By Jim Sulski
Summary:Fireplaces are a beautiful, but they are not always practical. Consider your situation and needs carefully before choosing a fireplace.
Pardon the pun, but fireplaces are hot.
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Nearly every new single-family home, condominium and townhouse that's built today features a fireplace, and many feature more than one.
And folks shopping for older homes often list a fireplace as one of their top priorities.
When shopping for a fireplace, most homeowners prefer a traditional wood-burning unit, one that will provide a crackling fire to warm a room on a cold winterís night.
Those folks may want to think twice.
But people need to understand that a fireplace is a decorative appliance, say those in the fireplace industry.
A natural gas burning fireplace provides a slight advantage energy efficiency-wise over a wood-burning unit. In short, both are energy losers, drawing out more warmed air from a house than they provide.
In other words, it costs a homeowner money to run a fireplace, even if the wood is free. A fireplace is not a heating device, say industry officials. Instead, a lot of heat goes up the chimney, including heat produced by your furnace.
About the only time a fireplace would truly produce heat is if a furnace or boiler became inoperable because of a power outage. But the radiant heat emitted by a fireplace would truly only warm the room it's located, and not the entire house.
There are other factors to consider when opting for a wood-burning fireplace.
For example, a wood-burning fireplace wins hands down when it comes to the beauty of the flame produced.
An authentic wood fire is a fundamentally random event. With a wood-burning fire, you get things like the fire popping and crackling and logs collapsing. In a culture where everything is standard, it's fun to have something that's random.
There is an atmosphere that is created with a wood-burning fireplace. The sound of a wood-burning fireplace is very important, and so is the aroma. People want that.
And, of course, you can always roast a marshmallow in a wood-burning fireplace.
That's the up side.
Now here are the down sides.
While you can make a wood-burning fireplace more energy efficient by placing tightly sealed glass doors in front of the fireplace, it will never burn as efficiently as a gas fireplace.
According to U.S. Department of Energy research, a wood-burning fireplace can exhaust up to 24,000 cubic feet of air per hour to the outdoors, requiring your furnace or boiler to heat that much cool air to replace the lost air.
Wood also burns dirtier than natural gas, putting more pollutants into the atmosphere.
You can also make a wood-burning fireplace less energy wasteful by building a heat exchanger into it. That returns some of the heat lost to the chimney back into the room. But not much.
Wood-burning fireplaces are also more laborious to operate. Bringing wood in is no easy task, especially if you live on the third floor. And you've got to lug the wood to your home, or have it delivered. Once there, it needs to be stored in a fairly dry place.
A natural gas fireplace can also be turned on literally with the flick of a switch. Some can even be controlled - the height of the flame, for example - with a remote control.
A wood-burning fire, meanwhile, needs to be lit, often with kindling. More advanced wood burning fireplaces may have a gas log starter built in, which makes that ignition job more easy. However, all wood-burning fireplaces need to be cleaned out, and ashes need to be removed.
© by Jim Sulski. All rights reserved. August 2, 2005.
NOTE: This column is distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate,
PO Box 366, Glencoe, Illinois, 60022. This column may not be resold, reprinted,
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© 2005 by Ilyce R. Glink. Distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate.