It's that time of year where one of the few everyday comforts is sitting by a warm, roaring fireplace. While fireplaces were originally incorporated into homes as a primary source of heat, in recent years they've gotten a bad reputation for being heat suckers and only good for decoration. There are actually a few great types of fireplaces that can be used, for anyone from apartment dwellers to home owners, that are sure to keep you cozy and warm, and maybe even reduce your heating bill.
Most of the old fireplaces seen in peoples homes are either fake (disappointing!) or totally inefficient. This is because most fireplaces are designed with an open front that completely sucks all your newly heated air up and out the chimney, rather than radiating the heat back into your home. No longer real sources of heat, these fireplaces are often a nuisance, and purely decorative at best. The following three fireplaces can contribute real heat into your home, with out sucking it away, and they come in a variety of styles and price ranges to suit your needs.
Vent Free, Ethanol Burning
Ethanol burning fireplaces have been steadily gaining momentum the later half of this decade, for their minimal looks, 'clean' burn, and mobile abilities. They fireplaces especially caught on with the push towards biofuels, and with the introduction or supermodern fireplace company, EcoSmart. This type of fireplace burns on denatured ethanol, meaning no utility hookup is required, and no smoke or ashes are left contend with once the fire is out. Lastly, this type of fireplace is vent-free, meaning the heat doesn't escape through a chimney, it stays in your room. They've been designed in a number of configurations, install quickly, can be built-in or freestanding, can be moved around easily, which is especially great for apartment and condo dwellers. Price: $800-12,000.
Whether you're building new or looking to upgrade your current inefficient fireplace, an insert unit is a great economical and energy efficient option. Insert fireplaces are essentially modular fireboxes that can be installed into any opening — one that's been specially designed or your existing fireplace opening. The inserts are good at circulating warm air and are configured in a number of ways: direct vent, vent free, wood burning, gas, pellets and many more options. The best use of these is to use glass doors to control the heat and air flow, and use an outside combustion air intake, which will use outside air to burn, rather than your indoor air. These types of fireplaces, if configured correctly, can actually be a generous source of heat for a single room or sometimes a whole house. Price: $500-2500.
Masonry Heater/Radiant Fireplace
Masonry heaters are the mother of all fireplace. This type of fireplace can be truely used as a primary source of heat. The fireplace should be located centrally within the home, is handmade from stone, and burns a load of wood very quickly at high temperatures. Typically, masonry heaters are fired only once a day, and the fire burns out after three to four hours. The heater is then a consistent radiant heat source for 12 to 24 hours, which can actually heat a home as the primary heat source. A masonry heating can also be tied into a radiant HVAC system, such as radiant floors, to preheat the the hot water used for home heating. A few 'drawbacks' to this type of system, is that the fireplace opening is small, meaning there isn't a large fire viewing area, the fire needs to be burned 2-4 hours before the heat is actually needed, and they're the most expensive fireplace system. However, some of these types of fireplaces have a bakeoven component within the fireplace mass, which is amazing for pizza and other wood fired recipes. Masonry heaters can also be a major design element within the home, with gorgeous stonework, built-in benches and even see-thru openings. Price: $15,000 and up.
(Images as linked above. Originally published 2010-12-15)