Fireplaces add character to a living room and warmth during the cold of winter. Besides old-fashioned logs, learn what new, modern technology is available.
There’s no place like home — especially with a roaring fire in the hearth. But, after not advancing much for hundreds of years, fireplace technology has begun to evolve. Now more than ever, homeowners prefer safer, smarter, cleaner, more efficient and more modern options that also reflect their unique lifestyles.
If you're considering a fireplace makeover, check out these exciting design choices.
While not exactly new — specially formulated ceramics have long been used to increase the radiant heating capabilities of wood fires — fire bricks are popping up more and more often in fireplaces. Some bricks have even been molded to resemble actual wood. While metal-lined fireplaces may reflect heat back into the room you're trying to keep toasty, fire bricks can be up to 25 percent more efficient at the task. That translates into fires that warm up more quickly, stay warmer longer and don't need to burn as many logs.
Most central furnaces cycle on and off several times an hour. They also expend energy heating the entire house, including unoccupied rooms. But what if you only heated the rooms you used when you use them? Supplemental fireplace inserts installed throughout your home give you added flexibility. They also allow you to turn down the thermostat and save on your utility bills without sacrificing your family's comfort. By putting the heat where you need it, when you need it, reducing household fuel consumption and conserving energy, zone heating can help you save up to 40 percent on your heating costs.
Available in the form of inserts for your existing built-in fireplace or new, stand-alone units, these devices produce a warming flame by burning denatured alcohol — ethanol. This renewable resource produces no fumes or emissions beyond water vapor. Dampers allow you to adjust the flame and the rate at which fuel is consumed. Some of the higher-end models can burn for up to seven hours without needing to be replenished. As a bonus, many ventless fireplaces are also ruggedly built and can be used both indoors and outdoors.
Ventless gas fireplaces
Opinions differ regarding the safety of ventless gas fireplaces. The basic concept is that, by using gas instead of wood as fuel, these units output a “smokeless” heat. They therefore don't require a chimney to vent and direct more heat to the interior of your home. However, fumes can still be an issue. Gas fireplaces can still produce substances, such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. If not carefully monitored, accumulation of these by-products can become a health issue. As long as your vent-free gas fireplace has been properly sized and you make sure to run it on a limited basis — that is, well within the manufacturer’s specifications — heating your home should be worry-free.
Direct vent technology
Direct vent fireplaces and inserts remove 100 percent of combustion exhaust from your home. Instead of a chimney, these sealed, gas-powered fireplaces vent through a side wall. This also allows the fireplace to draw air from outside your home to feed its flames. This prevents both the backdrafting of fumes into your home and keeps your fireplace burning at high efficiency.
Power venting technology
With power venting technology, you can install a gas fireplace virtually anywhere. The system's sleek, fan-powered venting is capable of zigzagging throughout your home to ensure safe fireplace operation and a consistent burn.
Pellet fireplace insert
A pellet-burning system expands the range of materials you can burn in your fireplace. Pellets may be made from wood or some other, more sustainable biomass fuel, such as corn or barley. In most systems, a high-capacity pellet hopper feeds pellets up into the combustion chamber and ensures a total burn behind a facade that maintains the appearance of a traditional fireplace. Some thermostat-equipped models can even run 24/7, constantly maintaining the fire within 1 degree of your desired temperature.
Electric fireplaces are an increasingly popular alternative to wood or gas fireplaces. Easy and convenient to use, they require no venting or gas lines and add ambiance to any space. The most realistic electric fireplaces combine the convenience of an electric heater with the feel of a real wood-burning fire.
Now that's you're up-to-speed on the latest in fireplace technology, check out these other great tips for winterizing your fireplace and reducing your winter heating costs.
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