Fireplaces look great and can make a room seem cozy and inviting. Unfortunately, most fireplaces are so poorly designed that they end up wasting energy rather than providing heat. Any time you waste energy, you waste money, too. You can improve fireplace efficiency and save money in the process by following the tips below.
Install an insert – An insert is essentially a metal box that fits tightly inside the fireplace space to reduce drafts and radiate heat. Some models feature variable speed blowers that send heated air back into the room. Glass doors on the insert let the fire shine through and emit additional heat as well. Inserts may burn wood, but they may also burn gas or pellets. Pellets, made from recycled wood waste, dried corn, sunflower seeds, or other bio fuel, are fed through a hopper to maintain a steady flow of fuel. Some inserts resemble a wood-burning stove, and feature a shelf that gets hot enough to boil a kettle full of water. NOTE: When choosing an insert, select a model approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Not only will it be highly energy efficient, but an EPA-certified insert will reduce the air pollution associated with conventional wood-burning stoves or fireplaces. Inserts are best installed by a professional.
Add doors – If it’s not possible to install an insert, add doors to the fireplace to help seal off drafts when the fireplace isn’t being used and to add a measure of safety when the fire is burning. Doors made from ceramic glass will radiate heat back into the room but still let the fire inside shine through.
Replace the grate that the wood sits on – Often, the wood in a fireplace sits on a metal grate that just props the wood up. Grates with blowers on the bottom send heated air back into the room; those made of C-shaped metal tubes draw in cool air, heat it, and circulate it back out.
Add a Fireback – Put a metal plate at the back of the fireplace to protect the masonry and radiate heat back into the room when the fire dies down.
Close the damper – The damper is a metal plate inside the chimney that can be adjusted to let air into the fireplace and smoke out. Whenever the fireplace is not being used, close the damper to prevent hot air in the room from getting sucked up the chimney.
Better yet, seal up the damper – Because dampers warp over time, even when they’re closed, the fireplace may still be drafty. The Fireplace Draftstopper is an inflatable, tight-sealing chimney damper made from a rectangle of polyurethane that fits in the fireplace just below the damper level (not up inside the chimney). It can be easily removed before a fire is lit, then re-installed after the fireplace has cooled. It has been extensively tested for safety; in case you accidentally start a fire without first removing the Draftstopper, the product will melt, then drop down and smother the fire.
Similarly, the Chimney Balloon, also known as a Chimney Pillow, is an inflatable tight-sealing chimney damper made of 3-ply poly plastic that stops uncontrolled air leaks. Install the inflatable chimney plug by holding it in place in the chimney while you inflate it with air. Before you start your next fire, open the tap on the handle to deflate it within seconds for easy removal. The inflation valve has a bright red card at its end that will hang down into the opening of the fireplace to help you remember that the Chimney Balloon is in place.
Use dry wood – Dry wood burns much hotter than wood that is moist or wet. Plus, dry wood creates far less smoke than wood that contains a lot of moisture. If you’re buying wood, make sure it is seasoned rather than “green” and keep it covered to protect it from rain and snow. If you cut your own wood, give it enough time to dry out before you use it.
Burn hardwood – Hardwoods burn longer and hotter than soft woods. Ironwood, rock elm, hickory, oak, sugar maple, beech, yellow birch and ash are some hardwoods to consider. Softer, less desirable firewood includes balsam, spruce, basswood, pine, poplar, hemlock, red alder, white birch and Douglas fir.
Remember that, whether you’re using a fireplace or a wood burning stove, it’s important to put safety first. Never leave a fire unattended, especially if curious children are about. Close the doors to the fireplace to reduce the likelihood that fiery logs will fall off the grate and into the room. Burning wood leaves a residue on the inside of the chimney that can build up and catch fire. As a general safety precaution, whether you have a fireplace or a wood burning stove, be sure to get a professional chimney sweep to clean out the creosote at least once a year.
About the Author:
Diane MacEachern is a best-selling author, award-winning eco entrepreneur and the founder of Big Green Purse, where she writes the popular Big Green Purse blog. Diane also stays busy as a keynote speaker and her columns and articles have been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and other notable publications and websites. Follow Diane on Twitter at @DianeMacEachern and on Facebook dianemaceachern1.
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