Fireplaces: Bring on the Heat

Want your fireplace to warm more than your heart? Here are some ideas.

Modern fireplace construction has improved efficiency.

Paradoxically, a basic fireplace is a poor way to heat a home: Most of the heat goes up the flue, a lot of toxic and corrosive gases are released in combustion, and without the proper setup the furnace-heated air in the house is also drawn right up the flue.

Fortunately, these concerns have been addressed by the fireplace and stove industry, making many of today's models as efficient as they are attractive.

Gas-fueled fireplaces can easily be installed in almost any room.

Direct-vent and vent-free gas-fueled fireplaces have much greater efficiency than a vented gas fireplace.

Direct vent appliances exhaust connect to the outdoors with a short pipe, and use a single vent to exhaust combustion gases; often, the same vent contains an inner sleeve that draws in fresh air for combustion.

Vent-free appliances are designed to produce such a low amount of carbon monoxide that they can be used safely without a vent to the outside. Some states restrict the installation of vent-less fireplaces, so check with your local building department to find out where you can use this kind of fireplace.

Light-weight, prefabricated fireplaces can be placed at any height.

Wood-burning fireplace efficiency is often determined at installation. That means making changes to improve efficiency can be both difficult and expensive.

One additional way to improve the efficiency is to install a wood-burning stove insert (see page 4 of this story). While the fireplace will run much more efficiently, the appearance will change drastically.

If you have an older fireplace, be sure to maintain it well, burn only well-seasoned hardwoods, and use the glass doors, if the fireplace has them.

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