A fireplace is a wonderful way to brighten up your home during the holidays. While increasingly few houses have them, those of us that grew up with fireplaces have many find memories of sitting around the hearth with hot cocoa or a good book. But are fireplaces actually a good heat source? As Northern California braces for the coldest months of the year, our Redding HVAC pros at Wallner Plumbing Heating & Air investigate.
A classic wood-burning fireplace may add a rustic charm to your home, and everyone loves the cracks and pops wood makes as you’re sitting around the fire. However, wood fireplaces, while they may warm your skin, are not an effective way of heating your home. In fact, most of the warm air generated by wood fireplaces is released through your chimney. And because you have to leave your damper open for hours to let any remaining embers burn down, using a wood-burning fireplace can actually leave your home colder than it was before you even lit a fire.
On top of this, opening your chimney also creates a draft, letting warm air from elsewhere in your home out. And while you may love the way burning wood smells, too much wood smoke is actually toxic, and can release carbon monoxide and harmful chemicals into your air, depleting oxygen levels.
The Verdict: A wood-burning fireplace is a fun accessory, but not a good substitute for a furnace. If you do have a wood fireplace, make sure to use hickory, ash, oak, maple, and other hard woods for fuel, as they generate more heat and will therefore help offset all the warmth you are losing through your chimney. In the end, while it may seem like a waste of money to keep your heat on while using a wood fireplace, you might as well—as it is the only way to guarantee your warmth while the fire dies out.
Many homeowners prefer gas fireplaces because they don’t come with the same messy soot and ash you have to deal with when operating a wood fireplace. They’re also more efficient than wood-burning fireplaces—at least, they are if you already have a natural gas line running into your home. If you have a gas heating system, such as a furnace or a boiler, you probably have a line running to your gas fireplace, too. However, if you have an electric heater, your gas fireplace probably operates off a propane tank.
The Verdict: While gas fireplaces are not a particularly efficient way to heat your home, they can be used to generate a little extra warmth, assuming you also have a gas heater. If you have an electric heater, however, using a gas fireplace essentially means wasting energy on two heat sources at once, as you would not want to turn off your electric heater just to turn on your gas fireplace.
Electric fireplaces can add ambiance to your property, are usually quite portable, and are as easy to operate as turning on a switch. They also do not burn fuel, so they last a long time and do not release toxic chemicals or gases into your air, unlike wood-burning or gas fireplaces. On the other hand, electric fireplaces are often more expensive to use than gas and wood fireplaces, and may not be worth the increased electrical bills, given that they are basically just fancy space heaters.
The Verdict: Electric fireplaces are no way to heat your home. They are a nice decoration, but in terms of generating heat, they are all but useless. Not to mention that if you’re using one and the power goes out, you’ll probably wish you had a regular fireplace instead.