A fireplace or stove can add beauty, warmth and value to your home and set the mood for memorable gatherings of family and friends. But what most people don’t realize is it’s also a source of major heat loss! Though it may seem contradictory, an open masonry fireplace can cool your house and result in higher overall heating costs. The fireplace opening attracts heated indoor air, then releases the warm air through the chimney. A resulting vacuum draws cold outdoor air into your house through windows, doors, and gaps anywhere. You may feel comfortable in front of the fireplace, but your heat pump or furnace runs like crazy trying to keep the rest of the house warm.
However, if you really do like the ambiance of a fire, there are some things you should keep in mind to make your fireplace as energy-efficient as possible.
When buying or upgrading a fireplace you’re faced with several options including type, size, features and more. You can choose from a new generation of wood- and pellet-burning systems that are cleaner burning and more energy-efficient than older models, and powerful enough to heat many average-sized, modern homes. Electric or gas fireplace inserts are another popular alternative to wood and pellet-burning systems. It’s also important to use a properly sized fireplace for the space to be heated. When it is too big, residents tend to burn fires at a low smolder to avoid overheating, which wastes fuel and is one of the biggest causes of air pollution. Talk with a reputable dealer about size requirements.
The location of the fireplace (and chimney) will influence how well heat is distributed and conserved in your home. Most wood- and pellet-burning systems are essentially space heaters and should be put in the room where you spend most of your time. In order to make your fireplace as efficient as possible, there should also be a way for heat to circulate to the rest of the house.
For safety and to maximize the efficiency of your fireplace, you should consider having a professional install your system, whether it’s electric, gas, wood- or a pellet-burning system. They will carefully evaluate everything from your chimney to floor protection. A certified professional can also help you choose the best system to heat your home.
There are some fireplace accessories that, if used correctly, will help you save energy and reduce heat loss through your fireplace. Airtight fireplace inserts are often the most efficient design and provide the longest burn time on a load of firewood and the greatest maximum heat output. Glass doors and fireplace covers can be added to fit tightly around the fireplace opening and prevent heat loss when not in use.
The fireplace damper is designed to prevent heat from escaping through your chimney. Be sure the damper has a tight seal, or you will see an increase in your heating bills. A flue sealer is a removable stopper that prevents air from escaping through the chimney. These inflatable devices are inexpensive and easy to install.
To keep your wood- or pellet-burning system operating efficiently and safely, you’ll need to maintain it on a regular basis. Before each heating season, have a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America inspect your wood-burning system. Clean out the inside of the fireplace with a wire brush periodically to help your wood-burning system heat your home efficiently.