Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

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eg1
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Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by eg1 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:50 pm

We live in a 1950s cape that is not well insulated. The house is 1500 sq/ft total over 2 floors. The house itself is very drafty and we have a fireplace that has a damper that doesn’t close all the way. We have oil for heating and no natural gas available. We had a top of the line gas boiler installed last year (87% efficiency when the installer tested it). The last couple of weeks made me realize that I need to spend some time this summer to start caulking and insulating all the little gaps and holes. My question has to do with what I should do with the fireplace.

The fireplace is 38”x28” masonry. It is in our living room that is 14’x14’. We do not have an open floor plan. When we burn the fireplace we can actually get the living room nice and toasty. Last Sunday morning when it was -4 outside, our living room was 66 and we were able to get it up to 75 or so supplementing our oil boiler with a fire in the fireplace. We don’t burn a lot of wood but plan on getting a cord this spring to start and use the fireplace more. This would mostly be for ambiance and some heat.

The damper for the fireplace will need to be fixed one way or another and we need to install glass doors. I see 2 options:

Option 1: Get a top of the flue damper and glass doors. This will help with the draft of the fireplace. We would still use the fireplace and burn the cord of wood we would get. I realize that fireplaces are extremely inefficient but for how much we would use it I don’t think this is a big deal.

Option 2: Get a small flush insert for the fireplace. I realize that flush inserts are not as effective as inserts that stick out but we have a small room as it is and I am not willing to use up any more real estate for a stove.

Option 1 is cheaper($1500-2000). It might or might not solve our drafty fireplace issue. It allows us to test to see if burning wood is something we are cut to do.

Option 2 is significantly more expensive ($5000) but is sure to address the drafty fireplace issue. It gives us a second heat source and would allow us to use less oil. If we decide that we don’t like hearing with wood, this is a few thousand dollars we would essentially waste.

Which option do you think makes more sense to pursue?

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Sandtrap
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by Sandtrap » Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:56 pm

I would try #1 and if that is not satisfactory then #2.
DW and I have the flue insert and also the glass doors, also gas alternative.
j :D

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Pajamas
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by Pajamas » Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:56 pm

How much does wood cost where you live? A fireplace might not be a very cost-effective way of providing heat compared to a central unit that is efficient. Might want to go with the glass doors to stop the draft and just use the fireplace for entertainment and atmosphere when the mood strikes.

123
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by 123 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:00 pm

*Erroneous content removed *

Corrected - OP has wood and oil but no natural gas.
Last edited by 123 on Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:39 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Wellfleet
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by Wellfleet » Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:02 pm

The first thing you should do is contact your utility for a free or low-cost energy audit. It might cover air sealing and insulation.

As for the fireplace, I was shocked when I found out that they are -10 to 10 percent efficient! I’ve blocked mine with foam and sealant.

I would go for a fireplace insert. You get 70% efficiency, lose the draftiness and still enjoy the ambiance of the fire.

mikepru
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by mikepru » Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:02 pm

We have an 85 yr old house with an added open family/kitchen room that had a wood fireplace. We converted to a natural gas insert after much discussion. MUCH improved!! Both rooms are very nice in cold weather. We both agree we should have done it sooner.

Capsu78
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by Capsu78 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:05 pm

Slightly less relevant, but I have toured a number of Frank L Wright built studios and homes. Fireplaces are usually a centerpiece of his designs, and he designed some 1600 different designs and no 2 alike. However, some of his designs were completely inefficient and energy losers...a couple were simply "holes to the sky", other leaked so much water as to create foundational damage.

eg1
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by eg1 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:22 pm

If we had natural gas, I would definitely get a gas insert. I was told it would cost us $100k (we are about 100 Feet away) to get a gas line extended to our house when we were getting the new boiler put in.

We had an energy audit done at our house and weren’t eligible for any rebates since our utility company does not participate in any of the programs.

Prices for Cord of wood is about 200-300 depending on how seasoned it is.

I am leaning towards option 1 but keep on thinking that will be a short term solution that we won’t be happy with.
Last edited by eg1 on Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

nordsteve
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by nordsteve » Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:26 pm

Option 3 is to drop $50 on a Chimney Balloon, and take it out when you're operating the fireplace. If it turns out you use it a lot, do some of the other more expensive fixes. If not, you've solved your leaky flue problem for $50.

I have one of these in my indoor grill flue (no damper) and it works perfectly.

http://www.chimneyballoon.us/buychimneyballoon.html

theplayer11
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by theplayer11 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:37 pm

wood burning insert with blower..best investment I've made, love the wood heat and boiler is not running when wood is burning.

