How we get the most heat from our fireplace

My Story: 3 Things You Need to Know about Free Firewood

contributed by Donna


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  1. Buying a small, high-quality chainsaw has been a very good investment for us since we moved to a home with a fireplace. People say a fireplace sends more heat up the chimney than into the room, but it doesn't have to be that way. And you can burn a much wider range of size and shape wood pieces in a fireplace than in a woodstove, which is a good thing if you are scavenging wood instead of buying it. Sometimes we borrow a log-splitter from a neighbor, and we pay him back by helping him haul wood for his fireplace, but you can rent log-splitters (wait until you have a stockpile to split). We also like to split by hand with an ax, but you'll need some instruction for safety if you haven't done this before.

  2. You can check to see the BTU rating of most tree species on various websites. Find a comprehensive one here. The higher the BTU, the more complete the burning and fewer contaminants in your chimney gas. We use pine and other soft woods only for firestarters, but we have that luxury because we live where hardwoods are common.

  3. After much research, I bought a fireback (a large cast iron plate that sits behind the fire) and special log grate for our fireplace. I also bought cast iron feet to hold up the fireback that also hooks over the bottom of the grate so that throwing a log in doesn't move the grate forward or the fireback backwards. Each one (fireback and grate) was supposed to double our fireplace efficiency, so I figure we're up to 60% now, and we can really tell the difference. I compared our first year's heating expense (we have a natural gas furnace, but get all our wood for free) to the second year's expense, when we used the fireback and new grate, and our heating expense was actually cut in half! We turn the thermostat down to 53 degrees (as low as it goes) when we have a fire going, and then leave it there overnight and find the house temperature is rarely lower than 62 degrees in the morning. We have a suburban, 1400 square foot, 1964, ranch home, and the chimney is central, not on an outside wall.

Turns out, way back when everybody had only a fireplace to heat with, firebacks were standard equipment for a fireplace because they radiate a lot of heat out into the room and they prolong the life of the firebrick. It took us awhile to get the hang of how you have to set up the fire for this grate to work well, but now we love it. Just be sure to have your chimney cleaned every year!


"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it to MyStory@Stretcher.com.

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