A fireplace connects with something imbedded within the human spirit. In prehistoric times our ancestors gazed in wonder and contemplation at the crackling flames they relied upon for warmth and cooking. A roaring fire remains fascinating to humans tens of thousands of years later, except for most of us those flames are a luxury rather than a necessity.
Romance aside, it is hard to imagine a more uncomfortable and inefficient form of home heating. A roaring fire can suck as much as 1,500 cubic feet a minute of interior air up the chimney. That is air heated by your furnace, heat pump or boiler. The toasty feeling you get sitting near the flame disguises the fact that if you stand a few feet farther away you will feel colder than you would without a fire going.
As heated air goes up the chimney, colder air from outside is being sucked in to replace it. The colder it is outside, the more pronounced this effect; and the bigger the fire, the greater the energy deficit.
Glass fireplace doors can significantly reduce the energy loss. But this involves an aesthetic tradeoff, since flames are less compelling when closed off. When the fire burns out, an open damper continues to draw heated air out of the house. So be sure to close the damper when the fireplace is not in use.
Wood-burning fireplaces also are a safety hazard. Numerous homes burn down each year from fires traced to creosote build-up on the inside of a chimney. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, have a professional chimney sweep come once a year to inspect and clean your chimney. Also, get a fireproof hearth throw rug to put in front of your fireplace to prevent sparks or ashes from causing a fire or damaging your floor.
Furthermore, wood-burning fireplaces contribute mightily to air pollution. To meet EPA clean air standards, many communities regulate the use of wood stoves and fireplaces, sometimes banning them in new construction.
Gas fireplaces, using either natural gas or propane, are much more energy-efficient than wood burners. Options such as a thermostat, multi-speed blower and electronic ignition can further enhance their efficiency and convenience. Some high-tech gas fireplaces employ catalytic converters, ceramic insulation and ceramic glass doors to burn cleaner and more efficiently. Combustion air gets drawn from the outside rather than using warm room air.
A high-technology fireplace should not emit visible smoke. If you have one of these devices and see smoke pouring out of your chimney, it’s a sign that something is wrong with the installation or operation. Take special care to make sure that the flue is not obstructed. If a chimney or vent is blocked, it may cause carbon monoxide to build up inside the home.
Fireplaces help take the sting out of winter for many people. Just be sure to follow the precautions and give us a call to ensure safe installation and operation of gas units.