Enjoy those inviting flames from fall to spring

Who ever heard of falling in love by the clunk of a furnace?

You can sit around and listen to it run if you want to, says Andy Cotnam of the Fireplace Centre in Ottawa. But a furnace just doesn’t have the appeal of flickering flames.

Aside from romance or the warm light a fire casts in a room, a fireplace is a focal point and gathering place for family and guests. It provides light and heat in a power failure. Fireplaces (with inserts) are practical, cost-effective, and simple. And, says Andy, a new fireplace means a major return on your renovation investment. Research suggests a fireplace gives back as much as 150 per cent of its cost when it comes time to sell your house.

Modern, energy-efficient fireplaces now have air-tight or sealed-combustion inserts that burn wood, natural gas, or propane.  An old-fashioned fireplace, on the other hand, actually cools down a room. Andy says it’s like throwing money up the chimney. A traditional fireplace allows 150 cu. feet of air per minute out of the house. With an insert, however, the loss of air is only 5 cu. feet. An insert also means a new liner in the chimney, so it’s like having your chimney replaced, too.

No one likes to be cool when they’re watching TV or sitting around after dinner, says Andy. But it doesn’t make sense to turn up the furnace in order to warm up one room or one area. Heating your house by “zone” with a free-standing stove is much more cost effective than blowing hot air through the whole building when you don’t need it – especially in Spring and Fall.

A pellet stove provides efficient warmth and good looks, too. It’s clean, easy to maintain, and simple. The fuel comes in sacks about the size of large dog-food bags. Pellets are economical and easy to deal with. You don’t need a chimney or chimney liner; a pellet stove can be vented through an outside wall. And there is a large variety of good-looking styles.

Wood stoves create good and attractive warmth, too, but you have to be prepared to find the best available wood (not always easy) and to stack it, lug it, and clean up after it.

“It’s labourious,” says Andy. “Wood stoves are for younger people.”

But there are many choices to consider before you decide on your main source of heat. Depending on where you live, you might use natural gas. In a rural area, explains Andy, you might use propane, which can be expensive.       He says there are wood stoves in the city – right in The Glebe – but again, that depends on the source of good, dry firewood. Andy suggests going to a fireplace and wood-stove centre to see all the units and products and to gather information. Staff will help you analyze what you need and give you “a fairly accurate” estimate of cost.

He says when you’re renovating or building – before the walls go in —  it’s an ideal time to put in a fireplace. Although it’s considered a “luxury item”, it does mean a substantial savings in fuel bills.

And it’s so much prettier than gazing at a metal forced-air box in your basement.