Did I Just Waste $50 On Firewood?

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We just bought a 1/3 cord of firewood for $50 off of Craigslist (only partially shown above), figuring we’d try out our new fireplace this winter. But then I ran across this article about how conventional fireplaces are useless:

As a fire burns in a conventional fireplace lot of warm house air is sucked past the leaky door and up the chimney. The air sucked up the chimney is replaced by cold outside air that has to be warmed up to a comfortable temperature by your oil, gas or electric furnace.

Now, this may be true, but does that counteract the radiative heat from the flame/hot fireplace surface area? Oh well, I’m not paying $2,000+ for a new fireplace insert. We set up our couch right in front of the fireplace so it is very toasty and romantic.

Comments

  1. i’m afraid the article is correct. and even though you might be quite warm sitting directly in front of the fire, all the while the warm air in the house will be being sucked up the chimney … nonetheless, there’s nothing quite as nice as an evening by the fireside.

  2. samerwriter says:

    My parents replaced their fireplace with an insert several years ago. It made a huge difference in how well it heated the house.

    One more thing to consider — I’d always been taught that you should never store firewood right next to your house (as shown in the picture). The reason is that ants may move into the wood, and then right on into the house.

  3. I just built a new home and the fireplace they installed has a vent that draws air from the outside to feed the fire. Sure, it is still not as efficient than not havig a fire, but it has to be better

  4. My home is heated by wood only. If you do not have a very good quality insert, you are not going to provide heat for your home. The article is very correct.

  5. Yes, wood burning fireplace is only decorative. Also, I believe you pay a premium in home owners insurance due to possible fire hazard. Only advantage is being able to make s’mores =) yum!

  6. Personal Finance Blogger says:

    It’s true that an open fireplace is a terribly inefficient means of heating (and yes the draft up the chimney will suck the heat out of the house.)

    That being said, the joy of sitting in front of a roaring fire is worth a little bit of cash… :)

    I should also add that adding a fireplace insert is a good way to heat the house with wood and cuts down on the amount of wood burned to boot. Even fireplace doors will help, especially if your fireplace has a vent to draw in fresh air from outside for combustion.

  7. Its sure cheaper than electric or any other kind of heating. My family used exclusively burn firewood during the long, cold Pacific Northwest winters and if you know how to keep it running hot it’ll turn the house into a hotbox.

  8. If you can’t tell, this is my first fireplace :)

    Ants? Ugh. There’s not much else place to put it. There’s the basement and on the side of the house, but it’d get wet.

    I’m sure inserts work great, but for me I’ve only got 8 more months here.

    I’m sitting in front of the fire right now. Very nice.

  9. I’m with PFB about the joy of sitting in front of a fire. Does that option eliminate a few dates that would have cost you money going out on the town? I’ll take a quiet evening at home with my wife in front of the fire than out at a loud restaurant/bar where we can hardly hear each other any night.

    That being said, it is good to be aware of where your hot air is going.

  10. Jonathan – Enjoy the fireplace. Have a glass of wine and gaze into the fire. Don’t worry about loosing money. Those fireplaces kick out a lot of heat. It will heat you entire house.

  11. Wasteful? A bit, but cozy and romantic for winter is alright with me! Cozy up at *home*. Stay in and use a roaring fire for entertainment and conversation!

  12. yep, fireplaces are useless by themselves. I would get a woodstove insert, Quadrafire or Hearthstone are good stoves to get.

  13. We have a fireplace that sits in the middle of the living room and kitchen with exposed bricks. Although we live in Pensacola, FL, where you wouldn’t expect to even find a fireplace, the thermal mass of the bricks stores heat very well…the back side (kitchen side) is well over 100 degrees 8+ hours later when we get up in the morning. That being said, I grew up in a house not far from here that has the the interior opening flush with a wall, and the mass of the fireplace “hanging” on the exterior exposed to the environment.

    In the latter instance, the fireplace did almost nothing to warm the house further than the radiant heat that benfitted those sitting directly in front of the fire. Our current fireplace does a fine job of heating the ambient air of >1000 sqft of living space. Keep in mind that it doesn’t get all that cold here, though.

    By the way, love the blog. Long time reader, first time commenter, yadda yadda…

  14. Gavin Peters says:

    I don’t think you wasted a penny. Sitting with your wife in front of the fireplace is not a way to spend money; it’s a way to _invest_ money.

  15. I’ve had a fair amount of fireplace experience in 2 continents & I agree with Gavin Peters & others who advise to enjoy & not worry about cost. Still, a brief cautionary word may be in order: one of those brass trim wire-mesh guards to place in front of the open fire when you fetch another bottle of vino or want to freshen the martini pitcher is a worthwhile investment. Here in the Northeast they sometimes show up at flea markets for just a few dollars. Also, it goes without saying it’s never a good idea to leave a fire smoldering when you’re through. Meanwhile, be happy.

