How To Increase Fireplace Efficiency

Just a few centuries ago, homeowners had few choices when it came to heating options, and many relied exclusively on the traditional wood-burning fireplace. Built from brick or masonry, these units were relatively simple – burning wood for heat and blowing smoke out the chimney to keep pollutants out of the home.

While the traditional masonry fireplace lends a sense of warmth and romance to the home – it's one of the top three features buyers look for when shopping for a home – it's not necessarily the best source of heat. In fact, the classic masonry fireplace may actually take more heat from your house than it produces. This Old House estimates that as much as eight percent of furnace-generate heat escapes up a fireplace chimney when you leave the damper open.

 Even the most efficient masonry fireplaces are only about 15 percent efficient. That means that 85 percent of the heat they generate goes right out the chimney. By comparison, most modern furnaces are at least 80 percent efficient, and many perform even better, with ratings in the high 90-percent range.

So what's a budget-conscious homeowner to do? Fortunately, modern fireplaces allow buyers to enjoy the warmth and beauty of wood heating without the waste. Check out these options to boost efficiency and get the most from you fireplace.

  1. Dampers and Doors – If you love your masonry fireplace and want to make it as efficient as possible, take the time to close the damper whenever the unit is not in use. Consider installing glass or metal doors to contain heat and boost efficiency even further.
  2. Inserts – Fireplace inserts are self-contained units that fit inside of your existing fireplace. You'll spend $2,000 to $4,000 for one of these appliances, though the efficiency improvements you enjoy may help offset this cost relatively quickly. You can find inserts that burn wood, pellets, coal, oil or natural gas depending on fuel availability in your area.
  3. Wood Stove – Wood stoves are stand-alone appliances with efficiency ratings of 83 percent or higher. The U.S. Department of Energy calls them the most efficient way to burn wood. While these appliances require venting, many can be vented right through your existing fireplace chimney. Some stoves even sit within the fireplace, so you won't lose any floor space. You can find wood stoves that heat a single room, the entire floor or even the whole house. Many of these stoves feature nostalgic designs that lend a sense of history to the home.

For more information on building effeciently, check out companies such as Kar-Los Building Supplies