Mike Scott
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by Mike Scott » Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:13 pm

The cheapest and most efficient thing to do is to seal it and not use it. For ambiance, stick a tv in front of the fireplace and stream a video of a fire. :) Also check your home owners insurance for any sticky bits about wood heat and fireplaces.

FadGadget
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by FadGadget » Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:52 pm

Asthma sufferers in your neighborhood are going to look at you sideways. Fireplace smoke is the absolute worst for production of PM 2.5 particles that get deep in the lungs. I will personally never live in another neighborhood with older homes.

So yeah, by all means, do what is financially expedient here, just realize the impact on others of your decision.

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jharkin
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by jharkin » Wed Jan 10, 2018 9:17 pm

Humans have lived around fire for 50,000 years. It did not suddenly become a health epidemic yesterday.


Fireplaces do NOT have to be smoky and polluting. The problem is 90% of people use them wrong, and smoulder cold fires of wet wood that makes smoke. Use it right, burn hot with DRY wood, and better yet get a high efficiency insert and it can be very clean and efficient.

OP - Go to hearth.com for some good advice on these matters. Its a site dedicated to these topics.

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Doom&Gloom
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by Doom&Gloom » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:31 pm

Mike Scott wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:13 pm
The cheapest and most efficient thing to do is to seal it and not use it. For ambiance, stick a tv in front of the fireplace and stream a video of a fire. :) Also check your home owners insurance for any sticky bits about wood heat and fireplaces.
This is what we did with ours after years of not using it at all. We took the chimney off when we re-roofed and sealed it at the damper. DW now rotates various floral and other displays inside the fireplace for a far better usage than previously.

If we were in a colder climate than the SE US, I'm not sure that is the route we would have taken though. I have to admit that I do love a roaring fire.

Longtermgrowth
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by Longtermgrowth » Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:07 am

Look up "fireplace inflatable draft stopper". It's my best idea while keeping it usable in the future if desired... If often used, glass doors?

Mine draws so much air from the house, anything below mid 40 degree range makes the whole house colder, except for the room it's in, when used. Been wanting to add glass doors so I can close them when the fire is about finished...

FadGadget
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by FadGadget » Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:46 am

jharkin wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 9:17 pm
Humans have lived around fire for 50,000 years. It did not suddenly become a health epidemic yesterday.


Fireplaces do NOT have to be smoky and polluting. The problem is 90% of people use them wrong, and smoulder cold fires of wet wood that makes smoke. Use it right, burn hot with DRY wood, and better yet get a high efficiency insert and it can be very clean and efficient.

OP - Go to hearth.com for some good advice on these matters. Its a site dedicated to these topics.
50,000 years ago, humans weren't involved in commutes following diesel trucks, so there's that. Even the most efficient pellet stoves still emit vast volumes of PM 2.5 compared to oil or natural gas. There's no magical way of making PM 2.5 disappear when burning wood.

There's a reason why new subdivisions don't have wood burning fireplaces, they're just really impactful on the neighborhood.

CMLAW1
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by CMLAW1 » Thu Jan 11, 2018 6:45 am

Mike Scott wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:13 pm
The cheapest and most efficient thing to do is to seal it and not use it. For ambiance, stick a tv in front of the fireplace and stream a video of a fire. :) Also check your home owners insurance for any sticky bits about wood heat and fireplaces.
This may be a little dull but...how do you seal it? I have a non working fireplace with a similar problem. I would love to know how I could seal it up.

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jharkin
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by jharkin » Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:08 am

FadGadget wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:46 am


50,000 years ago, humans weren't involved in commutes following diesel trucks, so there's that. Even the most efficient pellet stoves still emit vast volumes of PM 2.5 compared to oil or natural gas. There's no magical way of making PM 2.5 disappear when burning wood.

There's a reason why new subdivisions don't have wood burning fireplaces, they're just really impactful on the neighborhood.
New subdivisions dont have wood fireplaces because real ones are much more expensive for the builders than prefab gas units, and many people dont like the hassle of wood. Where I live, upscale homes still have wood fireplaces.

Lots of things in life "might" kill you. The chain smoker next to you on the subway is probably causing you a lot more problems than one fireplace across town. A fireplace might put out more emissions than 1 truck, but there are a LOT more trucks, trains, commercial airplanes, oil boilers and coal fired power plants out their. In the grand totals fireplaces probably barely even move the needle.

