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Fireplace Can Be Source of Warmth or Escape Route for Home's Heat

Power Lines: Electric bills are rising and people are looking for ways to cut consumption and costs. This is the eighth in a series of energy-saving tips. Previous stories can be accessed at

March 03, 2001|LYNN O'DELL

Before you throw another log on the fire, consider this chilling fact: More than 60% of that heat is going straight up the chimney.

Your fireplace, in use or not, could be the biggest heat robber in your house. A conventional fireplace draws in huge volumes of air from the room, much of which is sucked up the chimney by the natural draft that vents the smoke. And if the fire is out and the flue is left open, warm air from inside the house escapes the same way. The energy crunch has Californians eyeing their once just-for-looks fireplaces as alternative heat sources. But all they're getting is "psychological warmth," said John Crouch, of the Hearth Products Assn., a 2,500-member trade association (

You can turn your fireplace into a heater with wood or gas fireplace inserts that slide into the opening. The smaller glass-fronted fireboxes use just a fraction of the room air for combustion, making for a longer, slower-burning fire that can stretch a single load of wood for up to eight hours. They generate tremendous amounts of heat and can warm several rooms, Crouch said.

Consumer interest in wood-burning products is rising, said Bonnie Richins, operations manager at Anaheim Patio and Fireside in Brea ( Fireplace inserts, excluding installation, start at $1,000; free-standing wood stoves begin at $599, she said. Gas logs--which can take the chill out but are not sold as heaters--start at $150.

Southern California Gas Co. offers a $25 discount coupon through March 31 for gas log purchases on its Web site (


A tip for wood burners: Line up next fall's supply now, Crouch said, because demand and prices are going up.

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