If you have a wood burning fireplace inside your home, you can probably do some simple things to your fireplace and chimney to improve your home’s energy efficiency. Some of these are free and will give you an instant return on your time investment, while others can cost a bit of money. Even the things you can spend money on, though, will give you a much better return on your investment than you can get from a certificate of deposit at your local bank. The fact is that most wood burning fireplaces are energy hogs. When you have a fire burning in a standard fireplace, it is likely that your fireplace and chimney are sucking more cold air into your house than the heat from the fire is adding back to your house. Also, when you are not burning a fire, your chimney is probably acting like a long straw sucking warm air out and letting cold air back in.
To get some idea of how much your present fireplace and chimney system is costing you, pick a day when it is really cold outside and you aren’t burning a fire and hold your hand out in front of your fireplace or reach inside the firebox. Do you feel a cold draft falling out of the chimney? If you do, the obvious thing to check first is to make sure your damper is closed. If you still feel a draft with the damper closed, and you are likely to, it is because the metal damper parts have become warped and worn over the years and don’t seal well, anymore, so you have cold air freely falling down your chimney as if you had a gaping hole in your ceiling. A relatively inexpensive investment you can make is to install a Seal Tight Chimney Damper or Energy Top Chimney Damper on top of your chimney. These devices seal off the top of your flue when you are not using your fireplace and prevent heat loss through your chimney. They have a control rod that extends down to your fireplace so you can open and close the damper from inside instead of having to climb on your roof to remove any other kind of cover you may put on your chimney.
One of the best ways to address the problem of an inefficient fireplace is to install a wood burning insert inside your fireplace along with a flexible M-Flex stainless steel chimney liner. A modern wood burning insert is designed for high efficiency, so it actually releases far more heat back into your house than it sucks cold air in to feed the fire. The chimney liner also insulates your flue so you get better draft into your insert and more complete combustion of the fuel. An uninsulated flue lets smoke and combustion gases cool off by the time they reach the top of the chimney, which weakens your chimney’s draft, so insulating the flue helps keep the gases hot all the way out of your house.
You can improve your home’s energy efficiency with relatively inexpensive passive measures like installing a better damper, or you can make a fairly large investment in a wood burning insert to make your fireplace much more efficient. You will burn less wood and get more heat, so your savings in firewood costs will pay for the insert over time, probably at a rate much better than the less than one percent you can make on your money in a savings account.