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How to Turn your Inefficient Fireplace into an Efficient Alternative Heat Source

efficient_fireplace_clean_sweeps_of_MI_ann_arbor_MIAccording to the National Association of Homebuilders fireplaces are one of the top three features new home buyers look for in a home. A warm, crackling fire is a welcoming and inviting addition to any living space during the cold months of winter. What many homeowners fair to realize, however, is that their fireplace may actually be losing more energy than it is creating.

As fireplaces and chimneys age, they may become more inefficient. As the warm air from a fire rises, cold air from outside can flow in, filling the room and negating the effects of the fire. Thankfully, there are several products available to homeowners to help improve the efficiency of their fireplaces, making them excellent sources of warmth all winter.

Fireplace inserts 

For many homeowners with traditional, wood burning fireplaces, a fireplace insert represents a low maintenance, high efficiency replacement option. Fireplace inserts are glass-fronted fireproof boxes that create a closed combustion system, trapping the hot air created by a fire before it can escape up a chimney. Inserts are able to efficiently heat a room, especially with the addition of a fireplace blower.

While fireplace inserts have traditionally been exclusively gas, they can now be powered by several different fuel sources including electricity, wood, pellets, or coal. This wider variety of choices gives homeowners the ability to choose an insert to better meet their needs. Although inserts are considered to be the most energy efficient choice for fireplaces, only inserts approved by the Environmental Protection Agency should be installed in residential homes. The EPA designation ensures that the fireplace insert has undergone rigorous testing regarding both its safety and efficiency.


Dampers, or the metal plate that separates a fireplace from the rest of the chimney, are designed to have a snug, airtight seal. Over time, dampers may lose their original seal, allowing cold air or moisture to enter a house through the chimney. Because they are exposed to both hot and cold air – as well as the elements – it is recommended that dampers should only be repaired or replaced by licensed professionals.

While closed dampers can prevent unwanted cold air from entering a room, dampers should always be left open when a fireplace is in use. Doing this prevents smoke and other harmful gasses from entering the home, allowing them to travel safely up the chimney instead.


Sometimes seen as only decorative, firebacks are large metal pieces placed at the back of a firebox. The primary purpose of a fireback is to reflect heat back into the room, preventing warm air from travelling up the chimney and out of the room. In addition, firebacks protect the fireplace masonry from damage from long-term exposure to fire and heat. Because of the ease of installation and the number of different styles they are available in, adding a fireback is a fast and easy way to improve the efficiency of an existing fireplace without undertaking a major remodel.

Fireplace doors 

Professionally fitted fireplace doors are an attractive, decorative way to seal their fireplace when not in use. Like firebacks, fireplace doors are available in a number of different styles and finishes, giving homeowners the ability to choose a style that fits their décor and budget.

Similar to the damper, fireplace doors should always remain open while the fireplace is in use. The primary way they improve efficiency is through a combination of preventing cold air from entering and warm air from leaving when the fireplace is not in use.

Propane Shortage and Heating Alternatives

So the propane ran out.. not to worry, there are other ways to stay warm.

So the propane ran out.. not to worry, there are other ways to stay warm.

The recent explosion of propane gas prices can be directly linked to the low supply coupled with this winter’s brutally cold temperatures. Record low temperatures, heavy snowfall and poor driving conditions, combined with pipeline issues and other factors have all contributed to Michigan’s propane shortage. In spite of the skyrocketing prices, however, the demand for propane is still high. Propane is used to heat about 9-10% of Michigan homes, more people than any other state. Governor Snyder has instructed state agencies to reach out to consumers affected by the propane shortage to reassure them that the state is doing all it can to alleviate supply problems.

What Caused the Shortage?

The National Propane and Gas Association has attributed the national propane shortage to a combination of factors. First, a large, simultaneous grain harvest by several Midwestern states last October used a lot of propane to dry the product for storage. Then, the Chochin pipeline, which provided 40% of the propane used by Minnesota suppliers, shutdown for repair. There was also a huge increase in U.S. propane exports in 2013 of 20% compared to 5% in 2008. Lastly, a Midwest pipeline that used to carry propane is now used for ethanol.

Alternative Heating Options

In response to the supply problems, many homeowners are searching for alternative ways to heat their homes. People often turn to alternative heat sources to stay warm when the temperature plummets. Now is as good a time as any for homeowners to opt out of propane heat and instead install either a pellet stove or a wood-burning fireplace.

  • Pellet Stoves

It is estimated that a customer can recoup the expense of installing a high tech pellet stove in about two and a half years, and a full system can be installed within three weeks. The wood used to make the pellets is literally wood waste coming from wood chips and sawdust that is then turned into fuel. As the popularity of pellet stoves has increased, pellet mills began popping up in places that might not have had them years ago.

  • Wood-Burning Fireplaces

Generally speaking, burning in a wood-burning fireplace is an efficient way of heating your home. Wood burning fireplaces not only provide heat during the frigid winter months, but also create a comfortable aura in your home. Installing an energy-efficient unit can save fuel and money. The EPA is continually working with manufacturers to bring cleaner burning fireplaces to the market. Newer fireplace units can reduce smoke and dust, as well as cut heating expenses.

The propane companies are doing their best to make timely deliveries, while at the same time encouraging customers to preserve propane by turning down their thermostats 5-10 degrees, cut back on using hot water and the stove if either rely on propane, and avoid calling the propane supplier until the gauge shows below 25%. Some suppliers have even begun offering payment plans. However, if you want to be a bit more proactive, give the staff at Clean Sweeps a call to see how one of our alternative heating options can best meet your needs for the remainder of this heating season as well as for many more to come.

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