When we bought a house with a built-in fireplace in the mid-1990s, we looked forward to using wood to reduce the cost of heating through our cold Minnesota winters.
We quickly learned, however, that our fireplace is hardly a positive influence on energy costs. As in many homes, the fireplace is placed on an outside wall, and its base and chimney are constructed in a channel that extends outside the house’s primary wall. As a result, far more heat goes out of the home and up the chimney than comes in when a fire is burning. When we have no fire, cold air races down the chimney, barely slowed by a thin metal flue before it turns to a cool draft in the house. I know many suburban homes have this type of inefficient fireplace, and they waste nearly as much energy as an open window.
We may eventually trade this purely decorative fireplace for a woodstove with true heating ability. Until then, we only use it occasionally and have come up with a simple fireplace draft stopper to keep cold air out the rest of the time.
I cut a 2-inch sheet of pink insulating foam into the shape of the fireplace opening, leaving a quarter inch on the top and sides. It fits fairly well in this form, but my wife fit a cloth blanket over the panel to further close the gaps and make this insulation an attractive part of our home. We no longer hear or feel the cold wind blowing down our chimney, and we can easily remove the panel when we do want to have a fire.
Joe and Margaret Rudich
Cottage Grove, Minnesota