Hearth, wind and fire

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 December, 2008, 12:00am

Our winters may not be long, but they certainly can be chilly - and this is the time of year when we realise that winter heating is as important as summer cooling to ensure a comfortable indoor environment.

Many of us make do with portable oil-filled heaters wheeled out of storage for a couple of months. They don't work very well, gather dust and are definitely short on aesthetics.

Fireplaces are the height of fashion when it comes to warming your home in style. But who wants to haul wood, harm the environment and clean up afterwards, even if it does give your home a pleasant, toasty feeling? Thankfully, you no longer have to. Open fires are now available in a range of stylish designs that will be the focal point of any living space, and they come without the mess and hassle of older fireplaces. With some designs you don't even need a flue, let alone a chimney, making them ideal for apartments.

Glen Dimplex, the world's most prolific manufacturer of electric heating appliances, has patented the electric Optiflame, which produces a realistic electric flame effect in a wide range of designs.

Optiflame fires create an instant ambience and can be used year-round as the flame effect operates independently of the heater. Easy to install, Optiflame designs plug into any standard electrical outlet. They do not require exterior wall access, venting, fuel pipes or expensive fitting - just 'plug in and go'. According to the company, whose products sell for HK$2,200 to HK$44,000 through Gilman Home Appliances (gilman.hk), they cost just a few cents an hour to run. As for maintenance, all that is required is the occasional replacement of standard light bulbs.

The EcoSmart fire, an Australian invention, is billed as 'an environmentally friendly open fireplace'. Fuelled by denatured ethanol, a renewable energy source, it burns clean and is virtually maintenance free. The EcoSmart fire is flueless and does not rely on a utility connection for its fuel supply, making it suitable for just about any living space. According to the company, the fires are 'as close as you will get to traditional yellow wood crackling flame'.

They also have remarkable design flexibility, coming in a range of configurations, including free-standing fires in a glass-encased box (a dramatic room divider), built into the wall, or in funky pop-art designs.

One clever design is the EcoSmart Fire & Ice coffee table, incorporating an open fire within a free-standing coffee table. The burner is set into a sliding platform so that it can be covered when not in use to maximise your table's surface area, saving space.

EcoSmart's standard fireplaces (available from Design Link: designlink.com.hk) cost from HK$20,900 to HK$82,390, and the Fire & Ice coffee table from the designer range is priced at HK$98,890.

If you do have a chimney and are keen to stick to the real deal, it is important to realise that up to 90 per cent of heat from open fireplaces disappears up the pipe. A chimney also lets cold air back into the living room. Fireplace inserts from Jetmaster redirect heat that would normally go up the chimney, providing both radiant and convective heat that warms the whole room. Jetmaster fireboxes are also smoke-free, child-safe, spark-proof and can be left unattended. A damper control regulates the heat generated, and the firebox draws in air from outside to constantly freshen up the indoor environment.

To achieve the look without using real wood, Jetmaster, which is available from E and A Development (eanda.hk), also comes in LPG or natural gas-fired versions. It costs about HK$20,000 for supply and installation.

But what if you want to feel cosy throughout your home without seeing your heating source? Electric radiant under-floor heating systems by Speedheat do not emit smoke, fumes, dust, volatile organic compounds or electromagnetic radiation and, according to the manufacturer, are far more cost effective than traditional central heating systems.

Darrin Adcock, Speedheat's Hong Kong distributor, says its systems save 15 to 40 per cent of central-heating costs because they consume less energy. A system for an average-sized bathroom or kitchen uses about the same power as three light bulbs while heating up, and about half of that once warm.

Unlike the in-floor heaters of old, Speedheat's (speedheat.hk) systems are installed above the concrete so they can be retrofitted. The system comes in panels that are glued in place between the concrete slab and your floor covering. Waterproof and fully earthed, they are billed as a safe heating solution for wet areas. The idea is to 'set and forget', setting the desired temperature at the start of winter and not touching it again until the end of the season. The heaters are sold individually. One unit, enough to heat an average bathroom or kitchen, costs HK$2,500 (heater only). Thermostats and installation costs - HK$800 per worker, per day - are extra. Installation for a flat should take about two days or a couple of hours for a single room.

Warming one's outdoor living space is also important. Everything Under the Sun by Resource Asia HK (resourceasia.com.hk) is marketing a new range of electric outdoor heaters that it says puts older-style gas patio heaters in the shade. The Herush range of stainless-steel, free-standing, wall or ceiling-mounted heaters have highly durable carbon heating elements which, according to general manager Analiza Esguerra, have a longer infrared capability (meaning they provide more heat) than quartz or halogen elements.

'The longer the infrareds are, the more deeply they warm up the body. Carbon elements are therefore more efficient and the best for use in outdoor heaters,' Esguerra says.

She also predicts that gas-fired outdoor heaters' days are numbered because they are not environmentally friendly. 'Gas heaters produce a huge quantity of heat to warm up the air but you need to stand right next to them to get the benefit,' Esguerra says. 'And because outdoor air is always changing and moving, this is just a waste of energy. They are creating heat that disappears immediately after being emitted or when units are switched off.

'On the contrary, electrical radiant heaters warm up bodies directly and not the air. The infrared acts like the sun, so users will feel warm even after going away from the heaters. Of course, they are still using energy, but in a much more environmentally friendly way.'

With the Herush heaters there's also no gas smell or gas-related danger and the smaller, lightweight products are easier to move around. The units cost from HK$4,300 to HK$4,500.