Fireplace upadate

fireplaceWe’ve been using the fireplace a lot so far this fall. I’d guess we’ve used it as our primary heat source every weekend day we’ve been home, and 50-75% of the weeknights we’re home for more than 2-3 hours. We let the furnace come on during the night and first thing in the morning.

So how’s it going? First of all, we are keeping the thermostat about 4 degrees cooler than we’ve ever done before and it doesn’t feel any colder in the house. I attribute this change to the insert’s design: it seals the chimney flue completely, whether there’s a fire going or not. We’re simply not losing as much heat up the chimney. So now we keep our “at home and awake” temp at 63 or 64 degrees and we feel as warm as last year’s 66-67 degree setting. Overnight temp is 57 degrees instead of 61; morning temp is 59 degrees instead of 62-63 (and we might actually take that down a notch).

It’s taking some adjustment to the way wood heats: unevenly. (Read on…) Even with the blower on, it’s definitely warmer near the fireplace, and the heat doesn’t travel to any other rooms, not even the kitchen, really. We’re still learning how to get a fire going, manage how it’s burning (e.g., start with a hot, quick fire and then turn the blower on and close the damper down), and how to decide when to add more wood. It seems a bed of coals maintains temp and flaming logs increase heat, but you don’t want the coals to go out completely! In a very curious bit of physiology, I find that the room is very comfortable when the thermostat reads 63, but when it reaches 66 or more, I start feeling *colder*.

The bedroom is downright cold if we’ve not had the furnace on all evening (my nose is cold to the touch), and the heat doesn’t come on until the wee hours because the living room (and hence the thermostat) is still 60+ until well after midnight. I think we’ll try pre-heating the bedroom a bit with an electric radiator; I’m not quite willing to wear a hat to bed or let my face be that cold yet.

Are we saving energy? Are we reducing pollution? Yes, I really think so. Reducing your houses temp by 1 degree saves about 1% of your heating fuel – so even if we didn’t burn any wood, we’d be saving about 3% of our usual energy consumption. We’re also able to heat just the living room much of the time, reducing the heated square footage of our house by more than half. If we do use electricity to take the chill off the bedroom, it’s only a few degrees in a fairly small enclosed space, and we offset our electricity 150% with wind offsets.

The wood all grew and died of Emerald Ash Borer infestation within 3 miles of our house, and I have to believe the energy used to process it is far less than refining propane. The fireplace is a super-efficient model and burns nearly all the particulate matter. I’m sure it releases more particles than propane (can’t beat gas for a clean burn) but it’s nowhere near the particulate emitted from a regular fireplace or an old-fashioned wood stove. I would even give good odds that the soot from our chimney is actually less than what the nasty old diesel propane delivery truck spews on its route to our house.

I’ve not really been able to cook on it yet, which is a disappointment. The “warming shelf” on top (like a mantelpiece) will heat water, but not boil it, and I’m still experimenting with an iron kettle right on the coals. I know it’s not built for this, but it sure would be cool if it could work

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