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Fireplace Alternatives: Masonry Heaters and Pellet Stoves Give More Heat, Less Smoke

January 4th, 2008

The EPA recommends that you hire an expert to install an insert, which can cost between $1000 and $2000. They will seal up the facing of the fireplace, add glass doors between the firebox and the room and add a narrower, more directed escape vent for the smoke within the existing chimney.

That approach should be fairly affordable, but for efficient heating and lowering emissions, it can’t hold a candle to the masonry heater, a type of heating and wood burning system that’s long been used in Europe, but is just now becoming more popular in the United States.

A masonry heater is built to burn wood efficiently and capture the heat and it can do so at 90 percent efficiency, according to the DOE. The heart of the structure is a diminutive, closed firebox where a small amount of wood is burned. The rising warm air travels through a labyrinth of embedded flues or piping so that it can heat the “mass” of brick and stone surrounding the heater box. This captured heat then radiates into the house over time.

Built correctly, a masonry heater can heat a house for 12 to 24 hours on one two-hour “burn” of a few pieces of wood. It doesn’t blow dust around the house like a furnace; it doesn’t pollute the inside air like an open fireplace and its emissions are low, like a pellet stove, because it operates at such high temperatures and achieves a “complete burn.” There’s no creosote build up and no heavy particulate emissions.

“The key word of a masonry heater is heater. It is very energy efficient and very eco-friendly,’’ said Richard Smith, executive director of The Masonry Heater Association of North America (MHA).

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