Tips for Fireplace Use and Safety

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There is nothing like the warmth and ambiance of a fireplace in the cold winter months.  But a fireplace by nature is very energy inefficient when it comes to heating your home, even if it does provide immediate warmth to a room.

About 80 percent of the heated air generated from a fireplace goes up the chimney and out of your home. To compensate for this loss of air, cold outside air is drawn into your home through gaps in doors, windows and other openings.  As a result, your HVAC system is forced to work longer and harder to regulate the temperature in the house.

But you don’t have to give up using your fireplace and enjoying the beauty and warmth it provides.  Proper use and maintenance will not only maximize the fireplace’s efficiency but ensure that it is operating safely as well.

Making it More Efficient

  • Install  a sealed damper (door to the chimney) to replace a poorly insulated one.  Check it regularly to minimize air leakage to keep the warm are in and the cold air out.
  • Install glass doors that are vented along the bottoms or sides.  The doors act as a barrier against warm air being pulled up the chimney.  The glass allows the heat form the fire to radiate into the room while the vents allow a controlled amount of combustion airflow into the fireplace.
  • Use combustion air vents that use outside air to keep the fire lit.  This keeps the heat from the fire inside the room and does not draw it back in and up the chimney.
  • Consider installing a fireplace insert or wood stove into your existing fireplace.  They are equipped with glass doors, outside combustion air vents and heat circulation blowers.

Making it Safer

  • Make sure the damper is open adequately to allow smoke to exit the room.
  • Do not close the damper while fire is burning or there are hot ashes in the fireplace.
  • Keep the fire small for minimal smoke.
  • Do not use flammable liquids to start the fire and do not burn paper or trash.
  • Never leave the fire or hot embers unattended.
  • Never burn a fire for more than five hours.
  • Keep the surrounding area clean and free of flammable materials.
  • Use screens to protect pets and children from getting too close to the fire.
  • Have the chimney cleaned and checked annually to make sure it is clear of obstructions. The Chimney Safety Institute of America can provide more information on what to  look for in an evaluation.
  • Use a carbon monoxide detector. See “Why Carbon Monoxide Detectors Should be in your Home” for additional information.

Following these steps will go a long way to ensuring your fireplace is energy efficient and safe.  You can enjoy the beauty and warmth of your fireplace all winter long – just do it wisely!


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