  16. Calhoontuna says:

    Do you have a blower? When I get my fire stoking hot and hit the blower it does a great job heating the family room and maybe the kitchen. Last night it took the thermostat up to 70 degrees. The bedrooms on the second floor, however, remain chilly.

    My uncle has a small living room that is enclosed and it will get so hot in there you’ll want to step outside to cool down.

    While some money may be fluttering up your chimney, you can mitigate it by making some decisions on when it makes sense to have a fire. In the dead of January when the temperature is way bellow zero is not a good time to suck heat out of your house (I live in Wisconsin). So, I burn more fires now, in the Fall, so that by January I will get sick of splitting wood and will opt to not have a fire.

    I only burn hard wood thats been cured for a year to ensure the sap has been dried out. That will help mitigate the buildup on the flue.

    Regardless of what you burn, don’t forget to clean out your chimney every few years, depending upon how much you use the thing. You don’t want to burn down your house. I hired a guy for 150 big ones a couple of years ago, watched what he did (had to make sure there wasn’t something special to the process), then bought my own brush and extension kit for 40 bucks.

  17. I think theyre totally wasteful, and as mentioned, throws all your heat out the window. I instead, have a romantic environment…. a nice flatscreen TV that I play a fireplace burning, with surround sound on my Bose speakers that occassionally has the sounds and sights of the wood burning and falling and fire-energy sounds. During this time, I crank up my heat, close vents to other non-usable rooms so that I can “feel” the heat of the “fireplace”. The only disadvantage: i cant just throw those rip-off MBNA credit card applications into the “fireplace” cuz it may just scratch my TV. Plus, i cant burn marshmellows.

  18. I’m not sure about this insert you’re talking about, but when I was growning up, we had a fireplace with a contraption that served the same purpose and which we bought cheaply at a flea market. The way to invision it is to imagine something made out of steel that is shaped like your hand with pipes instead of fingers. The fire sat in the palm of your hand, and your fingers curl around the fire and point into the room. You attach a blower to the pipe that is your thumb. The air is blown into the box and is warmed during its path to the fingers. When it blows out, it is very warm and heats the room nicely. This way, heating is not limited to simly radiative heat.

  19. There is just something about the wood burning fireplace going when there’s 2 feet of snow on the ground. They may not be the most efficient means of heating a room, but there are other factors that add to its value.

    Also, as someone mentioned, keep the wood pile away from the house. They mentioned ants, but be ware of termites too! We had a metal tube frame that sat out next to the fence, and we just threw a tarp over the wood to keep it dry.

    Just an idea.

  20. I saw that picture of the wood against the house and I thought of the problem of bugs, not ants but the danger of termites that might be invited to the wall. Ground termites might not be a concern where you live, but they are where I am. Any wood forming a bridge against the wall will invite them right in for dinner.

    Also, watch out that you don’t damage the siding on your house with the wood, especially in winter when most materials tend to become much more brittle. If that’s vynil siding, it may be flexible in the summer, but come 32 degrees, you might as well consider it glass. When the wood is frozen together with snow that has blown in, removing one piece may send another falling down against the siding. Saying this from experience, it’s rather painful to watch the siding come crashing down on the house.

    If you want to keep the wood dry and still accessible, put the wood a couple feet away from the building and put something on top of it to protect from snow. Some would use a piece of plastic, some a tarp, but if you want it to look nicer and since your pile is small, how about one of those BBQ grill covers? Sure, spending money to keep it dry is probably against your purpose of this blog, but in some neighborhoods it might mean a friendlier neighbor who can’t see your wood pile.

    If your fireplace wasn’t designed recently with external vents for combustion air, you won’t get the heat that you wanted when you bought the wood, but you did get a good investment in family time.

  21. Oh.. That reminds me… We bought my childhood home and got to keep the wood. It was out back and we’d run out to bring a few logs back at a time. Worked out well for us.

    I think it depends on how long you keep the wood out there too. For years and years we slowly went through the wood stack (only about 1 or 2 fires a year) behind our shed. But later one of my roommates in DC loved having fires so he’d put a half cord by the house and it’d been gone by spring.

  22. I just moved to Salt Lake City and learned that in the winter when the valley has an “inversion” (aka smog) there are days when burning wood or coal is prohibited. Bummer.

  23. By The Fireside says:

    I don’t think you wasted an money – it’s a great thing to chill in front of a fireplace!

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