Solutions to problems with open fire in old house


My house was built in the 1830s and has a traditional lay out for a house of that age with two large (5 meter square) reception rooms linked by double doors. I renovated it a couple of years ago and put in a new heating system but despite this my sitting room is very cold in the winter months even with both the fire and the rads on (the rest of the house is fine).

I have considered putting in a wood burning stove to address this but my options are limited by the fact that my place is listed and I can’t rip put the cast iron inserts in my mantelpieces to put in an insert stove or make a large hole so I can place a floor standing stove inside the fireplace. And before someone suggests it I wouldn’t want to mess with my beautiful fireplaces even if I could.

Has anyone else faced these problems? Has anyone come up with a solution.

As far as I can see I have three options:

  1. to place a wood burning stove on the hearth - but I am not keen on the look of these.

  2. to use a device like Ecograte - . Has anyone tried this?

  3. to rip out the fireback and fit a more efficient one like a Jet master These can be made to measure.


Initial thought is to try a chimney balloon, it blocks the chimney when not in use - when this is in place and the rads are on is the room as warm or warmer than with fire and rads on? If it is then the draft up the chimney is greater than the output from the fire - maybe a competent builder can help with relining it to reduce the draft.

I have seen insert stoves that simply sit inside the fireplace, the fireback has to come out, and if it is a dry stove it will be small enough.


What size and temps are the rads? If it’s cold with fire and rads on then your problem is lack of insulation.

That said, I’ve a similar problem in one room (although not period) which I’m planning to solve by putting in a larger double rad.


It sounds to me like you’re trying to treat the symptom & not the problem.
Are your windows double/triple glazed ?
What are the wall & roof insulations like ?


I second that :slight_smile: Sounds to me like the amount of heat being generated isn’t the problem, it’s the rate of loss of heat.

I’m in a similar situation myself with a old house and most of the effort/money is best spent on reducing drafts and heat loss. Insulation options for older houses are limited - they need to breathe, and wall insulation can destroy the proportions of an old room. Inter-floor space insulation is an option there. Chimney balloon is good for when the fire is not in use, but a pain to take in and out all the time - if you use the fire a lot, look at installing a damper to close off the chimney draft when not in use (these were actually a feature of a lot of cast iron inserts of the period). If there’s old sash windows, there can be a huge amount of heat loss from old glass and from the frames themselves (warped wood or gaps around the opening/mortar which can be re-pointed). Another area can be the floors. If you have a suspended old wood floor (with no t&g joints), the fire could actually be creating a huge draft that sucks cold air in through the underfloor vents, up through gaps in the boards, and on up the chimney. I’ve experienced it myself. Warm fire - freezing feet! Also, simple and cheap draft strips on the windows and/or doors between the two rooms can help to reduce through-draft heat loss.


I put an small (5kw) inset stove into a Victorian cast iron fireplace. It took some building work on the fire back but it looks well and throws out heat.


If you want a big chute from your main living area to the sky then you will just have to deal with draughts.

IMHO open fires aren’t worth the bother.


Old house cold problems? I’d look at the issues in this order (and remember, you must ensure you keep your house ventilated or you’ll end up with far more serious damp problems):

  1. Is your loft insulated? If not, do it! It makes an enormous difference.
  2. If you’re not using your fireplaces, put chimney balloons up them.
  3. Doors and windows - at the very least get them draught-proofed and sealed. Sash windows can be refurbished with brush systems that help a suprising amount with both draughts and noise, even with single-glazing. If you can afford it, go double-glazed or consider secondary glazing if your house is listed.
  4. Floors. This mainly applies to suspended wooden floors on the ground floor. The cheapest draught-proofing solution is fitted carpet with thick underlay. If your floorboards are exposed you can get these rubber strips to put between the gaps which I’ve heard are good but haven’t tried myself. The most disruptive and expensive option is to out insulation boards between the joists - requires lifting the floorboards.
    5.Upgrade your heating system - how’s your boiler, are your rads big/ powerful enough for the volume of your rooms?
  5. Wear more clothes in winter or 7. Move to a modern house

From all I’ve read about period houses I would stay away from wall insulation personally. Insulation and brick don’t seem to go very well together and damp is more of a serious enemy. I can deal with cold but I don’t want to deal with wet or dry rot :open_mouth:



Custom floorboard draught excluders aren’t worth the money IMHO, especially for an entire floor. My concern with draughtex would be the strip moving and sag over time down between the joists and let draughts through again as walking moves the boards - you’d need to have very solid boards and joists (and if you do, they’re unlikely to have gaps anyway!).

If you are carpeting over the old boards, I just use plain silicone sealer which will adhere to the sides of the boards and stretch as the boards move when you walk on them. I do use a more rigid draught strip (e.g. from which will self-support between joists, but only in places where the gap is too wide to take the silicone sealer (yes, some were that bad!)

Floor draught sealers don’t really affect sounds through wooden floors much. Carpet/underlay on the floors is probably the cheapest and best solution there.


Ok thanks- I thought it looked like a really nice finish. Didn’t factor in the load stress so would no doubt look crap if it started to shift.


It probably is a better solution if you are leaving the boards exposed if they’re good and/or evenly gapped.

My circumstances were fairly unique - a lot of uneven boards, under carpet, with not enough room under doors for a thick underlay. Old houses are tricky!