Nothing is cozier than curling up in front of a roaring fire on a cold winter night. But unfortunately, the traditional wood-burning fireplace is not the most efficient or environmentally sensitive method of heating your home. Know the facts about your options so you can choose one that best meets your family’s needs and has the smallest negative impact on the environment.
The wood-burning fireplace: First ask yourself if your fireplace is primarily for heating or if it is going to be used for aesthetic purposes with only a few fires each year. The problem with an open wood-burning fireplace is that most of the heat escapes through the chimney. So while it might feel toasty directly in front of the hearth, the rest of the house will not reap the benefit and may actually be colder as your supplemental heat also goes up the chimney with the smoke. When wood-burning fireplaces were the primary source of heating one hundred years ago, 50o was an acceptable room temperature.
Gas logs (natural gas or LP, liquid propane): Gas logs can be retrofitted in an existing fireplace as an alternative to wood, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which certifies heating appliances. Although gas logs burn fossil fuels, either natural gas or LP, they still have low emissions. Check out www.epa.gov/burnwise/appliances.
Gas logs can be vented or vent-free. Vented logs, which operate with an open chimney flue or damper, simulate a wood-burning flame. Vent-free logs won’t give you the roaring fire effect, but provide a little more heat and may have a thermostat to maintain room temperature.
Pellet stoves: This appliance burns pellets 3/8 of an inch to 1 inch resembling rabbit food, and are made from compressed sawdust, wood chips, bark, agricultural waste and other organic material. Pellet stoves are much more convenient to operate and have much higher combustion and heating efficiencies than ordinary wood stoves or fireplaces. As a result, pellet stoves produce very little air pollution and are considered the cleanest of the solid fuel-burning residential heating appliances.
Gas stoves (heaters): As with gas logs, gas heaters are designed to burn either natural gas or LP. Gas stoves are self-contained units, while gas logs are designed for use in an existing fireplace.
Gas heaters emit very little pollution, require little maintenance and can be installed almost anywhere in the home. Today’s gas heating units can be vented through an existing chimney or direct vented through the wall behind the stove. They are among the cleanest and cheapest fuel options, and although they burn fossil fuels, produce lower emissions than wood or other alternatives.
The EPA does not support vent-free models because of indoor air quality concerns.
Wood-burning stoves and inserts: In many areas firewood is abundant, inexpensive and comes from harvesting dead trees. Unlike with fossil fuels, no net carbon is released into the environment when wood is burned in the stove because the same gases are given off when the tree decomposes in the woods. With new technology, wood stoves can be capable of heating an entire house, as long as the home is well constructed with enough insulation.
Before you choose a heating source… Stricter government regulations are helping to improve air quality, promoting cleaner-burning appliances. Newer models allow for a more complete combustion, sending less smoke up the chimney or stovepipe and into the atmosphere. Do your homework before deciding which heating method is best for you and the environment.