November 28, 2008

A fireplace insert can add warmth, cut costs

With the cost of home heating bills looming, what can a homeowner do to keep warm, short of wearing a lot of sweaters to bed?

Those with existing fireplaces might want to consider a wood-burning insert. The cast-iron or steel inserts can increase the efficiency of a fireplace, turning it into a supplemental heater for the home.

“An open fireplace is pretty much a wash,” said Jack Hilliard of Etowah Fireplace & Patio in Etowah. “The newer fireplace inserts are approaching 70 percent efficiency in getting the heat into your home.”

A fireplace insert is an insulated, closed-door system that allows the user more control over the fire. Heat radiates through the glass and stays in the room. It is not sucked up the flue, as a fireplace tends to do.

“A regular fireplace actually gives you a negative efficiency, because it sucks heat out of the house when it's not in use,” said Bo Hilliard, president of Biltmore Home and Hearth in Mills River. “With a wood-burning insert, you have a sealed combustion chamber, and they burn at a much higher rate of efficiency.”

Environmentally friendly

According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, a fireplace insert increases the efficiency of a fireplace and helps protect winter air quality by reducing fireplace emissions.

“When fireplace inserts are up to heat and burning efficiently, there is no visible smoke and very low particulate matter, so they burn very cleanly,” Jack Hilliard said.

“With an insert, you have a primary burn like you would have in a fireplace,” Bo Hilliard said. “Then, the smoke that would normally escape gets mixed with oxygen and burned again, so you get a cleaner burn and more heat for the same amount of wood.”

What you'll pay

Prices for fireplace inserts start around $1,200 and go up to about $3,000, depending on the size of the fireplace. Installation usually runs between $800 and $1,200.

In order for the insert to work at maximum efficiency, most chimneys will need to be fitted with a 6-inch stainless steel insert that attaches to the insert.

“Most chimneys in our area are 12-inch-by-12-inch flue liners, and if you vent a 6-inch fireplace liner into a 12-by-12 chimney, you won't get a good draft.”

The chimney liner will add another $600 to $800 to the package.

Source: Citizen Times

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