Cross section of a fireplace showing a properly installed fireplace insert with venting. (right)
Nothing is more attractive than a masonry fireplace in your home creating a cozy ambiance in the evening or on the weekend. Additionally providing heat and comfort on those extra cold days.
Conventional masonry and factory-built fireplaces have proven to be inefficient at heat production. These fireplaces produce an unhealthy source of smoke, indoors and out. The EPA recommends installing an EPA certified fireplace insert, a vented gas stove, or a pellet stove to reduce the risks of unhealthy smoke for you, your family, and neighbors.
EPA certified fireplace inserts give you the same efficient performance as EPA certified wood stoves. A certified insert is similar to a freestanding wood stove, but it has been modified by the manufacturer to fit a fireplace opening (see cross-sectional illustration at right). The insert converts a fireplace into a much more efficient, lower polluting heating system.
A certified installer will make sure to add a flue liner in your masonry chimney. Lining the chimney helps maintain a proper draft and prevents icing, which can block the flow of air through the system.
If your fireplace is factory built (or "zero-clearance"), you must use an insert that was specifically designed and tested for your unit to make it more efficient and less polluting. You can ascertain the brand and model of your fireplace by checking the label, which is generally on the sidewall of the firebox. A certified chimney sweep or retailer of hearth products can help you do this.
EPA recommends that you have your chimney professionally inspected and cleaned each year to remove the creosote and keep it in good working order. The Chimney Safety Institute of America provides a list of certified Chimney Sweeps, searchable by state.
Many open fireplaces are set up more for decoration than efficient burning. Today, fireplaces burn not only wood, but natural gas and/ or propane. Many of the new electric models offer amazing realism. Gas models are available that have the same efficiency rating as central furnaces. These gas models have a broad range of heating capacities; some even offer ducting and heat circulation systems that make it possible to heat a substantial portion of your house.