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Q & A: Fireplaces

By Diane MacEachern |

Learn how a fireplace can save you energy and money.

Updated On 02/26/2011 | Originally Published On 02/24/10

Do you have any tips on how to maximize the heating value of the fireplace?

Sure, fireplaces can be warm and cozy — but most do a better job heating the chimney than they do warming the house. Why? They pull warm air out of the house when they burn, and leak cold air into the house when they're not in use. If you want your fireplace to pack more punch, follow these simple steps.

  • Replace the damper. Most fireplaces are fitted with a metal "throat" damper above the firebox that leaks air from the outside down the chimney and into the room when the fireplace isn't being used. A Lyemance or lock-top damper inserted into the top of the chimney can be 90 percent more effective at stopping leaks because it seals the damper with a tight-fitting silicone rubber gasket.
  • Install an insert. Try a fireplace insert to seal off the fireplace when it's not being used, and you'll reduce the chilly drafts a fireplace often creates. Models certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not only save more energy, but they reduce the air pollution created from burning wood by as much as 70 percent. Here's an added benefit: You may qualify for a federal tax credit worth as much as $1500 by choosing a highly efficient insert.
  • Use dry materials. Wood burns best when it's dry. If you chop your own wood, season it outdoors for at least six months before you use it, and keep it covered to protect it from the elements. Any wood you use should be so dry it's cracked at the ends and sounds hollow when you smack it against a hard surface.

    In 2000, 60 percent of new homes were built with at least one fireplace compared to 36 percent in 1971.

    If you have an insert or wood stove, use pellets made from compressed wood by-products and other plant materials, like biomass. Pellets burn particularly well because they contain so little moisture. Some stoves and inserts can use dried corn as well as wood pellets.

    If you use manufactured logs, choose those made from 100 percent compressed sawdust. Do not burn logs made from wax and sawdust in your wood stove or fireplace insert, since they are made for open-hearth fireplaces.
  • Don't forget the basics. Even if your fireplace burns gas, make sure the damper closes tightly. Or try installing a fan to re-circulate heated air back into the room, instead of letting it travel up the chimney.
  • Be safe when you burn. Don't toss garbage, plastic, magazines or boxes onto your fire; they may contain chemicals that become toxic when burned. Install detectors for smoke and carbon monoxide to help you monitor the indoor air quality. And keep a fire extinguisher handy in the event that unwanted sparks fly.

Got any other suggestions for making the most of your fireplace? Share your recommendations by commenting below.

Diane MacEachern is the author of Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World, and a popular blog, Big Green Purse.

Share with Your Friends & Family
  • james and Ella Mae j. 5 years ago
    love fire places
  • Elaine F. 6 years ago
    My ex uses old beat up skids for wood.
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