Fireplaces are a great way to set a romantic mood or warm your feet on a cold winter’s night. Wood burning fireplaces (also called open-masonry fireplaces) were once the norm, especially in the colder climate of Canadian homes. The downside of course is their inefficiency. In terms of energy efficiency, a wood burning fireplace is at most 15% efficient, compare to gas furnaces that reach as high a 80-90%. In addition, if the damper is left open, a fireplace can actually have a negative efficiency.
There are a few methods that help avoid some of these issues. Closing the damper seals the chimney and prevents warm air from escaping through the chimney. You can also purchase glass doors, metal doors or heat shields to block the front of the fireplace when not in use. These help keep the warm air in the home.
Wood burning fireplaces are quickly becoming a thing of the past with other options available on the market. Wood stoves can increase a fireplace’s efficiency as well as beautify your home. Adding a wood stove in front of your fireplace will allow the chimney to act as an exhaust. You can also install a wood stove without a fireplace, but doing so can be costly to install, as well as operate, especially if you are going to use wood. The other downside is that woods stove can be a fire hazard, so professional installation is a must.
As an alternative to a wood stove, you may want to consider a fireplace insert, which is essentially a metal wood stove that fits into an existing fireplace cavity. These are fairly easy to install and can improve the fireplace’s efficiency without taking up additional space.
The most popular of fireplaces on the market today seem to be gas fireplaces. Gas fireplaces use a gas burner enclosed in a firebox with artificial logs behind a glass front. With the flip of a switch or turn of a knob, the homeowner can control the amount of heat and size of flame instantly. Because gas fireplaces use natural gas or propane, the fuel being burned is much cleaner and more energy efficient, not to mention there is also no mess to clean up afterwards.
Gas fireplaces can come in 3 model types – gas fireplace inserts, factory-built gas fireplaces and free-standing fireplaces.
A gas fireplace insert is installed in an existing fireplace cavity and converts a wood burning fireplace to a natural gas or propane fireplace. In order to do this, the existing chimney must be relined and vented properly.
Factory-built gas fireplaces are brand new fireplaces that are installed in home with no pre-existing fireplace. These are typically found in newly built homes, or homes undergoing renovation. They are also known as zero clearance units.
Free-standing fireplaces resemble a wood burning stove with all surfaces exposed, making it the most effective fireplace for supplying heat to the home.
Fireplaces have come a long way from their original concept. Today’s fireplace can come equipped with heat circulation ducts built right into the fireplace, even a masonry one. They pull air in from the room, circulate it in a metal firebox and send back warm air to the room. Some units even have a built-in fan to increase the flow of air and heat.