There are few things that create a sense of warmth and ambiance in a home like an open fireplace. However, as many fireplace owners can appreciate, sometimes it is, in fact, only a sense of warmth instead of a genuine source of heat. And, when improperly fitted, used or maintained, an open fireplace can not only emit very little warmth, but can actually be a significant drain on your home’s general heating source. There are a few simple and affordable ways, however, to maximize the efficacy and efficiency of your open fireplace and avoid watching precious heat and dollar bills from going right out the chimney.
A great fire starts with great wood, and great wood means pieces that are split, dried and stored properly all year round. It is recommended that wood intended for home fireplaces or fire pits not exceed 6" in diameter. Logs that are too round will take too long to dry once cut and then too long to burn. Wood should always be stored split side down and most importantly – they must be stored off the ground. Commercial log racks are the best way to go, but even wooden pallets are better than putting logs directly on the ground. Firewood should be covered with a tarp to keep out rain and snow, but not so tight that air cannot circulate. Finally, hardwoods like oak and maple should be stored for a minimum of 12-months for a perfect burn; 6-months for softwoods like pines, firs and cedars.
Once you have your woodpile, the two most fundamental factors in getting the most out of your fireplace are making sure that the heat generated by the fire radiates out into the room, and keeping the warmth that is emitted inside the room. One way to ensure that the fireplace is giving off as much heat as possible is to install a cast iron fireback. A fireback both protects the rear wall from breaking down over time from the intense heat and reflects heat back into the room that would otherwise be absorbed. Firebacks can also add beauty to your fireplace as there are many decorative varieties available. To install a fireback, all that is needed is a thoroughly cleaned fireplace and a set of "Saf-T Boots", braces that sit on the bottom and hold the cast iron fireback in place. Installing a fireback requires no bolting or securing, but the elements are sufficiently heavy that having a second person to assist in the installation is a good idea. You can pick up a pair of Saf-T Boots for less than $100.00, but if that’s not in the budget, firebacks can also be leaned against the back wall in a pinch.
The most effective way to keep precious heat from escaping up and out your chimney is to install a set of glass fireplace doors. While closing the damper works once your fire has completely burned down, this can often take up to 24-hours which is entirely too long when it comes to conserving energy. By installing glass doors, you can safely contain the embers of a dwindling fire and allow residual smoke to escape through the damper in the process. Glass fireplace enclosures can also add beauty to any home and there are more styles available than ever before. Installing glass doors can take a little time and effort, but with the plethora of ready-made kits on the market, it can be a relatively easy job ,even for a novice do-it-yourselfer.
Finally, keeping your fireplace clean from top to bottom will help your fire run more efficiently and reduce the hazards of by-product build-up like creosote. Frequency of cleaning can depend on the size of the fireplace and the number of burns, but once per year should generally do the trick.
Following these relatively simple steps will help you to have a healthy, efficient and effective fire year after year. Enjoy!