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Click here to see a descriptive illustration showing several examples of woodburning fireplaces.
Dear Jim: I want to add a decorative woodburning fireplace to my living room to warm that room and nearby rooms. I would like to do much of the work myself to cut costs. What are the best models to consider? - Ronnie S.
A: A high-quality, efficient woodburning fireplace can produce as much heat (more than 50,000 Btu/hour continuously) as some central furnaces. If you have a reasonably priced supply of firewood, a woodburning fireplace can be a relatively inexpensive source of heat for your home.
Once you add a fireplace to your room, it will quickly become the focal point and a gathering place for your family. If you have space, consider installing a peninsula (three glass sides), a bay model or a see-through (two-room) model for more viewing area. A dual-fuel (gas too) model is convenient.
Unless are an experienced do-it-yourselfer (DIY'er), your best bet is to select a zero-clearance fireplace. These have insulated or double walls so they can be placed directly against lumber. This makes it simple to frame. Installing other designs will require you to leave proper clearances.
Similarly, inexperienced DIY'ers should select a model with a decorative surround, mantel and hearth designed to fit it. Many of these are beautiful and reasonably priced. Some elegant ones even have 24-karat gold-plated trim. Your other option is to build a wood or masonry surround yourself.
The keys to an "efficient" fireplace are controlling the room air lost up the chimney and getting the heat from the fire out into the room. Do not just buy the cheapest model on sale or build one with an open hearth.
A heat circulating-type of fireplace is the best to buy. These designs have a small blower that draws room air into a sealed chamber around the hot firebox. This heats the air and it blows back out into your room through small vent openings. This is the type I use in my own living room.
If you cannot afford the blower option now, you can often add on one later. Without a blower, room air naturally flows through, just at a slower speed. If you get a blower, select one with multispeed or thermostatic controls for the best comfort. Also, look for an outdoor combustion air feature.
Several fireplace manufacturers offer ducting kits that also carry heated air to registers in other rooms or into your central furnace duct system. This is probably the most effective way to heat several rooms. A radiant-type of fireplace, no air circulation, is effective for only one room.
No matter what fireplace you select, using the proper type of seasoned firewood is important for the most heat and safe (low creosote) usage.
Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 687 - buyer's guide of 11 attractive, high-efficiency radiant and heat-circulating woodburning fireplaces, styles (corner, peninsula, see-through, single-sided, island), sizes, features, prices, a firewood selector guide, and wood heating evaluation worksheet to determine the relative cost of heating with wood.
Dear Jim: I have thought about adding a water softener so we use less detergent and our clothes last longer. My concern is getting too much sodium when drinking the water. Is this a problem? - Megan F.
A: If you have hard water in your area, adding a water softener can make the water feel better when bathing, reduce laundry costs and minimize damage to the fabrics. It works by exchanging sodium for calcium.
You should check with your doctor about how much sodium you can safely consume per day. The amount of sodium ions in the water will depend on its initial hardness. The softener manufacturers can estimate sodium levels for you.