I think we all want to save energy—it seems that there are always things we would rather spend our money on. One very frequently overlooked place where a lot of energy—and thus money—gets wasted is up the chimney.
As wind move across the top of the chimney, a negative pressure is created on the chimney causing it to literally suck heat out of the house. Of course even without the wind the chimney will work hard to remove the heat from your home just through the chimney’s natural draft. If you open a window or door, or increase the wind speed, the flow can be dramatically increased. When the damper is completely missing, as it was in the fireplace pictured above, the waste of heat is continual—–you are literally heating the whole outdoors. This picture is looking up inside the fire box to where the damper is supposed to be.
Even with proper dampers in place, this can still be a place where much heat is lost from the home.
Having glass door enclosures installed can help a lot, but remember—-many of these have air intakes at the bottom that provide combustion air to the fireplace. If they are left open when the fireplace is not in use they can still allow heat to be drawn up the chimney.
If you really want to waste a lot of energy (unless it is your only means of heating the home) actually use the fireplace. Fireplaces, during use, without proper glass enclosures, suck tremendous volumes of air from the home. This is why rooms away from the fireplace become so much colder than the room the fireplace is in. While some fireplace designs provide less waste than others, they are no match for more modern methods of heating.
Assuming that in terms of heating our homes we are going to stick with the idea of “central heating” as opposed to “specific location” heating (hot stones and water bottles under the blanket), we are sort of stuck with central heating.
When the kids and I used to go camping at the beach it was always fun to build a fire on the beach and then take one of the hot rocks back to the tent and put it in the end of our sleeping bags. Did you ever notice how when you are camping and you are nice and warm in your sleeping bag and then when you wake up in the morning the inside of the tent is dripping with the condensation created from breathing during the night? The same principle can happen in your home when the whole home isn’t heated evenly.
I would go so far as to say that maintaining uniform temperatures in today’s tighter homes is essential to maintaining a healthy indoor environment.
Is your fireplace damper opened or closed right now?
Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector
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