I like to burn my fireplace, but it cools my house more than heats it. I cannot afford a new efficient fireplace. What can I do to make my old fireplace produce some heat yet still watch the flames?
In the typical home, burning a fireplace (wood or gas logs) can actually increase utility bills rather than cut them. To make the problem worse, a fireplace continues to waste energy year-round even when it is not burning.
There are several simple do-it-yourself fireplace kits and
improvements to convert it from a heat waster to a heat producer. These improvements still allow you to watch the dancing flames and hear the crackling sounds.
For the most heat output, up to 40,000 Btu per hour, install a heat circulating grate. The grate itself is made of hollow tubing. Several effective designs are available for both natural wood or gas log sets.
Room air is circulated through the hot grate by a small blower. The blower is thermostatically controlled and continues to blow out warm air as long as the ashes and coals are still hot. The blower speed is adjustable.
The most efficient kits are designed to fit underneath glass doors. Cool room air is drawn in one side and hot air is blown out the other. It only raises the doors about an inch. These models also are designed with the blower behind the glass doors so it is not visible or noisy.
Installing good-quality glass doors is a must. These reduce the loss of heated room air when the fireplace is burning and when it isn't being used. Most have screens inside so you can open the glass doors sometimes if you want to hear the crackling while the fire is burning.
Don't just buy the cheapest glass door kit. Although they all look good, the best-quality, tight sealing kits have smaller gaps between the door segments. They should be heavy and rigid to provide a good seal.
Select glass doors with adjustable slotted openings to control the air flow to the fire. Check the fit of the slotted slide. The back of the door frame should be stuffed with insulation to seal against the fireplace opening.
An antique style, decorative "fire back" also helps. It is a heavy metal plate which is placed in the back of the fireplace. When the fire back gets hot, it radiates more heat out directly into your room.
When your fireplace is not being used, insert an inexpensive reusable inflatable pillow seal in the flue opening. This blocks air leakage and provides insulation value. Place it up by the chimney damper and blow it up.
Write for Bulletin No. 714 listing manufacturers of heat circulating grates, high-quality efficient glass doors, inflatable pillow seals, fire backs and efficiency tips, send a business-size self-addressed, stamped envelope, along with $2 to James Dulley, c/o The Sun, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244