of the cure was oh so much more than prevention ever would have been.

Safety Tips

Spanish homes, made of solid brick, don't burn, but their contents do. So, if you're still insisting on that open fire, do install a screen to catch sparks. Otherwise, any type of fireplace or stove should have a chimney or pipe that extends 60-70 centimetres above the highest point on your house, to avoid winds coming over the rooftop and forcing fumes back down the chimney. And finally, never start fires in fireplaces or stoves with the help of alcohol or petrol as both can send flames rushing out at you.

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