If you're like me and you value your hard-earned dollar, then adding a fireplace blower to an inefficient gas or wood burning fireplace is not only an effective way of improving fireplace efficiency, but it can also help lower your home heating costs. Gas and wood burning fireplace efficiencies can vary widely based on type. And while gas and wood burning technologies have certainly improved, there are still inherently inefficiencies with all gas and wood fireplaces. Fortunately, installing a quality fireplace blower can often times overcome many of these inefficiencies, while keeping costs to a minimum. And in some cases, even lower your net heating costs.
Can Adding a Fireplace Blower Make Your Home More Energy Efficient?
This is a difficult question to answer without providing some context. First, it's important to understand the different types of fireplaces, their efficiency, and the cost benefit of adding a blower.
Traditional or Masonry Wood Burning Fireplaces
While the sounds and smells of a crackling open fire still appeal to many, their sensory appeal unfortunately can't make up for their inefficiency. In fact, it's estimated that only 10 - 20% of the heat produced by a masonry fireplace is usable. The rest of that heat is lost through the chimney. Furthermore, open wood fireplaces can create updrafts, which pull in and exhaust heated air that's already in your room. So not only are they inefficient, but masonry fireplaces will often times force your furnace to work harder. However, an externally mounted hearth blower can often times be added to help improve efficiency. These blowers work in conjunction with a tubular grate. The air inside the grate heats up and the blower forces the heated air into your living space. And while efficiency can be improved by 10 - 20%, the downside to these blowers is their cost. So it's important to understand that even though efficiency will increase and your energy costs may go down, using a masonry fireplace is still an inefficient way of heating your home.
Gas Logs & Gas Insert Fireplaces
Because of their inefficiency, it's not uncommon for home owners to convert their masonry wood burning fireplace to a set of gas logs. While gas logs certainly burn more efficiently and cost less to operate, on average they still lose 75% of the heat they produce through the chimney. However, the options for installing a blower in a converted masonry fireplace are limited. The blower options that are available are usually expensive and offer little improvement on efficiency. Gas inserts on the other hand can be incredibly efficient. It's not uncommon for a good gas insert to be 70 - 90% efficient, which means that a much smaller percentage of heat is lost in the venting process. But not all gas inserts are as equally effective. Lesser efficient gas inserts might only be in the 40 - 60% range. Fortunately, adding a blower to almost any gas insert can significantly improve its efficiency. A blower added to a gas insert works by pulling in cooler room air. The blower then forces that cool air up and around your hot firebox, which heats the air as it travels upwards. The heated air is then exhausted back into your living space.
Wood Burning Inserts & Stoves
Like their gas insert counterparts, wood inserts and stoves are a much cleaner and efficient way of heating your home than their traditional masonry cousins. Modern wood burning technology has come a long way, and as a result, the fireplaces have gotten ever more efficient. But despite the advances in technology, wood burning inserts and stoves still lose a lot of the heat they produce through the venting process. So adding a blower to a wood insert or stove is still a great way of improving efficiency. Wood insert blowers work very much the same as they do in gas inserts. A blower is installed below the insert, which helps pull in cool room air and forces that air around the fireplace. The heated air is then transferred back into the room. On a free-standing wood stove; however, the blower is often times installed in several positions depending on the stove. Rather than improving the natural convection process that occurs in inserts, wood stove blowers work by pushing radiant heat away from the stove.
Electric fireplaces can be very heat efficient, since there is no venting or chimney for heat to be lost in. Nearly 100% of the heat in an electric fireplace is therefore transferred into your living space. However, electric fireplaces require far more electricity and don't often produce the same level of heat as their gas and wood inserts do. Blowers can also be added to electric fireplaces to aid in heat distribution, since radiant heat alone is often minimal. Because there are no venting requirements, electric fireplaces make great additions to small rooms and basements.
Comparing the Costs
So where does this leave our wallets? Now that we understand that adding a blower can improve efficiency on almost any fireplace, can it go one step further and actually save us money? As with any purchase, there's a cost benefit analysis to consider. If for example adding a blower to an semi-efficient gas insert is going to cost you $150, the break even period needs to be calculated based on improved efficiency and the added electric costs of running the blower. Furthermore, will adding a blower improve efficiency enough that it allows you to lower your energy consumption elsewhere. For many consumers, this means using the fireplace as a supplemental heating source alongside their furnace. Since we also need to consider electric costs, we need to factor in your home's hourly kilowatt rate. Using a national average of $0.14 / kilowatt hour, running a 35-50 watt blower 24 hours a day for 365 days would cost between $35 - $50 annually. That's not terribly expensive when we consider the costs of running an efficient gas furnace. To receive an Energy Star rating, the U.S. Department of Energy requires an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency of at least 90 percent for residential gas furnaces. This means an average annual gas utilization of 660 therms at a cost of approximately $660, or almost 31.7 cents an hour. These costs increase exponentially with lesser efficient furnaces, which can cost on average $1500 a year or more to operate.
Regency Fireplaces recently published an excellent article on the topic of gas fireplace costs that we recommend you read. Some important takeaways are that the size of your home, volume of space, home efficiency, fireplace usage, environmental factors and the cost of gas and electricity in your region matter when calculating the cost of running a gas fireplace. We encourage you to read their article, Annual Cost to Operate a Gas Fireplace, so that you can better evaluate the cost benefits of adding a blower to your fireplace. As as always, don't hesitate to contact us directly with any additional questions.