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Newsletter #239

Home House Fireplace

New House Building: Money Saving, Convenience and Healthy House Tips

James Todd,
August, 2005

All past newsletters are archived online at:



  1. Definitions
  2. Fireplace overview
  3. Cost of Operating a fireplace
  4. heating Efficiency
  5. Air Quality
  6. Vented and Vent Free Fireplaces
  7. Other considerations for fireplaces
  8. In conclusion
  9. Thought for the Day
  10. Subscriptions/Removal Instructions
Subscription and removals are automated and instruction can be found at the end of this newsletter.



1. Definitions:

Freestanding Stove

Wood or gas heating appliance normally on legs or a pedestal.


Any enclosure, open in the front, for burning fuel. Wood burning fireplaces may either burn wood or be fitted with gas logs, or certain fireplace inserts. Gas fireplaces contain a burner apparatus and artificial logs and are usually sealed.

 Fireplace Insert

Wood or gas appliance designed to be installed partially or fully into the firebox of an existing masonry or factory-built fireplace, and which vents into the fireplace chimney.


2.0 Fireplace Overview

A fireplace in your home can provide many hours of enjoyment, add a romantic atmosphere and even provide heat for your home during the cold winter months. Fireplaces have long been part of our culture. In the past many homes depended on either a fireplace or a wood burning stove to not only heat our homes but to cook meals as well. Today they are used primarily for aesthetic value.

If you are considering adding a fireplace or a wood burning stove to your home there are a number of areas that need to be taken into consideration. Consumers have a multitude of choices in front of them including wood burning fireplaces, gas burning fireplaces that are vented and vent free with and without fans to force the air through the fireplace, even remote controls to turn them on and off.

Most fireplaces and wood stoves require a chimney and must meet specific requirements with regards to location in your home, clearance from other objects and chimney height and diameter. There are also maintenance requirements, particularly for wood burning fireplaces and stoves. Never the less, thousands of people add fireplaces to their homes every year to be used for secondary heating in a basement for example or just to improve the ambiance of their home.

In this newsletter we will review some of the main issues that consumers may want to consider when they purchase a fireplace. These items are: cost of operation; heating efficiency; air quality, venting, and a number of other lesser items that may be of interest to consumers. As usual we have included a number of web site references that you may want to review to gather more detail.

Some Useful Links:


All about Gas Fireplaces

Heating Options


3.0 Cost of Operating a Fireplace

There are many variables that must be taken into account when comparing the cost of operating a gas fireplace vs. a wood fireplace or stove. A gas fireplace will consume a constant rate of gas while it is turned on so it is relatively easy to calculate the amount of gas that will be used, once you know the BTU rating of the fireplace.

A 75,000 BTU gas fireplace will burn 75,000 BTU’s of gas per hour. Using this number consumers can calculate the cost of running your gas fireplace based on your local gas provider’s rates.

A wood fireplace or stove is a bit more difficult since the combustion rate of the wood depends on the type of wood being burned, how dry it is, how often the consumer adds more wood to the fire and so on. Hard wood for example burns cleaner, longer and produces much more heat than soft wood does. Hard wood such as maple is also more expensive that soft wood lumber.

A survey that was conducted assumed that customers would burn 21 pounds of firewood an hour and that the consumer also purchased a full cord of wood at one time to improve the price of the wood they were planning to burn. Larger quantities can usually be purchased at lower prices per cord, especially if you purchase multiple cords of wood at the same time in the off season when prices are generally lower.

Prices for gas and wood vary a great deal across the country and they are also in a constant state of flux, however in general terms, wood is 170% more expensive than gas as a fuel to burn in your fireplace. Depending on the market, this can range from a low of 53% to a high of 450% more expensive for wood fuel. As we mentioned previously wood and gas prices vary a great deal across the country.

One of the sites we have included a link to as part of this article provides a calculator that will assist you in determining the cost comparison of hardwood, softwood, electric, gas, oil and coal for products in your area. This calculator also takes into account the efficiency of the fuel you are burning and the efficiency of the fireplace or stove that you have.

The next section will explore this area in more detail.

Some useful links to check out

Natural Gas vs. Firewood Cost Survey


Fuel Price Comparison Calculator




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4.0 Heating Efficiency

Fireplace heating efficiency varies a great deal depending on the type of fireplace being used and the fuel that is burned in the fireplace. In this section we will ignore the cost of the fuel for simplicity, however this variable is an important consideration as we discussed in the previous section.

