The Fireplace

By Mark J. Donovan

June 25, 2010 4 min read

The warm glow of a fire emanating from your wood fireplace on a cold winter night sounds romantic and inviting, and for the few hours that it is actually burning, it may even make you feel warmer. However, the cold facts are that a wood-burning fireplace is extremely inefficient and that you are letting more heat up the chimney than is warming the house. And even worse, after the fire peters out, the chimney will continue to suck warm air out of your home.

Fortunately, there are ways to make a fireplace more efficient so that you can enjoy the warm glow of your fireplace -- and even get some heat out of it -- without throwing money up your chimney.

*Close the Fireplace Damper

First, when you are not using the fireplace, make sure the damper is closed. Leaving it open allows warm air to be sucked up and out of the home via the chimney.

*Install Glass Doors

Second, install glass doors over the front of the fireplace box opening. There are numerous glass doors that you can choose from that are designed to fit most standard-sized box openings. By installing glass doors, you can improve your fireplace's heating efficiency dramatically. First, by keeping the fireplace doors closed when the fireplace is not in use or when the fire is nearly out, you can prevent warm air from escaping the home. Second, most fireplaces have a vent for drawing in fresh outside air to feed the fire. So when the fire has died down, you can close the glass doors and allow the fire to burn out slowly.

It is important to note that when there is a roaring fire in the fireplace or many hot embers burning in the firebox, you should leave the glass doors open, though the protective screen should be closed. Fireplace glass doors are not meant to withstand repeated exposure to extreme heat. If they are exposed to extreme heat continually, they eventually will crack.

*Install a Fireback

Third, install a cast-iron fireback in the back of your firebox. A cast-iron fireback not only protects the back masonry of your fireplace but also absorbs heat and helps to reflect light and heat into the room.

*Install a Wood-Burning Insert

Finally, you can maximize your fireplace's efficiency by installing a wood-burning insert. Though installing a wood-burning insert is admittedly quite expensive, it is by far the best way to maximize your fireplace's efficiency. A wood stove by design is simply much more energy-efficient than a fireplace. There are many types of wood stove inserts from which to choose, and most offer glass windows for viewing the fire. By installing a wood-burning insert, you can make your fireplace more efficient and, at the same time, still enjoy the fireplace's warm glow and charm.

So before you let any more heat up your chimney this winter, consider improving your fireplace's efficiency with one or more of these tips.

Mark J. Donovan's website is

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