Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

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runner9
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Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by runner9 » Sun Dec 31, 2017 9:36 am

We have a wood burning fireplace in our family room, which sits on a concrete slab (not that that matters). In the 10+ years we've lived in the house we've replaced the doors, put a chimney cap on, then replaced the cap with a damper that seals at the top. We've also had our share of wood fires but have lost interest/energy in that. A bigger concern: it's still drafty. I put foam board insulation inside it as best I could and still, with tissue paper taped to the front, know that cold air is coming in.

Having done some research I'm thinking a direct vent natural gas insert is our best bet. I found a This Old House video that was helpful. https://www.thisoldhouse.com/how-to/how ... -fireplace

We're also going to redo that room going forward, but not for a few years. If we want to reface the fireplace we probably need to do that first, before putting any kind of insert/etc. in, correct?

Any advice or direction to pursue would be appreciated. There's a fireplace store about 20 miles from our house I found online, I think that's a good start.

Thanks!

iamlucky13
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by iamlucky13 » Sun Dec 31, 2017 1:16 pm

Any kind of fireplace insert will be better than just a fireplace, even with doors.

Normally there is a damper you can close to significantly reduce cold drafts when there is no fire, although you definitely don't want to forget to open it again when starting a fire.

Gas will be a good option if you want convenience. I like wood myself, but it simply isn't for everyone to deal with. Since you already have a fireplace and chimney, I'm not sure whether or not a direct vent will be cheaper than a traditional insert.

Whichever route you go, talk to the fireplace store about the draft. They may have some options to deal with that depending which type of insert you go with.

Jack FFR1846
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by Jack FFR1846 » Sun Dec 31, 2017 2:14 pm

My father in law has a natural gas insert and it works beautifully with a thermostat on the wall for automatic heating when needed or turned off if not wanted.

As much as I love wood heat (we have a forced hot air wood furnace in the basement heating the house right not at 70 degrees....it's 10 degrees outside) tracking wood all over the interior of a house is not good news. Our basement is unfinished with a walk in from outside, so no wood is tracked across the house. We used to have wood stoves on our 1st and 2nd floors and have removed and sold them. If this were a hunting cabin, it would be fine, but it's not.

Getting any "real" heat in a house takes a LOT of wood. That cozy fire in the living room fireplace is doing close to nothing. If you were to fill 2 contractor wheel barrows overfilled with fire wood, that's a good estimate for what I'll use in a day. Maybe 3 if I'm awake enough to pack it full for overnight heating.
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mhalley
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by mhalley » Sun Dec 31, 2017 2:54 pm

My fil has one of the gas inserts and he likes it well enough. I just had to drop off one of my extra heaters as the artificial logs in it have cracked and need to be replaced, it is still under warrantee so hopefully he won’t be ab out of pocket expense. I think he said it cost several thousand installed, , but maybe I am misremembering as we were also talking about various other projects he was contemplating (bathtub replacement with a walk-in job), etc.

rutrow2015
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by rutrow2015 » Sun Dec 31, 2017 3:15 pm

I'll chip in here with a recommendation for a ventless insert although I know there will be many who say those are not safe.

Advantages:

Cost less than Direct Vent especially if considering install costs. Generally much better (more realistic) looking flames. Puts much, MUCH more heat into a space and it's a humid heat which enhances the effect. Generally in winter we want more humidity in the air.

Disadvantages:

Not as safe as Direct vent. Not furnace rated (I wouldn't leave it on if I wasn't in the room). Realistically if you service the log set once per year and have a carbon monoxide detector installed I think the safety is concerns are negligible. May not be good for newer, tighter construction houses (requires some air leakage). Will have a smell that is not noticeable until you walk into a house that has a ventless firelplace burning.

We've had numerous generations of both ventless and direct vent and I prefer the ventless by a country mile. You need to check codes because some states don't allow ventless and I know my state won't allow them in a bedroom.

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Epsilon Delta
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by Epsilon Delta » Mon Jan 01, 2018 7:05 am

As a stop gap you could get an inflatable damper. These will usually seal better than any DIY measure that does not involve large amounts of Great-Stuff. You probably don't want to spray foam in any chimney you might want to use again.

retiredjg
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by retiredjg » Mon Jan 01, 2018 8:52 am

I had a gas burning insert that was vented directly to the outside of the house when I lived in a cold snowy area. It turned on with a flick of a switch and I recall it had a fan to blow the warm air into the room. I considered it a heater, not a fireplace, and used it essentially every day in the winter. It was in the room that I spent most of my time in so I heated the room, not the whole house.

It was great. It was cozy. There were no fumes. It was not nearly as ugly as a heater and not nearly as charming as a fireplace. I would probably get one again.

