So you want a fireplace …

There’s nothing like cozying up to a warm fireplace on a cold winter’s night. But if you’re in the market for a new fireplace, the options can be overwhelming: Should you get an insert or a freestanding model? How will the venting work? Should you choose natural gas, electricity or wood fuel?

The best place to start your search is at home. First, determine why you want a fireplace. Will it heat your home, or is it primarily a decorative appliance? Also take into account how much work you’d like to invest in your fireplace. You may love the crackle of a wood fire but do you want to split, or purchase split firewood and build fires regularly? Perhaps you would prefer flicking a switch – or even using a remote control – to start your fire.

You should also keep energy efficiency in mind. Some existing wood-burning fireplaces may actually increase heating costs since they draw air from an already heated room to keep the fire going. But that’s not necessarily the case with today’s wood, electric and gas-fueled fireplaces. Many are stocked with efficiency options: heat circulators; forced air systems to spread the heat; triple-walled vents to help guard against the cold air that sneaks in when the fireplace is not being used.

Finally, cost is naturally a consideration. New fireplaces range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Fuel prices are another factor to think about. Gas and electric fireplaces cost about 15 to 25 cents per hour to operate. Firewood is measured in cords. One cord is 1.2 by 1.2 by 2.4 metres (4 by 4 by 8 feet), and may cost several hundred dollars, depending on the type of wood. However, many firewood dealers sell partial cords, called face cords, stove cords or furnace cords.

And don’t forget that if your fireplace is used for heating, you should be able to turn down your home’s thermostat, cutting your furnace fuel costs.

Fireplaces – The Magic and the Mystery

Fireplaces are no longer used as the primary source for heating homes, but the magic of a fire stills makes a fireplace a valued part of any home. There are few things nicer than a cheery fire, especially on a cold winter night. By the same token, there are few things more distressing than a fireplace which doesn’t draw – belching smoke into the home, chasing people out, setting off smoke detectors, and dirtying everything in sight. Why do some draw perfectly, and others so poorly?

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Save on running your furnace

In the cold weather you may feel like you can do little about heating costs, other than locking in early on fuel rates. But there is another way to save money and improve heating efficiency:

Consider installing a variable speed fan, which is more efficient than a single-speed fan. Furnaces use a lot of electricity to power the fan motor that circulates air through your house. If you run the furnace fan continuously, a variable speed fan can save hundreds of dollars in utility charges each year.

A furnace is not the sexiest purchase you will ever make, but it is key to your comfort and your family’s comfort. Instead of just calling your neighborhood fuel dealer to ask for help with a replacement, do some research and shopping on your own. The extra time you put into buying a new furnace may save you thousands over the service life of your furnace.