The actual heat that is delivered into your home is dependent on a number of factors. These include: radiation; convection; natural convection vs forced air convection; open vs. airtight; vented or non vented in the case of gas; and of course the fuel that is being burned. Each variable has an impact on the efficiency rating of your fireplace, however one of the most significant is the exhaust of household air up the chimney.

All fireplaces and stoves need air to support combustion and this air either comes from air in the home or air that is piped into the fireplace from an outside source. Open air fireplaces primarily use the air from the home to create a draft which carries the smoke etc up the chimney. As a result heated air is exhausted up the chimney, significantly reducing the efficiency rating. In addition if there is not enough fresh air coming in from other sources, your open air fireplace can cause smoke to enter the home through the fireplace opening, creating a very unhealthy and unsafe situation. Open fireplaces can have an efficiency rating as low as 5%.

Airtight stoves and fireplaces need to have a separate source of air and generate or transfer their heat though a combination of radiation and convection. Since air is not drawn from the home, these fireplaces can generate an efficiency rating from 40% to as high as 80% for some of the new airtight EPA approved fireplaces.

Gas fireplaces can be purchased with vented gas fireplace logs, B-Vent gas fireplaces, Direct Vent fireplaces and stoves and Vent free fireplaces configurations. Vented gas fireplaces have a similar efficiency rating to that of an open wood fireplace since they depend on air drawn from inside the home for combustion, which is then exhausted up the chimney.

Many fireplaces evacuate the combustion material up a vertical chimney using the natural heat of the air to create a draft to draw the air up the chimney. A draft hood is required with a B vent that is required to isolate the burner from outside pressure variations. Air is used from inside the home to match the outside pressure variation. Combustion air is drawn from outside. These fireplaces are more efficient than a vented fireplace and can vary from 35% to as high as 65% in some cases.

Direct vent fireplaces can increase the efficiency to as high as 80% since they draw outside air in through one pipe and exhaust the combustion products through another. The fireplace unit is sealed and no heat is lost from the homes internal air. Direct vent flues can be attached to a chimney or they can be attached to a power vent. A power vent has an electrical fan that assists in the venting process. They are used often in situations were there is no chimney and the vent is run directly through the wall to the outside.

Vent free gas logs are the most efficient of all since they burn up the fuel most efficiently and do not need vents. Energy efficiency can be as high as 90%, however there is a small amount of water vapour and combustion material that is still left over which will enter your home. Customers should consider the following guidelines if you are planning to utilize a vent free gas fireplace:

  • Non vented fireplaces burn very hot so other combustibles should be kept away
  • Fire doors should be left open
  • Ensure fresh air is entering the home from a door or window
  • The flame should burn a blue colour to indicate complete burning
  • Non vented fireplaces are not approved in all states or provinces.

Canada ’s Energuide efficiency ratings are placed on every fireplace so consumers can determine the energy rating of the fireplace or the stove they are considering. In the US , fireplaces are given Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating. Both ratings should be considered as guides and indicators of the efficiency of the fireplace under perfect conditions, much like the gas mileage rating for a car.

Useful Web Links

Energy Calculator’s

Conventional Wood Fireplaces

Vent Free Gas Logs


5.0 Air Quality

The basic law of fireplaces and chimneys is that hot air is intended to rise through the chimney drawing the combustion products from the fireplace up the chimney to the outside. Air quality is maintained as long as the combustion products are exhausted from the fireplace to the outside.

There are a number of situations that may cause the indoor air quality to decline. When the fire is first started, the chimney is cold and the air is not moving up the chimney. It may be easier for the warm air from the fireplace to exhaust out the front of the fireplace doors instead of trying to push the cold air up the chimney. If a draft is not established first, a great deal of smoke can enter the home along with carbon dioxide.

In some situations when there is a strong fire in the fireplace, the need for air is exceeded by what can be brought into the home through leaks and cracks in the home, or even cold air vents to the outside. In these extreme cases, fresh air may be drawn down the chimney of the furnace. Reversing the airflow can cause smoke and carbon dioxide to enter into the home from the furnace chimney. Another situation develops as the fire burns down. There is still combustion material and some heat, however the heat is not sufficient to maintain the draft in the chimney. In this situation, airflow reverses and the fumes are exhausted into the home.

Care must be taken in all open and non-vented systems to ensure that there is sufficient air to maintain the draft in the fireplace of stove. Fireplaces that have fresh air vents directly into the fireplace have less of a problem in this regard.

