A guide to house building in South Africa

A guide to house building in South Africa

Finishes: Fireplaces

Most new homes are fitted with an internal fireplace or two to complete the atmospheric and aesthetic appeal. Of course, they provide heat too in South Africa’s famously underheated homes.

A few tips regarding these:

  • Regardless of your budget, always choose a cast iron unit over steel plate, especially if you live at the coast. These units can scratch quickly and eventually start rusting.
  • The actual cost of the fireplace will likely double once you add the flues, cowls and installation, especially if you have to go through an extra floor level and roof.
  • According to regulations, the flue must clear the roof by 1 meter.
  • There is a science to flue sizes (it’s not a ‘one size fits all’). It is crucial to get the ratio right with regards to the fireplace size, otherwise it will not draw correctly and is likely to smoke. Similar with the length. Any good fireplace supplier can advise or check on-line for charts.
  • Leave flues exposed if you want to access the extra heat they provide, even for an upstairs room the flue might need to go through. However, if your flue is in a high traffic area, you’ll have to get the double skin pipe to protect from possible burns.
  • Enclosed units are more efficient and produce more heat, but need professional installation. Glass must only be cleaned with a cloth rubbed in clean ash (left over from burn) and water. No soap or cleaning agents! Also, only use decent hardwood to burn.
  • If you are using a built-in unit, finalise it early in the build to allow the right cavity to be left in the wall. However, it will be one of the last things to go in to avoid damage.
  • Freestanding units can easily be made up by a good steel manufacturer to size and spec. Just study up on flue sizing and air draw. Again, a steel enclosure can provide extra heat.
  • Gas units are great for aesthetics purposes only. They provide little to no heat. Remember to include a hidden gas pipe in flooring or walls to bottles/gas supply.
Exposed flue, heating up a bedroom upstairs.


Of course, our homes don’t only require heat, but also a good outdoor braai.

  • Add a light point inside and outside the braai for illumination at night if you are bricking one. Needless to say, strong steel and glass light fitting only.
  • Built-in gas units will require storage for gas bottles, while wood burning fireplaces always require a decent space for wood. Leaving a cavity under the slab is the obvious solution. A bricked chimney with good clearance is crucial to allow the smoke to draw away. Try for around six meters.
  • If you want to create some privacy, bricked in braai chimneys can help create some intimacy, and shield you from overlooking eyes.
This unit is custom made. Because of its size, it required a large catchment area and 300 x 300 flue within the steel box. Two walls and low chimney and 8m flue help limit smoke.
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