Homeowners Should Consider Converting Fireplaces to Gas for Better Efficiency, Lower Utility Bills

Homeowners dismayed by their winter utility bills may be looking in the wrong direction for savings, energy experts say.

“While most homeowners know that insulating, patching and weatherizing can reduce heat loss, there is one major energy eater in your home that you may not have considered — that charming staple of dens, family rooms and anywhere people gather: the fireplace,” radio station KMA Land advised Feb.1.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and cooling typically accounts for about half an American household’s utility bill. But part of that expenditure is lost, sometimes up the chimney of a wood-burning fireplace. A traditional masonry fireplace actually allows for more heat loss than windows and doors do.

Closing the chimney damper and installing a flue seal are stop-gap measures. Homeowners should also get annual chimney cleanings and inspections. But for higher efficiency and a permanent solution, homeowners can consider installing a gas insert.

Gas-powered fireplaces produce more radiant heat than wood-burning fireplaces, since they stay hot even after the flame is turned off. That means they can actually help to heat the home and lower winter bills (not to mention eliminating the work of chopping wood, the mess of cleaning up soot and ash, and the struggle to get a flame to catch).

And although some models use electric-powered fans, certain gas fireplaces can even function when the power is out, offering a heat source even when winter storms knock out the electricity.

Gas fireplaces or grills can also be an efficient outdoor solution, as long as the surrounding landscaping can accommodate a stationary design (since a natural gas line will normally be run from the house).

Of course, consumers should keep safety measures in mind even with gas fireplaces. Glass screens in front of all fireplaces get extremely hot, and hundreds of small children are seriously burned each year by these screens.

Scott Wolfson of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said in a Seattle news source last month that parents should consider separate screens in front of even gas fireplaces. “These are easy-to-install barriers that create a little bit of space between that burning hot glass, which can be up to 500 degrees and cause third-degree burns, and it brings that temperature way down by having a little bit of distance from that glass,” he told KomoNews.com.

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