Can a Fireplace Make Your Home More Energy Efficient?
Fireplaces are a desirable home feature for their beauty and cozy ambiance. But how do they impact a home’s energy usage? Is there an energy efficient fireplace that’s better than the rest? Or are they a strain on your utility bills?
A fireplace’s impact on energy use depends on a lot of factors: type of fireplace, energy prices, and fireplace use and placement.
Types of Fireplaces
Not all fireplaces are energy efficient by nature. Each type of fireplace has a different energy efficiency rating, measured by the amount of heat the fireplace produces that is lost.
While some people love the authenticity of a wood-burning fireplace, it is the least efficient method to heat your home. A traditional masonry chimney and wood-burning fireplace loses 80-90% of the heat up the chimney. Plus, additional air inside your home is also pulled up and out through the chimney.
To add to the problem, the chimney creates an opening that causes heat and A/C loss throughout the year. If you forget to close the flue, the problem is even worse. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, make sure there is a good seal on the damper to reduce air loss.
Natural Gas Fireplaces
There are actually two types of gas fireplaces: gas logs and gas inserts.
Gas logs are a log set that are typically placed in an existing masonry fireplace and attached to a gas line. The front will either be open or have glass doors that open. Just like a wood fire, the majority of the heat goes up the chimney and outside. 75% of the heat produced is lost.
Gas inserts are designed like am enclosed metal box. It can either be installed into an existing masonry fireplace, sealing the chimney, or as new construction without a chimney at all. The air flows through a pipe that goes outside, enabling the unit to stay completely closed and increasing the energy efficiency. Gas inserts lose only 20-30% of their heat.
Electric fireplaces are by far the most energy efficient option. Only 1% of the heat from an electric fireplace is lost, because it is in no way connected to the outside. And if you’re concerned about pollutants, electric fireplaces are also the cleanest for the air inside your home.
Electricity and Natural Gas Costs
When evaluating energy impact of a fireplace, you need to know how much natural gas and electricity cost in your area. This is especially important if your fireplace is a different energy source than your furnace. For example, if natural gas is expensive one winter and your home uses a gas furnace, an electric fireplace could definitely save you money.
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Fireplace Use and Placement
The location of your fireplace and how you use it are a critical factor to potential cost savings. The bottom line is if using your fireplace does not cause your furnace to run less, it will not save you money.
There are two ways to use your fireplace instead of your furnace.
One, you can use it as “zone heating”: the fireplace heats the most-used space, like the living area, so you can turn down the temperature on the thermostat while remaining comfortable.
Two, if your fireplace is naturally near your thermostat, the fireplace’s heat will affect the thermostat temperature sensor. Since the thermostat doesn’t know what temperature the rest of the house is (unless you have sensors in multiple rooms), it will run less.
To illustrate, here is an example of how not to use a fireplace to save energy: consider a house with a fireplace in the master bedroom and the thermostat in the living room. If the owners run the fireplace with the bedroom door closed, heat from the fireplace will not reach the thermostat’s sensor. Unless they manually lower the thermostat, the fireplace will heat the bedroom to a higher temperature without impacting the overall heating of the home.
Do Fireplaces Actually Save on Heating Bills?
The answer is while they can, they rarely do. Because only gas-insert and electric fireplaces are energy efficient, combined with the fact that homeowners need to use them strategically, most homeowners with fireplaces end up using more energy instead of less.
But if you want to lower your heating bills with a fireplace, go electric, and use it to reduce the amount your furnace is running.