For many people, the heating ability of a gas or wood fireplace is the most important feature. While some fireplaces are made mostly for decoration, others are made to help people withstand harsh winter temperatures. Because of the differing types of fireplace design and venting, many urban legends have been created about their efficiency.
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Simply put, fireplace efficiency measures how well a fireplace can heat a room. This is measured by how much heat is lost through the chimney compared to how much enters the room.
Because there is so much confusion between the efficiency of gas fireplaces, wood fireplaces and gas logs, we will take some time to go through 5 urban legends related to fireplace efficiency. We hope this article clears up the myths swirling around out there. As always if you have questions, please feel free to call us at 800.203.1642
Legend #1: Vented gas logs are a good way to get more out of an open fireplace
The Truth: Open fireplaces, which at one time were the only option for indoor fireplaces, are now used more for decoration than heat. Open fireplaces have a very low efficiency rate, often getting as low as 15%. That means nearly 85% of the heat created in an open fireplace is lost up the chimney. While it may seem like vented gas logs could help the efficiency issue, they don't.
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Vented gas logs require less effort to maintain than real wood. Though, they operate in a similar way when put inside an open fireplace. Much of the heat is still lost up the chimney.
They provide some radiant heat only and are no better at heating than a wood fire. This is why people who live in warm climates may choose vented gas logs as a low-maintenance option instead of a wood burning fireplace.
Legend #2: Installing a gas log set in a wood fireplace that drafts poorly is a good way to make it work better
The Truth: Like we said in the previous point, installing a gas log set doesn't necessarily change the efficiency of a fireplace or how well it functions. If a fireplace drafts poorly with wood, it will most likely perform poorly with gas. Changing the type of fuel will not make the venting system correct itself.
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Also, there is an underlying danger of adding gas logs to a wood burning fireplace that isn't drawing properly. Since gas logs do not produce smoke, flue gasses cannot be detected as easily. So, if those gases are being pulled back into your home, it won't be as easy to notice. For a chimney that draws poorly, it's best to address the underlying issues first.
Legend #3: Gas fireplaces are less fuel-efficient than wood
The Truth: There isn't one definitive answer for this because it depends on which fireplaces you are comparing. When you are comparing an open wood burning fireplace to an open gas fireplace, the overall efficiency is the same, but the fuel efficiency can change based on the time of year. While either of those fireplaces may have a heating efficiency of 15% year-round, wood prices can change at different points during the year.
- wood logs burning
So, wood could be more cost-efficient at one point in the year, but in the off-season it may be harder to come by and more expensive to buy. So, depending on your preference of taking the extra time to chop and store wood for the off-season, using natural gas that doesn't fluctuate with the season, may be the better option for you.
When it comes to a closed combustion / direct vent or high efficiency fireplace, they may be pricey upfront, but they are insanely efficient when it comes to fuel consumption. Because the high efficiency fireplaces have to produce little to no smoke by-product, they burn wood at a very slow rate, so it consumes the fuel much slower than an open fireplace. If you are dead set on a real wood burning fireplace, this would be the best option in the long run.
Legend #4: Wood burning fireplaces can ruin your home's air quality
The Truth: While this may have been true 100 years ago, nowadays, fireplaces burn much more cleanly. There is less particulate and smoke filtering out through the chimneys, not to mention into your home. New technology has made it to where even wood burning fireplaces aren't an environmental hazard. If you are still concerned but want a wood burning fireplace, you might want to consider EPA certified fireplaces.
These fireplaces are basically wood stoves built into the wall, but they are heavily regulated by the EPA. They are only allowed to put off 2 - 2.5 grams of pollution per hour to be certified by the EPA. So, if you purchase one of those appliances, you are sure to have the cleanest burning option.
Legend #5: Fireplaces make a room cooler, not hotter
The Truth: This depends on what type of fireplace you have. Like we said in legend #1, open-faced fireplaces are used more for decoration than heat. They can end up acting like a vacuum & suck most of the warm air out of the room because they use air from the room for combustion which is then released through the chimney.
If you have a direct vent gas fireplace or a closed combustion wood fireplace (like a wood stove), this legend is not true at all. These types of fireplaces pull air from the outside or through a dedicated vent inside. They keep air that is warmed in the firebox long enough for it to be released through another vent or they heat a room through radiant heat.
So, if you want a fireplace to do more than look pretty, a direct vent fireplace or a wood stove are great options for you. Even though there is a lot more to cover on this subject, this is where we will end today. If you have any questions on fireplace legends, fireplace efficiency or anything else, please feel free to call us at 800.203.1642