In the 70s and 80s, gas was a cost-effective way to heat your home and nearly everyone had gas-fueled heating installed. But today gas prices are going through the roof, and many families in Britain are faced with a tough choice – go cold, or go hungry. Our gas bills only ever seem to go one way – up. So I figured that the only way to reduce our gas bills was to use less gas… and start using coal (which is extremely cheap by comparison). Luckily we have an old house, one that was designed to be heated not by modern gas central heating, but by good old-fashioned fires. And with fireplaces come working chimneys, and the serious possibility of burning coal.
The first thing we did was to identify the first room in the house that we wanted to radically alter. The living room was always cold, and we never really liked the 1980s gas fire in front of the chimney piece anyway. To be truthful, it was hideous. A real monstrosity of design. And it didn’t work properly, either:
To be honest, I was really looking forward to taking a crowbar to this thing. Or even a sledgehammer. That would have been so cathartic. But then again, perhaps an untrained person wielding a sledgehammer at a live gas appliance probably wasn’t such a good idea. So I left it to the professionals.
I have to say, the workmen did a really good job at removing the old gas fire and clearing the rubble behind it. Particularly when it came to clearing out the chimney, which had fallen into a spot of disrepair.
We had originally planned to have a new fireplace, as we had no idea what was behind the 80s gas fire. What really took us all by surprise was what we found behind the rubble… a 1950s hearth that was all still intact. Whoever had put the gas fire in had boarded up the interior hearth, filled the space with rubble and then tiled over the area and plonked a gas fire in front. We were over the moon, and thanks to the incredible skill of Aaron who took out the gas fire (he point-blank refused the sledgehammer I offered him and chose to spend hours removing each tile one by one so as not to damage the mantelpiece), we now had a vintage interior hearth that matched the mantelpiece. So we didn’t need a new fireplace after all. It was quite dirty when we first saw it, but it was still beautiful with its hand-laid little white tiles:
We were really pleased with how this fireplace turned out, we had no idea that there was a 1950s hearth hiding behind that 1980s gas fire, and it was thanks to the skill of the professionals at the West Bridgford Fireplace Center that they discovered the vintage hearth, managed not to damage it in the process, and refurbished it. We could not be more happy… but our story doesn’t end there. After the renovations we were given a quick 101 lesson by Aaron on the basics of lighting fires. I had a sneaking suspicion that this might be more important to heating your house by coal than I had previously thought. Well, here’s a picture of my first ever fire in our new stove. I was very proud of it, even though it’s just little sticks burning like there’s no tomorrow…
After a couple of weeks I started to get the hang of putting coal on the fire and getting a proper coal fire going… I tried to take a picture of a coal fire but the coals always seem to glow purple in the camera
Now we’ve got the hang of things, we’ve had a great winter. We’ve been nice and warm with our coal burning stove, and our total fuel bill is less than half what it used to be when we relied on gas. I love nothing more than to come home to a roaring coal fire after a day out at work, and I can’t wait until we expose some of the other fireplaces in the house in the future 🙂