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YOUR HEATING DOLLARS-UP IN SMOKE

The thought of a crackling fire in the fireplace may make you feel warm and cozy, but traditional wood-burning fireplaces are major energy wasters. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a blazing fire sends as much as 24,000 cubic feet of air per hour up the chimney, along with about 90 percent of the heat produced by the fire and some of the heat produced by a home’s furnace.

Fireplaces also generate a lot of air pollution. Wood smoke contains carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and fine particulates that can aggravate asthma, allergies, and other health conditions.

Several options are available for upgrading your fireplace so you can cozy up to a fire while actually increasing your home’s energy efficiency and reducing pollution:

Wood stoves. Units certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) generate between two and five grams of particulate matter per hour of operation compared with the 40 to 60 grams per hour generated by a conventional fireplace. They also operate at 80 percent efficiency—similar to other home heating sources. You can purchase a freestanding unit or one that inserts into your existing fireplace; many come with blowers to help direct the heated air into your living space.

Pellet stoves. Instead of wood logs, these stoves burn small pellets made from compressed wood and other plant waste, and produce so little pollution that they do not require EPA certification. Pellet stoves do require electricity (about 100 kilowatt-hours per month under normal usage) to feed pellets into the combustion chamber, so they will not work during a power outage unless you have a generator. Like wood stoves, pellet stoves are available as freestanding units or fireplace inserts.

Gas fireplace inserts. Natural gas- or propane-fueled inserts offer the warmth and ambiance of a fire without the need to load wood (or pellets) or dispose of ash. Gas inserts are up to 80 percent efficient and generate low levels of pollution.

There are also several ways to improve the operation of your existing fireplace and prevent heat loss:

Install tempered glass doors and keep them (and the flue) shut when the fireplace is not in use.

Install a heat-air exchange system that will blow warm air back into the room (minus the smoke).

Check for air leaks around the fireplace doors, flue, and chimney and add caulking as needed.

Lower the thermostat to between 50 and 55 degrees when the fireplace is in use, and shut doors leading into the room.

Crack a window near the fireplace to increase fresh air flow and minimize smoke.

Written by: Union of Concerned Scientists .


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