Your fireplace is a crucial part of your home heating capability. But is your fireplace working the best it possibly can?
Many homeowners and fireplace users seldom realize that the fireplace and chimney that have served them well for years may now need maintenance or restoration – or even replacement. Luckily, modern fireplace construction and venting technology, along with innovations in fireplace maintenance and repair, have made keeping fireplaces in their peak condition both simple and affordable.
With winter coming, consider taking the following steps to maximize your fireplace and chimney’s heating potential.
Keep the Chimney Sealed, Not Just the Damper
Chimneys can “bleed” heat if cracks and fissures in their masonry or foundation are left unchecked. Warm air seeps out and cold air seeps inside, finding its way into the firebox and making it more difficult for a fire to heat the surrounding interior room. Moreover, cracks and fissures actually “feed” on themselves. As water seeps in and then expands as it turns to ice, the brick or masonry crumbles and the dilapidation spreads.
Experts recommend getting your chimney checked for cracks and holes at least once a year, either by yourself or by a chimney or foundation expert. The means of sealing your chimney will depend, of course, largely on the type of chimney your fireplace has. A variety of maintenance and repair accessories are available both in stores and online. For more serious repairs, hiring a bricklayer, carpenter, or other contractor will likely prove necessary.
To keep your home warm even when the fireplace is not in use, make sure the damper is closed whenever the fire is completely extinguished. Investing in a damper hook will make this task less time-consuming and physically awkward.
Improve Ventilation With a Chimney Cap
A copper chimney pot by European Copper
The tops of chimneys are favorite nesting spots for birds, but those same nests can block the chimney’s flue (the airway above the firebox), hampering ventilation and increasing the risk of fire and smoke inhalation for the house and its residents. At the same time, airborne debris from surrounding trees can blow into the chimney as well, presenting fire and ventilation hazards.
By installing a chiney pot or chimney cap atop your chimney, you’ll block birds and airborne debris without sacrificing ventilation. Many chimney caps also make beautiful additions to a home’s silhouette and exterior decorative plan. Chimney pots and caps range from simple to ornate in both appearance and decorative elements, so you have a wide range of appearance choices.
Watch Out For Creosote
Creosote is the gummy, toxic residue left behind when oils escaping from burning wood coalesce and gel alongside the chimney flue walls. Over time, creosote can literally choke off a chimney’s ventilating capability.
Clean out any creosote by hiring a professional chimney sweep or by carefully and thoroughly using any of the creosote-cleaning tools available at stores and online. As a guideline, The National Chimney Safety Institute of America advices cleaning whenever creosote buildup reaches 1/8 of an inch thick.
Check out our guide to keeping your chimney creosote free to learn more.
Install A Direct-Vent or Vent-Free Fireplace Insert
A fireplace insert
As their name somewhat suggests, fireplace inserts are self-contained fireplaces that fit inside the firebox (or bottom) of a fireplace. They offer great energy efficiency potential because their sealed construction allows them to lose much less heat than traditional wood burning fireplaces.
Fireplace inserts are available in wood-burning, gas (both natural gas and propane), electric, and pellet-burning configurations. They are usually either direct vent, meaning they shed exhaust by means of a stovepipe; or vent-free, meaning they are 100% efficient in burning their fuel.
Vent free fireplace inserts also carry the additional advantage of working inside fireplaces whose chimney was removed or whose flue has become significantly obstructed. The insert simply slides into the obstructed firebox.
For more information, please read our complete guide to fireplace inserts.
Convert To A Gas Log Fireplace
Natural gas and propane gas log sets offer a cleaner, lower-maintenance alternative to traditional wood burning fireplaces. Most gas logs are constructed from high-endurance ceramic, and should be installed either by a plumber or licensed gas technician.
Natural gas and propane gas logs each have distinct advantages and drawbacks. Propane gas logs burn almost three times hotter than natural gas logs. However, natural gas fireplaces can run off a home’s existing gas line, while propane tanks require both purchase and periodic refilling. For a complete explanation, please read our complete guide to gas logs.
Install A Wood Stove In a Second Location In Your Home
It’s easy to think of wood stoves as smaller, self-contained fireplaces. Like fireplace inserts, they are available in either direct-vent or vent-free configurations. Depending on that exhaust method, they’re suitable for use in any room in the home, especially attics, basements, and upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms that are hard to heat through conventional HVAC systems.
Wood stoves come in many of the same fuel configurations as fireplace inserts: wood-burning, gas, electric, and pellet-burning. Like fireplace inserts, stoves also feature electronic controls, including electric thermostats and electronic displays, so they’re much more accurate in their heating than conventional fireplaces.
A second (or third, fourth, et cetera) heat source in your home helps your main fireplace by alleviating its heating tasks. The lessened wear and tear helps delay the need for maintenance. Read our guide to wood stoves, electric and gas, and pellet stoves elsewhere on this blog to learn more.
Invest In New Tools, Equipment, and Parts
Investing in new fireplace tools, a new fire grate, or safety accessories such as hearth pads and gates won’t increase your fireplace’s energy efficiency. However, they will make your fireplace easier to operate and more comfortable to enjoy. They’ll also help improve the fireplace’s safety, both to operate and enjoy.