A wood burning fireplace can be a wonderful nostalgic centerpiece to the home, especially during the cold and wet winter months. The warmth of a good fire might even make you think you are helping to heat your home, but the truth is that a fireplace, although lovely to look at, can be a really energy hog.
Fireplaces do create heat, but the heat created by the combustion of a fire quickly rises and escapes your home via the chimney. This same combustion process also grabs the already heated air in your home and removes that too. Installing glass fireplace doors can limit the amount of heat pulled out, but they will also severely limit the amount of radiant heat the fireplace will be able to emit into your living space. That radiant heat is the actual warmth you would feel from the fire, so you might be solving for one problem yet creating another. No radiant heat from the fireplace sort of negates the coziness factor.
To top it off, during the burning of your fire, your home is drawing in cold outside air from other places like doors and windows to replace the air that is escaping the home through the chimney. So, instead of creating more warmth, you are in fact losing heat and making your home colder by using your fireplace.
A gas fireplace may seem like a greener option, but there is still a loss of heat through the chimney not to mention the cost of the gas to constantly fuel the fire.
The solution may seem to be to just not use the fireplace, and that can be a good start if you want to save precious heat and energy. But, unfortunately, even with the damper closed, your fireplace leaks air, pulling it right up and out of your home, translating to money out of your pocket.
So, what can be done?
First, always make sure the damper is closed when the fireplace is not in use. Having an open damper can be like leaving a 48″ window open in your living room.
Second, consider installing glass doors on your fireplace. They will not be completely air tight, but can help significantly with heat loss.
In addition to glass doors, in a gas fireplace you can also install a heat-air exchange system that will blow warm air back into the room instead of up the chimney.
Consider a fireplace balloon. This is an inflatable pillow that seals the damper, eliminating air leaks. Fireplace balloons can be found online and are fairly easy to install yourself. Just make sure to always remove the balloon before using the fireplace.
And finally, take this information for what it is. If you really crave that cozy fire on a cold winter’s day, go ahead and enjoy yourself. Just be aware that you might be losing some heat and energy from your home in the process. However, sometimes there is nothing like the ambiance of a crackling fire in the fireplace, and there are some days when it just might be worth it to light it up.