Hi AT - We moved into a 2 story apartment in Pasadena about 6 months ago. The building was built in the early 1930s (think single pane drafty window). We have a lovely fireplace in our living room. During this cold weather, we've lit up a few fires to keep us warm. Yet, I've noticed a couple of problems with our fireplace: (1) there is no flue to open or close, so the fireplace is a source of huge drafts (and smoky ashes when wind blows down the chimney) and...
...(2) the landlord has no idea the last time the chimney was cleaned. I'm concerned about heat loss and creosote build up in the chimney. Should I ask the landlord to hire someone to clean the chimney, especially if we are going to use the fireplace regularly in the winter? Do you have any suggestions for preventing heat loss from a fireplace?
Definitely get the chimney inspected and likely cleaned before using. If the landlord isn't sure about the last time it's been cleaned, it would be a smart precaution to have it cleaned to minimize any hazardous occurrences when all you really want is the company of a warm fire (and we're extremely envious that your rental includes a fireplace; most rentals close up the chimneys or fill them in with an ugly modern gas/electric heater).
In regards to fireplace efficiency, you one could consider using a fireplace throat damper, which installs just above the firebox and will reduce heat escaping from your interior or cold air entering. These dampers are made completely of metal and will help lessen a draft, but will not give an airtight seal. Throat dampers are typically installed when the fireplace is first built, and require some major renovation work to the chimney if added later, usually involving hiring a mason or fireplace expert to install. Over time damper plates warp or rust causing air to escape and may require replacement, making this more of a house owner's option than renter.
A glass fireplace doors are likely an easier and more affordable install, are effective at keeping heat in and cold from entering, and there are many options to choose from.
And last, there is something called a chimney draft eliminator, which is an amusing bit of hardware that seals your chimney as an inflated balloon.
[Creative Commons Image: gliuoo]