Grateful1
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by Grateful1 » Mon Jan 01, 2018 7:01 pm

We converted a drafty conventional wood burning fireplace with a natural gas fireplace insert and LOVE it. Very pretty, warm, comfortable and convenient. Electronic ignition, remote control. It has been trouble free for 5+ yrs of ownership so far. Venting is via a tube installed inside the existing chimney terminating in a new nice looking chimney cap. My wife and I are very glad we had this conversion done.
It did require the installation of a new gas line extension and power circuit. One of the more enjoyable home improvements we have made.

mouses
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by mouses » Mon Jan 01, 2018 7:14 pm

I had a fireplace that I was not going to use which had a wicked draft. I got a sheet of flexible foam stuff, I have no recollection where, and stuffed it up the chimney. The chimney inside was rough enough and the foam flexible enough that the foam was in there for life, or at least until I sold the house a few decades later.

Looking on the web, I see this is called upholstery foam and sold a lot of places. If the piece is too big (you do want it oversized so it pushes against the inside chimney walls and doesn't fall out of the chimney) it can be trimmed with scissors.

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runner9
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by runner9 » Mon Jan 01, 2018 7:21 pm

Thanks everyone. OP here.

My mom has a fireplace she doesn't use as well. I was able to get foam board wedged in just perfect at her house and it really helps. Mine is built different and that never worked. We had tried to ballon thing with hers with some success. I'm ready for a permanent solution, not another temporary fix.

I'm hoping to visit the fireplace store about 20 miles away soon if I have time and if the snow stops. We for sure eventually want to redo that room in the future and reface the fireplace. Not sure what order this all would have to be done in but we aren't really ready to redo the room right now. We might have to reface the fireplace first though.

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just frank
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by just frank » Tue Jan 02, 2018 6:05 am

You didn't mention whether the fireplace/chimney is in the interior of the house, or on an exterior wall. If the latter, that uninsulated masonry is a huge heat sink 24/7. If you go to a gas insert, you will want to insulate well behind it in a manner consistent with manufacturer recommendations.

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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by forgeblast » Tue Jan 02, 2018 7:54 am

We removed a wood stove and added a Jotul propane stove (had a battery thermostat in case the power goes out), its awesome!!

Hug401k
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by Hug401k » Tue Jan 02, 2018 5:25 pm

Hi Runner9, we are having a similar challenge. We are looking to convert a wood burning fireplace to a gas burning with an insert as well. I've also been contemplating the ventless due to the fact that it is way cheaper. The challenge is that we also have no space underneath it to run a gas line. Has anyone mentioned how to get a gas line to an interior fireplace with no basement? Maybe this is an easy question for those who live in areas where basements are rare.

In my case, all the challenges are multiplied by the fact that the fireplace is 200 yr old and only 13 inches deep, but I think that's for another post. I will say that the damper is closed and the previous owners stuffed a huge amount of black foam up the chimney and the draft is not bad (and it's 10 degrees out)

Hug401k
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by Hug401k » Tue Jan 02, 2018 5:29 pm

rutrow2015 wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 3:15 pm

Disadvantages:

Not as safe as Direct vent. Not furnace rated (I wouldn't leave it on if I wasn't in the room). Realistically if you service the log set once per year and have a carbon monoxide detector installed I think the safety is concerns are negligible. May not be good for newer, tighter construction houses (requires some air leakage). Will have a smell that is not noticeable until you walk into a house that has a ventless firelplace burning.
Rutrow- how would you describe the smell? I'm seriously considering adding one because of the open flame and price, but I've been worried about any smell. My house is old, so plenty drafty enough.

barnaclebob
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by barnaclebob » Tue Jan 02, 2018 5:31 pm

Take a look at EPA certified wood burning inserts. They put out a lot more heat and burn fairly efficiently where you would only need to load them once or twice a day depending on how hot you burn them. The previous poster who mentioned 2 wheelbarrows full of wood must have had an old inefficient wood stove as that sounds like 6+ full loads of a large wood stove.

rutrow2015
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by rutrow2015 » Tue Jan 02, 2018 5:52 pm

Hug401k wrote:
Tue Jan 02, 2018 5:29 pm
rutrow2015 wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 3:15 pm

how would you describe the smell? I'm seriously considering adding one because of the open flame and price, but I've been worried about any smell. My house is old, so plenty drafty enough.
The gas company would be able to provide the best description because I believe that natural gas is odorless and they actually add a substance to create the smell. It is the unconsumed by-products which go into the room instead of up the chimney. A vented fireplace vents this to the outside but a ventless puts it out into the room. That being said, ventless is something like (I'm making numbers up now) 99.99% efficient but your nose can still detect that 0.001% that is not burned. The human nose is incredibly sensitive.

Some people might find the smell unpleasant but not in a headache inducing way. You will probably not notice unless you leave the house for an hour and then come back in. I never noticed it after about the first month.

