Back in the days before central heating, a wood-burning fireplace or stove was often a house’s only source of heat. Thus, during the winter months, families would usually keep a fire blazing whenever possible, and everyone would stay comfortable by spending as much time as possible near the fire. In small, simply-designed dwellings, this setup was all you needed to warm the entire house.
It’s now 2018, and nearly all single-family homes in the United States have some type of heating system in place unrelated to the fireplace. These tend to be more efficient at keeping large homes and multiple rooms comfortable; for a lot of us, the distinct clicking or “whooshing” sound our heater makes when it kicks on is music to our ears! But while central heating systems are convenient, they aren’t exactly “cheap” to run all winter long. And this leaves many folks wondering if they should take the old-fashioned route and just heat their house with their fireplace.
Is this a viable solution? Well, not always. Here are some things to consider before swearing to not touch the thermostat until spring:
Time is Money
When people consider the cost of using their fireplace, they tend to take only the price of fuel into account. The dollar amount that you’ll need to spend on natural gas or wood just tells part of the story, though. For example, if you have a wood fireplace, whether you choose to buy your wood or harvest it yourself, you’ll need to figure out a way to properly store your supply so that it doesn’t deteriorate, won’t attract pests, and is ready for use at a moment’s notice. You’ll also need to research the different kinds of woods available and verify that you have the right kind for the fire you want, as well as feed the fire frequently to keep it burning for an extended period of time.
There are also safety factors to consider. Even when the hearth contains the fire, a live fire should be watched at all times to ensure that it doesn’t burn out of control. Doing so is especially important if you have young children or pets in the house who don’t comprehend how dangerous fire can be. Yes, central heating can be expensive, but generally speaking, you don’t need to “babysit” the system to make sure that it doesn’t burn the house down!
Your fireplace’s effectiveness can vary dramatically based on the size and shape of your home. Simply put, a fireplace located in the center of a relatively small house with few rooms will typically perform much better than a fireplace located at the far end of a large house with multiple rooms. Anyone who’s ever sat down near a campfire knows that the heat gets less intense the farther you are from the blaze. Thus, even intense fires will probably find it difficult to “reach” from one end of a house to another.
Another factor that can thwart your fire-heating attempts is thermostat placement. If your thermostat is in the same room as your fireplace, heat from a fire may inadvertently trick the device into thinking that the ambient temperature is much higher than it is. This will cause the thermostat to shut itself off, as it assumes that there’s no need for it to continue doing its job. So while the single room containing the fireplace gets nice and toasty, every other room in the house grows uncomfortably cold.
Put in the Effort
One of the biggest keys to your fireplace keeping the cold at bay is whether or not it’s maintained. And the easiest way to facilitate this is to have the chimney professionally inspected annually. In addition to making sure that dangerous substances aren’t building up inside the structure, a licensed technician can verify that all of the chimney’s inner mechanisms are working correctly. Case in point: if your chimney’s damper isn’t closing or opening the way it should, you’ll spend more time fighting with the fireplace than enjoying any comfort!
While you have a technician at your house, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to speak to them personally about whether or not you could, realistically, heat your home with the fireplace. They’ll be able to give you expert advice, including tips for different fireplace setups and add-ons that could make this undertaking a little more feasible.
So, are fireplaces a cost-effective way to heat your home? The answer to that question depends upon a variety of factors. Some homeowners report great success (and noticeably slashed bills) by turning down their central heating and “turning up” their fires. On the other hand, some homeowners find this method to be pretty ineffective—or just too much work to be worth it.
There’s no denying that a fire in the hearth will provide instant heat to the room, as well as beautiful and comforting ambiance. It’s perfect if you’re hosting a party (wherein most of the action will be contained in one area) or spending some quality time with your family in the living room. Whether or not this beautiful blaze will be able to warm your house on a daily basis, though, is hard to say. Our best advice to experiment on a day that you’ll be home. You may be pleasantly surprised at the power of your fireplace…or you may be disappointed and find yourself reaching for the thermostat within a few hours!
Fireplace Heating Tips and Tricks
Struggling to heat your home or cabin using a fireplace? Try out some of our favorite tips for warming up your home from the chimney experts at Chimney and Wildlife as well as tips from the community!
- Keep doors and windows tightly shut to avoid warm air leaking out!
- Check that your chimney is in proper working order with an annual inspection
- Make sure to have a carbon monoxide detector installed to watch for build ups of deadly gas
Got a Fireplace Heating Tip?
Got a hot tip for heating your home with a fireplace? Using the fireplace for heat might seem old-fashioned but it can be effective! If you want to submit your fireplace tip use this form and we will include a link back to your website!