Fireplaces have become less common due to the popularity and ease of fossil fuel use for home heating. In just the first 70 years of the 20th century, the percentage of homes using a wood-burning appliance for heat dropped from 90 to about 1 percent, the U.S. Department of Energy reports. However, since the 1970s, fireplace use is getting a second look as a home heating method (See Reference 1). When used efficiently, wood or pellet fuel can reduce your dependence on nonrenewable energy sources, making them a viable alternative to electric or gas heating.
Building and Burning a Fire
When using your fireplace, open the chimney damper and create a large blaze. Hot fires create a more complete combustion process and will give off heat more efficiently than a slower smoldering fire. The bricks on the fireplace itself will also radiate heat better with a hotter fire. Once the fire is at full blast, adjust the damper on the chimney, closing it as much as possible without forcing smoke from the fire back into the room. Partially closing the damper will prevent most of the heat from escaping through the chimney. (See Reference 2)
Increasing Damper Efficiency
Some fireplaces have a bottom damper located under the firebox, separate from the one located inside the chimney. Opening the bottom damper helps prevent heat loss through the chimney. If your fireplace lacks a bottom damper, opening an adjacent window and closing the door to the room will help push heat away from the chimney and circulate it throughout the room. Open the nearby window no more than 1 inch for maximum efficiency, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. (See Reference 3) After using your fireplace, close the main damper. If left open, the damper will allow warm air to escape through the chimney. (See Reference 3)
Increasing Efficiency With an Insert
An insert converts a traditional fireplace into a wood-burning stove through the use of a metal encasing and a heat exchanger. The four-sided metal encasing sits at the bottom of the fireplace. A metal liner is placed inside the chimney, connected to the encasing. Heat from burning wood is forced through a heat exchanger, which circulates the warm air. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a fireplace insert can make your fireplace up to five times more efficient. (See Reference 2)
Before each heating season or at least once a year, have your fireplace inspected by a professional chimney sweep. The Chimney Safety Institute of America offers certifications for chimney sweeps. With a certified chimney sweep, your fireplace will be professionally evaluated and cleaned for maximum safety and efficiency. During the heating season, clean your fireplace regularly. Use a broom to remove ash from the bottom pan, and a wire brush to clean collected soot off the inside -- a clean fireplace operates more efficiently. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, even one-tenth of an inch of soot collected inside the fireplace can lower the heat-transfer efficiency by as much as 50 percent. (See Reference 1)
Amelia Jenkins has more than eight years of professional writing experience, covering financial, environmental and travel topics. Her work has appeared on MSN and various other websites and her articles have topped the best-of list for sites like Bankrate and Kipplinger. Jenkins studied English at Tarrant County College.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images