123
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by 123 » Tue Jan 02, 2018 6:01 pm

We had a gas fireplace insert installed in an original word burning fireplace when we did remodeling. It solved the problem of drafts due to no damper in the original fireplace. We don't use it that much, maybe 30 days a years, but we're glad we've got it. It makes the living room seem cozy and produces a lot of warmth. From what I recall the insert itself was around $1,800 but the total cost was around $5,000 including installation due to the need to bring gas line and electric service to the fireplace box as well as some chimney repair work. If your fireplace is old you'll likely need some kind of remedial work as we did. We feel a lot safer with the gas fireplace insert.
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Chicken lady
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by Chicken lady » Tue Jan 02, 2018 6:18 pm

A couple of questions - do you need this for warmth in the room or is it more for 'mood' and appearance?
Do you have a ready supply of wood and if so, do you mind the work associated with burning wood? If you have to purchase wood which makes the most sense to you cost wise - wood or gas?

There a some really nice looking wood burning fireplace inserts that put out a lot of heat. There are also many nice gas fired options.

Seems like if you can answer the above questions, you'll have the answer to your question about which path to take.

Good luck and keep warm.

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runner9
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by runner9 » Tue Jan 02, 2018 6:29 pm

Thanks all.

The fireplace is on the exterior of the house. The interior wall is flat above the mantel and on the second floor.

We have some wood which we bought probably 4 years ago. I've been giving it to the cub scout pack as needed, I'm happy to just get rid of it.

We need to room to be warmer, that's the main concern. That can be eliminating the draft completely but will probably also be using it for heat sometimes. I'd like to convenience of just pushing a button or something similar and not have to haul wood from outside (making sure it didn't get covered in snow first) then having the smell in the house, having to collect the ash, etc. Also being able to turn on for 30-60 minutes (as an example) and then turn off and walk away. With wood we had to commit to being in the room for the evening, then close the damper in the middle of night when it fully went out, etc.

Thanks!

killjoy2012
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by killjoy2012 » Tue Jan 02, 2018 7:12 pm

Not sure there's any one perfect answer TBH. Wood is a pain in that it's dirty, requires frequent cleaning, need to haul wood from outside to inside, not (really) safe to leave on when leaving the house, etc. But then again, when I renovated my LR, I chose to go with a direct vent NG unit, and while it solves all of the problems listed above, the problem I have is that it just generates TOO much heat. If I run it on it's lowest setting, it'll heat me out of the house even when the outdoor temp is 0*. And while I do a have a remote control w/ thermostat for it (so it can be set to turn on/off/on/off frequently), I also need to watch it as the hallway with the house thermostat is close enough to the fireplace such that most of the house will drop 10-20 degrees from that of the LR/hallway.

In the end, I'm sure NG is probably your answer. I'd just take some of the "efficiency" arguments with a grain of salt. There are days I wish I could just run the fireplace for aesthetics w/ heating up the room, especially when entertaining.

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gasdoc
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by gasdoc » Wed Jan 03, 2018 7:42 am

rutrow2015 wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 3:15 pm
I'll chip in here with a recommendation for a ventless insert although I know there will be many who say those are not safe.

Advantages:

Cost less than Direct Vent especially if considering install costs. Generally much better (more realistic) looking flames. Puts much, MUCH more heat into a space and it's a humid heat which enhances the effect. Generally in winter we want more humidity in the air.

Disadvantages:

Not as safe as Direct vent. Not furnace rated (I wouldn't leave it on if I wasn't in the room). Realistically if you service the log set once per year and have a carbon monoxide detector installed I think the safety is concerns are negligible. May not be good for newer, tighter construction houses (requires some air leakage). Will have a smell that is not noticeable until you walk into a house that has a ventless firelplace burning.

We've had numerous generations of both ventless and direct vent and I prefer the ventless by a country mile. You need to check codes because some states don't allow ventless and I know my state won't allow them in a bedroom.
Rutrow2015, we have a couple of ventless fireplaces as well, and they are a good source of backup heat when the power goes out. However, we crack a window for each ventless fireplace we are using. There is some evidence that there are products of combustion besides carbon monoxide, and there are reports of walls turning grey in homes with frequent use of these types of fireplaces. Also, some people get respiratory complaints, and it is often recommended that you don't use them if there is someone with asthma in the household. I didn't want to hijack the thread with a debate about this, but thought the additional downside should be mentioned. Happy 2018!

gasdoc

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jharkin
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Re: Convert drafty wood burning fireplace to more efficient

Post by jharkin » Wed Jan 03, 2018 8:56 am

If you want a fireplace to actually heat, you need an insert of some sort. The best resource for this kind of advice is www.hearth.com. That place is the bogleheads of fireplaces & stoves.

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