In fact I looked up some numbers on this point for you:

EPA has a website where you can see PM2.5 by source. Wildfires, dust, and agriculture emissions dwarf everything else. AFAIK residential fireplaces are lumped into fuel combustion so we cant break those out:
https://www3.epa.gov/cgi-bin/broker?pol ... onal_1.sas

The localities that exceed EPA PM2.5 limits tend to be regions with wildfire problems (California) and areas prone to atmospheric inversions that hold smoke at ground level (Washington State has bad issues and because of it they have woodstove/fireplace regulations much tougher than EPA national rules)

In the big picture, the USA is actually doing far better than average in spite of these problems - world average PM2.5 levels are 44mg/m3, USA average is just 8 mg/m3
https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.PM25.MC.M3
The regions that are really bad are where you would expect - big cities with chronic smog problems in the developing world - Beijing, Shanghai, Delhi, Mumbai, etc, along with poor countries that still rely on biomass heat - like Afghanistan and many nations in central Africa.


---


Put another way - I think focusing on fireplaces in the developed world is taking our attention off the sources that really move the needle in the big picture.

Moreover, In a world where its illegal to cozy up to the fireplace while its snowing out on Christmas, a world where I have to live in a saran wrap bubble for my own safety... is a world too boring to be worth living in IMHO.

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Bengineer
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by Bengineer » Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:37 am

OP, I grew up with a fireplace used daily and have had one at all but a couple residences since. I really enjoy a wood fire on a cold, damp night.

A chimney-top damper works well. It will totally seal the flue and keep weather from entering. I also had a leaky, bent damper in one house and installed a Lyemance damper at the top of the flue. It has a stainless cable that runs down the flue to open and close it. I was happy with it.

I'd think carefully about glass doors. They block most of the radiant heat (glass, including the much touted ceramic glass, is fairly opaque to those wavelengths) and the doors purposely allow a lot of air leakage to keep them clean and avoid shattering. You're basically losing the radiant heat of the fire while still allowing the draft. My preference is a screen. The draft has to be open until the fire dies anyway.

On the air sealing project: Go for it! It can make a big difference. I've done it in three houses now. If you're good, you'll have to crack a window for your fireplace to draw well! :happy If your utility offers a subsidy for a blower door / energy efficiency audit, great. Walk around with the tester while the blower is running and take not of the big leaks. Take the suggestions for new windows & siding with a grain of salt. If not, a powerful in-window fan is helpful in finding air leaks. Go for the big ones @ the ceiling and floor planes first, then around the walls. I feel for you with your cape cod house. Kneewalls and dormers are really tough to air seal and insulate.

eg1
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by eg1 » Thu Jan 11, 2018 8:49 am

We really enjoy the fireplace heat so sealing it would not be an option. I would also think a sealed fireplace would affect resale value not that we plan on moving anytime soon. A fireplace was actually one of the things we wanted when we were searching for our house.

My intention is not to close the glass doors when we use the fireplace. The doors would basically be used as a second draft barrier. I have priced out custom air sealed doors from various fireplace/stove stores and the prices seem excessive to me. Nobody I talked to would guarantee they would stop the draft completely and they are priced anywhere from $1500 to $2500. Amazon has generic fireplace doors that can be bought for less than $300. Those would be glass doors I would be getting.

I have looked at chimney balloon and it seems like a pain to use especially if one wants to have a fire frequently. I have seen another product flueblocker that seems a little better to me. Anybody have any experience with that?
Bengineer wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:37 am
A chimney-top damper works well. It will totally seal the flue and keep weather from entering. I also had a leaky, bent damper in one house and installed a Lyemance damper at the top of the flue. It has a stainless cable that runs down the flue to open and close it. I was happy with it.
I have read mixed reviews about chimney-top dampers and that is part of the reason I am hesitant to go with it. They are also not cheap. We have a towel that we shoved around the damper and that has definitely helped with the draft. I don't know if chimney top damper would provide as much of a seal. How long do they usually last?
Bengineer wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:37 am
On the air sealing project: Go for it! It can make a big difference. I've done it in three houses now. If you're good, you'll have to crack a window for your fireplace to draw well! :happy If your utility offers a subsidy for a blower door / energy efficiency audit, great. Walk around with the tester while the blower is running and take not of the big leaks. Take the suggestions for new windows & siding with a grain of salt. If not, a powerful in-window fan is helpful in finding air leaks. Go for the big ones @ the ceiling and floor planes first, then around the walls. I feel for you with your cape cod house. Kneewalls and dormers are really tough to air seal and insulate.


Capes are just tough to insulate, there is no other way around it. You basically have rooms in an attic with very little room for insulation especially on a house like ours which was built in 1950s. I think our best option will be to insulate the house the right way when it is time to replace our roof. When I got an energy audit done, the cost of insulation vs payback just didn't seem like it was worth it since we would have to pay for the whole job without any incentives.

