How To Upgrade Your Old Fireplace
Imagine ice covering the edges of the windows all throughout the house. And, that as a result of the chill you and your best friend decide to light a fire, pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly and snuggle together in front of the fireplace and let the rest of the world pass you by — even if only for and hour or two. Sounds great doesn’t it. Romantic, warm – and easy to picture.
We don’t want to bust your bubble, because we see the same picture that you do. Only we have taken it one step further. We have upgraded our fireplace so that it is more of a friend whether in use or not. Believe it or not a fireplace can be one of the biggest energy wasters in your home. If not properly outfitted it can draw precious heat out of the home and discard it uselessly into the atmosphere. And, it doesn’t have to be that way.
For example, it is pretty common knowledge that the fireplace damper must be in the full open position in order to start a fire. But, did you know that once the fire has started that the damper should be closed down as far as possible without causing smoke to back up into the room? This is done because we want the chimney to exhaust all the smoke that is created by the fire, but not the heat. With the damper wide open both smoke and heat are exhausted at about the same rate. Closing the damper allows smoke to exhaust and retains more heat. A cuddly thought as far as we are concerned.
Keep in mind that a fireplace exhausts smoke in a sort of a siphon action. Once heat begins to rise through the stack the siphon that is created continues to draw air from within the house and so on. Isn’t it interesting that a fire burning devise can actually remove warm air from the home. To offset the problem you can install glass doors and add outside air ducts to the inside of the firebox.
Glass doors act as dampers when the fireplace is not being used and reduce the amount of warm air that is drawn out of the home and into the fireplace when a fire has been lighted. Outside air ducts (also known as combustion air ducts) are required in the construction of all new fireplaces and can be retrofitted into existing ones. Fires burn oxygen and in a tightly sealed home a fireplace will drain a home of oxygen in no time. Combustion air ducts provide the air from the exterior of the home leaving oxygen in the home for you to breathe. Naturally, if the fireplace draws air from ducts it won’t need to draw warm air from within the home. Simple huh?!?
Just a not about fireplaces drawing air out of tightly sealed homes. Interestingly, as a fire reduces the air in a home through combustion the air pressure in the home also reduces. Finally, when the air pressure in the home is less inside than it is outside the siphon action of the chimney slow (or stops) and the home quickly fills with smoke. This problem can occur to varying degrees, but is usually always for the same reason. Outside air ducts can eliminate this condition.
Finally, we’d like to talk about the chimney top. Most folks know that sparks from chimneys can cause fires, and therefore are aware of spark arresters and their value as safety devises. But now there is a new kid on the block that acts as the spark arrester and as a damper as well. In its capacity as a damper it restricts the flow of air into the chimney helping the damper at the fire box and the glass doors at the hearth prevent cold air from getting in or out of the home. And with today’s energy costs there is few better investments in the home related to cost and comfort than those related to energy conservation.
By the way, here is a neat trick that will help to keep glass fireplace doors clean and neat year round. Once the doors have cooled spray them with glass or window cleaner or your own mixture of vinegar and water. Then spray a clean soft cloth until a wet spot is created. Dip the wet spot into the fine gray ash left by your last fire and rub the ash onto the dirty surface. It will clean easier than ever before. And the next time you and your best friend snuggle down next to a warm fire you’ll be even more comfortable knowing that it is not only beautiful – but energy efficient too! And, good luck!