04/05/2017 by Jay Williams
Your Fireplace: Handle with Care
A fireplace is an attractive feature in any room, and – especially if you’re a romantic – a crackling fire is about as important to a successful rendezvous as a bottle of good wine!
But if you’re going to be practical, you might as well use dollar bills for kindling, because most fireplaces send more heat up the chimney than they add to the home.
A roaring fire can suck 400 cubic feet of air right out of the house – air that you’ve paid dearly to heat and that you are counting on to keep you warm when you venture more than a few feet beyond the hearth!
Another thing: A fireplace can add hundreds of dollars to your heating bill even when you are not using it. If the damper is open or not well sealed when closed, heated air from the room will be drawn up the chimney and you’ll never realize why the house is so cold or the fuel bills are so high.
When you are using the fireplace, there’s more to worry about. Creosote build-up from burning wood, particularly green or soft wood such as pine, is unavoidable and can cause a serious chimney fire if the flue is not cleaned out regularly.
Fireplaces – and all combustion appliances, such as gas or oil furnaces and gas water heaters – require fresh air for effective burning. Because today’s homes are often tightly sealed for energy efficiency, you may not achieve complete combustion or the chimney may not effectively draw the smoke and gases away.
That means dangerous carbon monoxide can be produced and enter the house, with potentially lethal results. Smoke stains on the front of the fireplace is one clue that such a problem may exist.
A faulty flue or a deteriorated chimney or a chimney without protective devices to keep birds, squirrels and even raccoons from blocking the airflow are also sources of trouble, ranging from annoyance to disaster.
Fortunately, there are solutions that mean you can enjoy your fireplace in comfort and security, and Belvedere has been called on to provide all of them over the years.
The simplest step is to correct any deficiencies in the chimney. It’s also important to ensure that there’s a separate flue for each appliance that produces exhaust, such as the furnace and each fireplace in the house.
Tuckpointing the chimney and putting a proper cap on it will prevent bricks, mortar and animals from falling into the flue.
Ensuring that the damper closes properly and installing glass doors will help prevent heat loss when the fireplace is not being used. Adding a supplemental air intake for combustion air can improve burning efficiency and prevent problems in air-tight homes.
Another solution is to install some sort of heat recovery ventilator that forces heated fireplace air into the room, instead of letting most of it flow up the chimney.
Perhaps the best solution from an energy efficiency and safety point of view is to install a gas or propane fireplace insert with realistic-looking ceramic logs. They are not only efficient and cost-effective, but produce a predictable and even flow of heat. And you can turn them on and off with the flick of a switch whenever you want.
Some of these installations don’t even require a chimney, just a small pipe to the outside that serves to bring in air for combustion and to take out the exhaust gases. That means you can have a fireplace not just in the living room, but virtually any room in the house from bedroom to bathroom.
Imagine a crackling fire while you draw a luxurious bubble bath… Say, did I mention that Belvedere is also experienced in constructing new bathroom additions?