Here’s an age old heating method, one that many people just love. But which many people also say it doesn’t really heat at all. That’s right, fireplaces. Not wood stoves, and not gas logs, but rather good old wood burning fireplaces.
Can they really heat your house?
Well, ask any 10 people and chances are all 10 will say, a fireplace is nice but it cannot heat your home. The Government agrees. The Federal Government says that the primary reason for using a fireplace is ambience. Since they are in the Government’s words “Typically very inefficient heaters”.
The reason is when you use the fireplace it draws air in from the room and then sends that air right up the chimney. Very little heat comes back into the room. But if a fireplace doesn’t really heat the room, then why is it that the room where the fireplace is located is always so toasty warm?
Well one reason is, in a properly built fireplace, the masonry box itself heats up. The bricks and the blocks that make up the firebox gets super hot as the fire roars. And that heat radiates back into the room. But the fire is still pulling air out of the room and putting it up the chimney.
Okay, so heating your home with a wood burning fireplace, that’s tuff. They’re just so nice. So with that in mind, let’s talk about how to use that fireplace as efficiently as possible.
Here’s what the Department of Energy recommends. First, since the fireplace pulls air out of the room, try to minimize heat loss by closing the doors leading to that room. Also, the DOE suggests you turn the heat down. So you’re not paying to heat air in your house which is just getting pulled out. Next, they suggest you crack open a window in the room where the fireplace is located. Open it about one inch so that the air that gets drawn into the fireplace is from the outdoors, not from the other rooms in the house.
By the way, the EPA has an excellent website called “Burnwise” (www.epa.gov/burnwise), which answers all sorts of questions about heating with wood. They recommend seasoning cut firewood for at least six months before using it. And its moisture content should be less than 20%. You can buy a moisture meter at the hardware store if you’re really serious about making sure the wood you burn is properly seasoned.
One more really important point. You should not see or smell any smoke if everything’s working well. The fireplace should push the smoke right up the chimney, not into the living room. So, if you do see or smell smoke, there’s a problem. In that case, douse the fire and have a chimney expert come in to take a look.
So again, to heat your home, a fireplace is not the best option. If you really want to heat with wood you’re much better off using a wood stove than a fireplace. Even a wood stove insert that can go into the existing fireplace box.
However, as we all know, fireplaces do create a wonderful atmosphere. They’re beautiful and there’s nothing like a rip roaring fire on a cold winter night. The perfect place to spend an evening toasting the Holidays or watching a movie on the couch.
Which by the way, could solve the fireplace heating problem altogether. Just turn on that big screen TV, go to Netflix or YouTube and search “High Definition Fireplace”. That roaring fire video will sparkle, crackle, and pop without wasting one bit of heat anywhere in your house.