By Fran Marengo
(As Published In House & Home News Magazine, November 2006)
My husband Bob and I have been in the fireplace business 25 years now and we’ve noticed a strong trend this fall… owners of existing homes and also those building new homes are frequently asking us variations on the following three questions regarding burning wood for supplemental heat: 1) Can a fireplace really be a serious heat source to the point where it puts a big dent in the cost of central heat? 2) Are there woodstoves which really look good enough to put in my living room or den that can work with my décor? 3) Have there been any major improvements in woodburning stoves or inserts to make them cleaner burning, safer and less work?
In short, the answers are Yes, Yes, and Yes!
A short time ago, I heard back from one of our very successful woodburning customers, Mr. Jim Wicker, who purchased a fireplace insert from us in 2001 for his 4000 square foot home in the Holiday Hills area in Cumberland County. Jim, a retired accountant, is a very “precise” type of person, as any successful accountant is likely to be. With a specialty in auditing, Jim enjoys household budgeting and finding ways to save money. He also has an unusual woodworking hobby… he has taught himself the art of creating exact reproductions of all types of furniture in two distinctly different but exacting styles: Chippendale and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Jim has painstakingly made every piece of furniture in his home as a reproduction in either style. Clearly, he would never tolerate an ugly stove on his hearth, belching smoke every time he opened the door, just to save a buck.
Jim wrote us a unique letter back in 2004 which included a detailed analysis of his heat bill from 2000 (the year before he purchased his insert) through 2004. His letter incorporated several columns of figures, complete with double underlines. He wrote that according to his calculations, his insert had saved him a whopping $2469 from 2001-2004, as compared to what it would have cost based on his bills without the insert in 2000. In speaking to him lately, he tells me his savings continue to grow as gas prices increase. He gets these results buying only about $240 of wood per year!
Of course, ordinary fireplaces are well known for their inefficiency, to the point where increased use can actually raise your heat bill. A regular fireplace yanks out your home’s expensive already heated air just to feed the fire. However, this picture is reversed with the addition of an EPA certified clean-burning wood fireplace insert, which is simply a short woodstove with no legs designed to slide back into the fireplace opening. A surrounding decorative block-off plate tightly seals up the fireplace opening. There are also high-performance air-tight EPA certified fireplaces designed to frame directly into new construction without having to first build a traditional masonry fireplace.
Whether it is designed to insert into an existing fireplace, as a new construction version, or as a freestanding stove, these clean-burning models now have the ability to burn almost all the waste products – the smoke and creosote – as fuel to heat your home with. Since the smoke and creosote actually amount to approximately 50% of the fuel value in any wood, these new high-efficiency air-tights can cut the amount of wood needed by half, compared to older non-EPA certified stoves! Of course, that boils down to half the work, half the mess, and greatly increased safety. Creosote build-up in the chimney (which could start a dangerous chimney fire) is reduced to a tiny fraction of what used to be typical.
The “burn-time” (how long one full load of wood lasts with enough still left to restart the fire) of the new breed of air-tight stoves or inserts is greatly extended by their ability to smother the fire and while burning the smoke to create heat. Homes as large as 3000 square feet or even more – can be heated all through the night on one load as the wood “bakes” while the smoke and creosote burns. If you enjoy watching a fire, you’ll be amazed by the mesmerizing “light show” consisting of ghostly bluish-pink wispy flames floating above the normal fire!
The better models offer crystal clear fire-viewing. Air to feed the fire is pre-heated by pulling it through tunnels one on each side of the glass door, which then join in a slot above the glass. A constant stream of super-heated air rushes down through the slot across the glass, which blows the smoke away. It goes without saying that the effectiveness of this self-cleaning glass can vary dramatically between brands, as can burn times, so shop carefully.
Are these EPA certified woodburners fashionable? Well, this route has been chosen by some mighty fine beautifully decorated homes throughout the Upper Cumberlands. Of course, woodstoves always look great in a rustic setting, but decorating styles have ranged from formal to traditional, even contemporary. Flush inserts which blend in with the fireplace facing offer hand hammered wrought iron arched doors, and copper or nickel trim. However, some prefer an “outsert,” with a bay front projecting onto the hearth large enough to set three pots and pans on, so a complete meal can be prepared during a prolonged power failure. Freestanding stoves are available in classy porcelained cast iron in a variety of glossy decorator colors, as well as polished soapstone set in a cast iron frame. There are even Scandinavian woodstoves for those with contemporary tastes.
We have always heated our present 3600 square foot showroom in Cookeville exclusively with wood. Our building is hardly tight – not with its un-insulated glass storefront 60 foot wide by 10 foot high with two sets of double doors. Yet, we are able to hold a fire from closing time until opening time the next day, using one really good woodstove filled full. We are never cold. You can bet we’ve saved a fortune in heating costs since we built this showroom in 1989. We actually have four working stoves to choose from, so we can rotate between models to illustrate different techniques used to burn the smoke. This also allows our customers to “kick the tires” by seeing the flames and feeling the heat before they buy.
For more information on saving money with a high-efficiency woodstove, insert or fireplace, contact Fran Marengo at Custom Fireplaces and More 1611 E. Spring St. in Cookeville. The entire staff at Custom Fireplaces will take the time to answer all your questions. Store hours are 9:00 – 5:00 Monday through Saturday with extended hours by appointment.
Take I-40 to exit 290 (the first Cookeville exit, about 30 minutes from Crossville). Turn right at the exit. Custom Fireplaces is on the left about 1 1/2 miles from the exit, past Chuck Johnson’s Nursery. Call toll-free 800-264-8181 or email at fireplace @multipro.com. Their web address is www.customfireplaceandmore.com.