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How to Maximize the Heating Power of Your Wood-Burning Fireplace

How much heat does your wood-burning fireplace produce? As temperatures throughout the Southeast continue to drop, more and more homeowners are turning to their wood-burning fireplace to warm their home. Not all wood-burning fireplaces, however, produce the same amount of heat. Some produce enough heat to eliminate the need for central heating, whereas others produce little or no heat. If your wood-burning fireplace falls under the latter category, you should consider the following tips to maximize its heating power.

Seal Thermal Leaks

If your home isn't properly sealed, some of the heat produced by your wood-burning fireplace will escape. Therefore, you should inspect your home for thermal leaks, and if you discover any, seal them. A thermal leak is any "breach" that allows hot or cold indoor air to escape outside your home. During the summer, a thermal leak will cause cold air to escape. During the winter, it will cause hot air -- including the hot air produced by your wood-burning fireplace -- to escape. By sealing thermal leaks, you'll create a more energy-efficient home while maximizing the heating power of your wood-burning fireplace in the process.

Some of the most common sources of thermal leaks in homes include the following:

  • Exterior doors
  • Windows and windowsills
  • Air ducts
  • Bathroom and kitchen vents
  • Electrical outlets
  • Walls
  • Attic
  • Basement

Install a Fireback

A fireback is an invaluable accessory that will help maximize the heating power of your wood-burning fireplace. Typically consisting of heavy-duty iron, stainless steel or cast iron, they are installed in the back of the firebox. Firebacks are typically used to protect the firebox from damage. While fireboxes can withstand significant heat, the constant heating and cooling can cause them to degrade. When this occurs, cracks or other forms of damage may occur. A fireback protects against damage such as this by creating an insulative barrier between the fire and the firebox's rear wall.

Although they are used primarily to protect the rear wall of the firebox from damage, a fireback can also improve the heating power of your wood-burning fireplace. There are radiant firebacks, for instance, that are designed specifically for this reason. Their reflective properties allow them to "radiate" heat back into your home. Without a fireback, the rear wall of the firebox will absorb heat. If you install a radiant fireback in your firebox, on the other hand, it will radiant heat back into your home.

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Burn Kiln Dried Firewood

The type of firewood you burn will affect the amount of heat produced by your fireplace. While it's true that all firewood will produce at least some heat when burned, certain types of firewood produce significantly more heat than others. Fresh firewood is the worst type to burn. Also known as green firewood, it consists of wood logs that were recently harvested without being dried. Depending on the particular species of wood, fresh firewood may have a moisture content of over 100%. At 100%, fresh firewood contains half its weight in water. Unfortunately, its high moisture content prevents it from burning efficiently. It will likely still catch fire when exposed to a match or a lighter, but it will produce lots of black smoke and only a small amount of heat.

Kiln dried firewood, on the other hand, consists of high-quality varieties of hardwood that have been dried in a kiln. It contains less moisture than fresh firewood and even air-dried firewood. As a result, burning kiln dries firewood will produce more heat. In addition to its unparalleled heating power, kiln dried firewood also burns more cleanly, meaning it doesn't produce as much as soot-filled smoke as other types of firewood.

Add More Firewood As Needed

You can turn up the heat with your fireplace by adding more firewood. Depending on the size of the logs, you might be able to start a decent-sized fire with just three pieces of firewood. Once they burn down, however, you'll need to add more firewood to maintain the heat. If you have a firewood rack, consider placing it right next to your fireplace. That way, you can easily add more firewood as needed. Of course, you can store firewood anywhere you choose. If it's placed in an inconvenient area, though, you may find yourself making fewer trips to collect more firewood.

Clean Out the Ash

Before building a new fire, clean out any ash leftover from the previous firewood. What's wrong with building a new fire over a mound of ash? If there's ash inside your fireplace, it will insulate your firewood, thereby reducing the heating power of your fireplace. When you build a new fire, the heat will stir up some of the ash lingering on the bottom of your fireplace. As the ash rises, it will land on your firewood, essentially insulating the wood logs.

For maximum heating power, try to get into the habit of cleaning out the ash each time you use your fireplace. Assuming the ash is cool, you can use a fireplace shovel to scoop and transfer it to a metal container. You can then either dispose of the ash or use it for other purposes, such as gardening compost or pest repellent. By cleaning out the ash, your fireplace will produce more heat.

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Fully Open the Damper

Don't forget to open the damper all the way when using your wood-burning fireplace. All fireplaces have a damper. It's a controllable flap that's found directly above the firebox inside the flue. Some homeowners believe that leaving the damper partially closed will improve the heating power of their fireplace. If the damper is partially closed, conventional wisdom may lead you to believe that it will insulate your fireplace, thereby creating a hotter fire. In reality, a partially closed damper will lower the heating power of your fireplace.

If the damper is partially closed, less air will enter your fireplace. And because all fires need oxygen, this will result in a smaller fire that produces less heat. If you're going to build a fire in your fireplace, make sure the damper is fully open. With the damper fully open, more air will enter your fireplace.

Get Your Chimney Cleaned

If your chimney is dirty, your fireplace will produce less heat. Over time, a tar-like substance known as creosote may accumulate inside the walls of your chimney. When this occurs, it will restrict airflow into your fireplace, essentially staving your fires of fresh oxygen. But if your chimney is clean and contains little or no creosote, air can easily enter the fireplace to fuel your fires with more oxygen.

The problem is that it's often difficult to tell exactly how much creosote and soot has accumulated inside a chimney. This is why the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) advises homeowners to have their chimney professionally inspected at least once a year. During an inspection, a professional chimney sweep will look inside your chimney to determine whether it needs cleaning. If there's visible creosote lining the walls, he or she may recommend a cleaning service.

Stock up on premium kiln dried firewood by visiting our online store today. We offer a variety of kiln dried firewood, including oak, hickory and more, that will help you maximize the heating power of your fireplace.

About The Author

Leroy Hite

Leroy Hite is the founder and CEO of Cutting Edge Firewood, an ultra-premium firewood and cooking wood company located in Atlanta, Georgia. Leroy's mission is to give people the experience of the perfect fire because some of life’s best memories are made in the warmth of a fire’s glow. He founded Cutting Edge Firewood in 2013 with a goal to provide unmatched quality wood and unparalleled customer service nationwide. The company offers premium kiln-dried firewood, cooking wood, and pizza wood in a wide variety of species and cuts to customers around the country.