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lthenderson
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by lthenderson » Thu Jan 11, 2018 9:31 am

eg1 wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:50 pm
Option 2: Get a small flush insert for the fireplace. I realize that flush inserts are not as effective as inserts that stick out but we have a small room as it is and I am not willing to use up any more real estate for a stove.
We went with option 2 at our current house and option 1 at our previous house. There are pros and cons to both. With the damper and glass doors, we definitely liked the ease of throwing logs on the fire and watching them burn but like you mentioned, it is very inefficient way to heat a room and if we left the doors open to get more heat, we had to be on the lookout for sparks shooting out. We had a mesh fire screen that could slide in the way but when it was very hot, it was very hard to handle to add more wood and slide it back into place.

In our current house we went with an flush mounted insert and a blower. Heats the room and surrounding rooms ten times better and you never have to worry about sparks. However, after we installed it, only then did I realize how small the actual firebox was. I had to give away a couple cords of "standard" size split wood because they were too long to fit into the firebox. I cut my own wood so after the initial surprise, I cut everything to fit and haven't had any problems. If I bought wood delivered, it would have to be special ordered to fit. My parents on the other hand went with an insert that sticks out about eight inches from the fireplace and they have no problem fitting "standard" pieces into it. So make sure you check the interior dimensions before buying.

Rupert
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by Rupert » Thu Jan 11, 2018 9:59 am

CMLAW1 wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 6:45 am
Mike Scott wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:13 pm
The cheapest and most efficient thing to do is to seal it and not use it. For ambiance, stick a tv in front of the fireplace and stream a video of a fire. :) Also check your home owners insurance for any sticky bits about wood heat and fireplaces.
This may be a little dull but...how do you seal it? I have a non working fireplace with a similar problem. I would love to know how I could seal it up.
Those balloons cited up thread work really really well.

BeerTooth
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by BeerTooth » Thu Jan 11, 2018 11:24 am

Do the air sealing work first - prioritize large leaks, and remember ABC: first the Attic (knee walls), then Basement, then Central living area.
You don't have to do the entire project in one shot. Yes the payback is long, but once it's done, it's a totally passive cost savings every year you're in the house. Plus increased comfort due to stopping drafts.

I tried the chimney balloon in one fireplace - didn't seal up great for me, but YMMV. Don't waste any time/money on fireplace doors.

We put a wood-burning fireplace insert in the central fireplace. I burn 24/7 from November until April. It is a lifestyle. 3-4 cords a year, loading 2-3x a day. Well worth the effort, but we burned wood growing up and I knew what I was getting into. That room is now a magnet for guests and family to gather around the stove and get warm when it's minus 5 outside like the past week.

After you've made some improvements on insulating/air-sealing, post your question at hearth.com if you're serious about burning wood. They'll point you to a good efficient unit and give tips on making sure the installation is appropriate for your house.

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Epsilon Delta
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by Epsilon Delta » Thu Jan 11, 2018 2:07 pm

CMLAW1 wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 6:45 am

This may be a little dull but...how do you seal it? I have a non working fireplace with a similar problem. I would love to know how I could seal it up.
If you want to seal it permanently I'd suggest drywall and great-stuff (expanding foam).

If you block the flue you want to do it in such a way that a casual inspection shows it should not be used. For example, block it just above the fireplace so someone kneeling to set a fire can see the block. I've seen someone light a fireplace with the flue closed and it wasn't pretty. Took months to get the smell of smoke out of the house. How they got the fire going that well without a draft is beyond me. Natural talent, I guess.

FadGadget
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by FadGadget » Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:42 pm

Fair enough, JHarkin -- and I would note that I live in Washington State, and it's really bad.

Too many air inversions that really make for chronic respiratory irritation.

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iceport
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by iceport » Thu Jan 11, 2018 4:25 pm

eg1 wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:50 pm
Which option do you think makes more sense to pursue?
I went with Option 3, for the less ambitious cheapskate.

I just took some very heavy weight cardboard and cut it to fit snugly below the cast iron flue damper. Then I fitted one side with some Reflectix insulation (like foil-faced bubble-wrap), using duck tape to fasten the Reflectix and reinforce the edges of the cardboard. This just stays in place on the underside of the damper by friction. Duck tape tabs let me pull the contraption out when I want to use the fireplace. The only complication was cutting out a flap to accommodate the damper handle and still provide some insulation. There's no guarantee your chimney/damper configuration will allow a friction fit of an insulated insert.

My incentive was different than yours, though. The damper in my 1950s central chimney house fits well enough, but it still seemed like a whole lot of heat was lost through the cast iron barrier. The damper is a full 3' wide.
"Discipline matters more than allocation.” ─William Bernstein

barnaclebob
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Re: Help with what to do with drafty fireplace

Post by barnaclebob » Thu Jan 11, 2018 4:36 pm

If you like the actual fire go with an EPA certified catalytic insert with a blower fan. The Blaze king ashford 25 or sirocco 25 might be good options.

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