Q – We love to use our fireplace, but the room often gets smoky and our furnace seems to run nonstop. What can we do to make the fireplace heat better without smoke, yet still enjoy the flames?-Peg D.
A – The typical open-hearth wood-burning fireplace is one of the major energy wasters in any home. You may feel warm by the fire, but it literally sucks the heated air out of the rest of your house.
This is why your furnace runs so much while there is a fire.
Fortunately, there are simple do-it-yourself fireplace improvements to increase heat output and eliminate the smoke. These efficiencies can reduce heating bills and enhance the appearance of your fireplace.
The four best fireplace improvements are:
1. A heat circulating grate transfers heat from the flames into your home. These add-on grates have a small, quiet, built-in blower that draws in cool room air.
As the cool room air circulates through a multiple-pass tubular grate, it picks up heat and blows it out into the room. The blower motor is located on the cool-air inlet side so the air inside the tubular grate is under pressure. If there ever is a small leak, smoke will not get mixed in. You can buy standard sizes or have a grate custom-fitted to your fireplace.
Depending on the size of your fireplace, the heat output can heat several rooms without your furnace ever coming on. It is often a good idea to switch your furnace blower on to circulate this hot air throughout your home.
For the best comfort and control, select a grate model that has a built-in thermostat and a variable-speed blower. This allows you to control heat output and sound level. For a decorative look, select one with an add-on satin brass or antique copper grille.
2. Tight-fitting glass fireplace doors are a must. Look for ones with special high-temperature silicon gaskets and strong latches to create an excellent seal. Some, like Wilkening Fireplaces, use cam latches that will stay closed even if large logs accidentally roll off the grate against the doors.
If you are like I am and like to poke at the logs, select new doors with easy-to-open graphite impregnated or Teflon screen slide rods. They are easy to open and close. Full-view doors eliminate the center frame section so the view is not obstructed.
3. A fireback is an age-old technique used often in Europe. A heavy cast-iron plate, often with decorative patterns, is set up in the back of the fireplace. This fireback gets hot and radiates more warmth into your room.
4. A chimney sealing device solves the problem that most fireplace dampers do not seal well and lose room air when there is no fire. Try using a low-cost inflatable chimney pillow. Whenever there is no fire and the damper area is cool, push the clear plastic pillow up into the chimney. It has a long hose with a clip. Blow it up so it expands and seals off the chimney.
To reduce smoke in your room, make sure you are burning seasoned firewood. Installing a chimney fan/screen unit on top of the chimney will help. Most models have adjustable speeds to fine-tune the draft. You can install one in about 30 minutes.
Always keep a window opened slightly in the room to provide make-up air when a fire is burning and especially if the chimney fan is running. You must be careful not to cause your furnace or water heater flue to backdraft.