Consumers are encouraged to use carbon monoxide detectors as a further safety precaution.

Useful Web Links

All About Fireplaces

Fireplace Air Requirements


6.0 Vented and Vent Free Gas Fireplaces

Most fireplaces are vented in some manner, either with a traditional chimney or directly through the wall. A direct vented chimney is ideal for people who do not have a chimney for their fireplace and do not want to build one. Vented or Direct Vent Fireplaces have made it possible to place a fireplace just about anywhere in your home as long as they are close to an outside wall. The fireplaces are efficient since they are sealed and do not draw air from inside the home. One pipe is used to draw fresh air into the combustion chamber while the other is used to exhaust the by products of combustion.

Air quality is maintained, there is no leakage of combustible materials into the home and the fireplace is quite efficient approaching 80% in some cases. Heat is delivered into the home via the traditional means of radiation and convection with forced air fans drawing cooler air around the combustion box of the fireplace. Some manufacturers will claim up to 90% efficiency. With these high efficiency levels, smaller BTU fireplaces and be purchased depending on heating requirements and the decor that you are trying to establish in your home.

There are also vent free fireplaces or in some cases these are called ductless fireplaces. They can be installed in your home any were there is access to a gas line. Vent free models use the air from inside the home for combustion and produce a minimal amount of wastewater and gases. They have a high efficiency rating as well, in excess of 90% under perfect conditions. Consumers should be aware that there is still some debate over the effects on air quality in the home and they may want to ensure that fresh enters from a window to compensate for the air in the home that is used for combustion.

Useful Web Links

Vented and Vent Free Fireplaces

Vent Free Gas Log Fireplaces


7.0 Other Considerations for Fireplaces

Gas fireplaces are either started with the assistance of a pilot light that is lit all of the time or by using an electric starter. The pilot light uses a minimal amount of gas and can increase your annual bill slightly. While a fireplace with an electric starter will reduce your annual gas bill, you also cannot depend on your fireplace for auxiliary heat if the electricity fails in your area. Consumers with a pilot light on their fireplace can use their fireplace even when the electricity fails.

Many gas fireplaces come with on / off controls, fans, thermostats and even remotes for controlling when the fireplace is on. While these devices will not be operational during a power failure, you will still be able to use your fireplace as long as there is a pilot light to start the fireplace.

All kinds of wood burned in a fireplace produce by products that can over time coat the inside of a chimney. This coating is called creosote and it is a black oily substance that can also cause problems for your fireplace. A particularly dirty chimney can reduce the airflow in the chimney causing your fireplace to exhaust air into the home. In addition, chimneys have been known to catch fire due to a hot fire in the stove or fireplace igniting the creosote in the chimney. Often the fire will just burn itself out, however it has also caused homes to burn completely. Arrange to have your chimney cleaned on a regular basis and also cleaned if you are switching from wood to a gas fireplace.

Most modern fireplaces and wood stoves are now constructed to allow them to be installed in close proximity to walls in the home. Inserts for fireplaces can have a wood frame built around them without the need to be concerned about heat transfer to the wood. Consumers should always review the specifications concerning installation to ensure that the minimum clearances are maintained.

Your local fireplace distributor should be well aware of local municipal codes concerning their installation as well as the chimney size that is required.

Fireplace safety is an important consideration for all consumers. Fire extinguishers, an escape plan from your home, a protective screen in front of the fireplace(wood) and never burn anything except wood in a wood burning fireplace are a few of the precautions to take around a fireplace.


8.0 In Conclusion

New fireplaces and wood stoves have improved greatly with higher efficiency levels available than ever before with corresponding improvements in the air quality as well. Consumers can choose between traditional sealed fireplaces and inserts that are installed inside existing fireplaces and utilize the existing chimney to vent the combustion gases.

There are new direct vent fireplaces units that can be placed near an outside wall and vented directly to the outside. These same units will draw fresh air in through a separate vent providing a high efficiency rating as well as maintaining air quality in the home.

As with all fireplaces and stoves, consumers are also urged to take appropriate safety precautions such as carbon monoxide sensors, fire extinguishers, escape plans and screens in front of open wood burning fireplaces.

Efficiency ratings of fireplaces range from as low as 5% for older open wood burning fireplaces to as high as 90% for new direct vented sealed gas fireplaces. Consumers can purchase a fireplace to enhance the décor of their home and place the fireplace just about any were in their home.


9.0 Thought For The Day

Some of us are look wheel barrels, only useful when pushed and then easily upset.


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