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Ah, the Fireplace....that icon of luxury and relaxation that represents an escape from the pressures of everyday life. The flickering flames mesmerize and make one forget that most fireplaces add significantly to the cost of home heating! Yes, that big hole in the wall can be responsible for your having to work HARDER to pay your energy bills...and very few folks enjoy higher monthly bills.
Open fireplaces can vary greatly in their efficiency, typically being anywhere from -20% (meaning they lose a lot more heat than they gain) to as much as +10-20% positive.....which indicates that they deliver a small portion of the wood's heat back into your home.
You could certainly convert your fireplace with a fireplace inserted stove, but this can be an expensive proposition (approx. $3,000). Occasional fireplace users also may not want to change the look of their decor with such an installation. There are, however, some less expensive steps you can take to assure you are getting the most from your existing fireplace.
Having a good fireplace grate can increase the efficiency of a fireplace AND make fires easier to start and tend. Some grates are specially designed to make the wood fire radiate better into the room. An example is "The Grate Wall of Fire", which uses clever design to make the glowing part of the logs project heat forward. Note that this type of grate works best with open fires, when a glass door is either not installed or left open during the hottest parts of the fire.
An example of a high quality standard grate can be found in a product called The Self Feeding Fireplace Grate. These grates properly cradle the wood and allow for air to enter from underneath. The rounded design allow the wood to...