When it's cold outside, woolen socks, furry slippers and a cozy fire are just the thing to take the chill out of the air. Or are they?
The socks and slippers will do just fine. But warming up beside a crackling fire in the fireplace may be more a romanticized picture than a reality.
As they go, fireplaces are notoriously inefficient they're better at adding ambiance to the mood than heat to the room. A roaring fire burning in an open-masonry fireplace can lose more than 85 percent of its heat right up the chimney.
Plus, it may take as much as 24,000 cubic feet of warm house air with it per hour. That means cold outside air must replace the warm inside air lost through the chimney. The incoming cold air must be heated by the central heating system and the inefficiency cycle continues.
Nonetheless, Americans are charmed by fireplaces. When used correctly, they add warmth as well as appeal to the room. You can improve the heat efficiency of a fireplace by following these simple tips.
When fireplaces are in use:
Open the dampers at the bottom of the firebox. If none are available, open the nearest window slightly (less than 1 inch), close the doors leading into the room and lower the thermostat to 55 degrees.
Keep the glass doors open while the fireplace is in use to allow the fire's heat to radiate back into the room. However, close the glass doors once the fire begins to die down for the night. This prevents heat loss and is a good safety practice. Be sure to keep the damper open to vent the smoke of a fading fire during the night.
Use C-shaped grates made of metal tubes that draw cold air into the fireplace and recirculate the heated air into the room. Or install a heat-air exchange system that blows the warmed air back into the room.
Burn wood that has a high heat rating, such as oak or almond.
Have the chimney inspected and cleaned annually. Creosote forms from a combination of burning unseasoned wood, incomplete combustion and cool surfaces. Smoldering fires form the most creosote.
When fireplaces are not in use:
Close all dampers. Keeping the damper open is like leaving a 4-foot-wide window open.
Make sure the seal on the flue damper fits tightly.
Add caulk to the fireplace hearth.
Install tempered glass doors and keep them closed when the fireplace is not in use.
Wood-burning stoves are another option for heating spaces. If you are considering purchasing one, remember that the amount of area to be heated will dictate, in part, the size of the stove. Too small a stove will not get the room heated; too large of a stove is wasteful. Plenty of styles and various features are available.
Remember that the stove gets plenty hot. Allow for the recommended amount of clearance along the back, top and sides. Follow codes for installation and venting.
As nostalgic as wood-burning stoves might be, they pose a safety hazard for children. Consider the likelihood of children or any family member getting burned before deciding on this route.
So, what will it be fireplace or wood-burning stove? Can't decide? I guess you'll just have to cozy up with the old crocheted afghan.
Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and home and garden writer for the Journal-World.