Q. We love to use our brick fireplace in the living room, but it makes the rest of the house cold. Heating bills are already too high. What can make the fireplace more efficient?
Those relaxing open fires cost you in several ways. First you have to buy firewood, which is not cheap. Second, when a fire is burning, the radiant heat feels good in front of the fire, but warm air is being drawn from the rest of your house. This makes the furnace run longer. Third, when there is no fire, room air is still being lost up the chimney.
The first thing you must do is install high-quality glass doors over the front of the fireplace. These doors will control the amount of room air sucked up the chimney when a fire is burning. They will also help block some of the room air loss when there is no fire.
High-quality fireplace doors are not cheap, but they are worth the expense. The best ones are relatively airtight. By adjusting combustion air vents in the bottom of the glass door frame, you can control how much room air goes up the chimney. Keep in mind, the fire does need an adequate supply of combustion air for an efficient, clean burn.
There are several designs of heat-circulating grates that greatly increase the heat output from a fireplace. Many efficient ones are designed to fit snugly under the bottom edge of the fireplace doors. An electric blower circulates room air through the grate and the air comes back out very hot.
Select a model with a blower that has several or variable speeds and an automatic on/off switch. This switch shuts off the blower when the fire burns down. If you really do like to use the fireplace with the doors open, tubular heat-circulating grates are available to blow the heat directly out the front. Some models have no blower and rely on natural convection.
Stoll Fireplaces makes a heat exchanger that mounts at the top of the fireplace opening and works with gas or wood-burning fireplaces. This is the hottest area so the heat from the blower is tremendous.
When there is no fire, insert an inflatable chimney pillow or balloon in the fireplace flue. This seals much better than the chimney damper. Once you blow up the pillow, it should stay in place. Some models have a pole to hold it up. Chimney top dampers, which operate from indoors with a chain, also help reduce air leakage and keep critters and debris out of the chimney.
The following companies offer fireplace efficiency products: Battic Door, www.batticdoor.com; Custom Firescreen, www.customfirescreen.com; Diamond W Products, www. diamond-w.com; Northline Express, www.northlineexpress.com; and Stoll Fireplace, www.stollfireplaceinc.com.
Send inquiries to James Dulley, c/o The Charlotte Observer, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244; or visit www.dulley.com.