Market Snapshot: Fireplaces – great for ambiance, not so great for energy efficiency

Release date: 2016-12-28

Fireplaces can add heat and ambiance on cold winter evenings, but their use has large energy efficiency implications. Older “open hearth” wood-burning fireplaces are generally considered net-energy losers due to heat loss through the chimney as well as their drawing of warm air from the rest of the house during combustion. Newer “air-tight” wood-burning fireplaces address this issue to some degree and use on average one-third less wood to produce the same amount of heat. They are also considered safer and emit a fraction of the particulate matter.

Gas fireplaces are even more efficient. A federal survey found that a quarter of Canadian homes had a gas fireplace, with most of these homes using it as a secondary or supplementary heat source. A 2011 Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) report looked at the energy efficiency of heating a home with only a central natural gas furnace versus heating with this type of furnace and a gas fireplace. Both natural gas and electricity use were monitored, and the study showed that using a gas fireplace in conjunction with natural gas furnace resulted in higher overall energy use.

Average Energy Use of Households with
Natural Gas Furnaces and Fireplaces

Source and Description

Source: CMHC

Description: This bar graph illustrates average daily consumption of energy (electricity and natural gas) under two scenarios: operation of only a high-efficiency, central natural gas furnace, and operation of this type of furnace and a natural gas fireplace. Total energy consumption under the furnace only scenario was 364 MJ while total energy consumption under the furnace and fireplace scenario was 401 MJ.

In the CMHC study, the fireplace and furnace combination led to a small electricity consumption decrease due to less furnace operation. However, overall energy consumption was 10% higher (around 37 MJ) due to fireplace use consuming much more gas. Fireplace use also led to greater temperature differences around the house. The room with the fireplace was hotter than the furnace set-point while other rooms were cooler.

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