The living rooms of many homes in the United States have attractive masonry fireplaces. Some people use them for added warmth (a secondary source of heat) on very cold days. Others burn wood in their fireplaces to create a cozy ambiance in the evening or on the weekend.
Conventional masonry and factory-built fireplaces are not efficient at producing heat. These fireplaces are also the source of smoke, indoors and out. To reduce the health risks of smoke—for you, your family, and your neighbors, EPA recommends installing an EPA certified fireplace insert, a vented gas stove, or a pellet stove.
EPA certified fireplace inserts give you the same efficient performance as EPA certified woodstoves. A certified insert is similar to a freestanding woodstove, but it has been modified by the manufacturer to fit a fireplace opening A certified installer will make sure to add a flue liner in your masonry chimney. Lining the chimney helps maintain a proper draft and prevents icing, which can block the flow of air through the system.
If your fireplace is factory built (or "zero-clearance"), you must use an insert that was specifically designed and tested for your unit to make it more efficient and less polluting. You can ascertain the brand and model of your fireplace by checking the label, which is generally on the sidewall of the firebox. A certified chimney sweep or retailer of hearth products can help you do this.
Clean Your Chimney
EPA recommends that you have your chimney professionally inspected and cleaned each year to remove the creosote and keep it in good working order. The Chimney Safety Institute of America provides a list of certified Chimney Sweeps, searchable by state. In addition, Chimneys.com provides useful tips for fireplace operation and maintenance.
Many open fireplaces are decorative in nature, designed more for aesthetics than efficiency. These days, fireplaces can burn natural gas (gas logs) or even propane. Some of the new electric models offer amazing realism. Gas models are available t hat have the same efficiency rating as central furnaces. These gas models have a broad range of heating capacities; some even offer ducting and heat circulation systems that make it possible to heat a substantial portion of your house.