Open hearth fireplaces create great ambiance. Unfortunately, they also create soot, smoke, and, in many cases, cold drafts elsewhere in the house. As a result, many of these increasingly anachronistic fireplaces are left unused or even sealed shut. A better solution is to install a gas or pellet burning insert fireplace, which offers the same ambiance, increased efficiency, and few of the drawbacks of open hearth fireplaces.
There’s nothing like gathering around a fire on a cold winter day. But if your house has a traditional, open hearth fireplace, plan on gathering close. In keeping with this blog’s ongoing discussion about home heating and energy conservation, I thought it was important to point out that open hearth fireplaces send most of their heat–as much as 90 percent–up the chimney. And it’s not just heat escaping up the chimney, warm air from inside your home is also pulled along, and is replaced by cold air leaking in from outside, creating drafts. Open hearth fireplaces also create smoke in the house and release considerable pollution into the air outside. The solution? A fireplace insert that burns cleanly and efficiently without creating the updraft of a roaring cordwood fire.
How Inserts Work
The concept behind fireplace inserts is pretty simple–a sealed fireplace is inserted into an existing open hearth fireplace opening. In most cases, the insert is custom-built to ensure an air-tight fit. You might also opt for a pellet-burning stove, which extends from the old fireplace onto the hearth. The issues involved in installation, such as making sure the fit is airtight and inspecting and, if necessary, installing a protective sleeve in the chimney, mean that installing a fireplace insert is beyond the skills of most do-it-yourselfers. Be safe and hire a certified installer who not only has the experience and expertise to do the job right, but is also familiar with any applicable local building codes that need to be followed.
Going With Gas
Fireplace inserts that burn natural gas or propane typically include fake logs around the burners, which creates a look that most closely resembles a traditional cordwood fire. Some newer models use colored rocks or other materials, rather than fake logs, to achieve a much more modern, arty look. The advantages of gas fireplaces is that they are efficient and release no particulate matter into the atmosphere. They do release carbon monoxide and other pollutants, but at a much lower rate than an open hearth fireplace. The price of natural gas and propane can also fluctuate significantly.
Heating With Pellets
Another option is to install a fireplace insert or heating stove that burns pellets. Pellets are usually made of sawdust, wood bark, and other wood byproducts. Some stoves can also burn other biomass fuels like corn kernels. These fuels burn much cleaner than cord wood, releasing far less particulate matter, and leaving far less ash behind.
Making the Change
A huge, open fireplace is great in a ski lodge, but in your own home, you want a fireplace that burns cleaner and more efficiently. With a fireplace insert, you can build a fire that heats your home, not your chimney and the great outdoors.