Heating with a Fireplace

We are back! With our special – ‘Staying Warm!’ All about you, your home, and old man winter!

We’re going to wrap up today’s show with an age-old heating method – one that plenty of people love – but which plenty of people say 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 ten people, and chances are all ten will tell you – they’re nice, but they don’t really heat your home.

The government agrees. The federal government says that the primary reason for using a fireplace – is ambiance. 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 heat a 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 blocks that make up the firebox get super hot – as the fire is roaring – and that heat radiates back into the room.

But the fire is still pulling air out of the room – up the chimney. And it’s even worse when the fire’s not going at all – and the flue is open. The Department of Energy says that leaving the flue open is just like leaving a window open in your house – all that warm air is going right outside.

So, ok. Heating your home with a wood burning fireplace? That’s tough.

But 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 it’s in – try to minimize the heat loss, by closing the doors leading to that room, as much as possible. And also, the DOE suggests that you turn the heat down – so that you’re not paying to heat air – that goes right up the chimney.

Next, they suggest that you crack open a window in the room where the fireplace is located – open it about one inch – so that the air it draws in is from the outdoors – not from other rooms in your house.

The EPA has an excellent website called ‘Burn Wise,’ which answers all sorts of questions about heating with wood….they recommend seasoning cut firewood for at least six months before using it. And that its moisture content should be less than 20%. You can buy a moisture meter at the hardware store – if you’re serious about making sure the wood you burn is properly seasoned.

Oh and one really important point – you should not see or smell any smoke if everything’s working well. The fireplace should push the smoke up the chimney – not into the living room….so if you see or smell smoke, there’s a problem. In that case, douse the fire – and have a chimney expert come take a look.

So again….to heat your home….well, 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. Or even a wood-stove insert that can go into your existing fireplace box.

But – 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 the big screen TV, go to Netflix or YouTube, and search – High-Definition Fireplace. And that roaring fire video – will sparkle, crackle and pop – without wasting one bit of heat – anywhere in your house.

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