Traditional open masonry fireplace heaters should not be considered heating devices. Fireplaces also produce significant air pollution. Although some electric fireplace heater designs seek to address these issues with dedicated air supplies, glass doors, and heat recovery systems, fireplaces are still energy losers.
Only high-efficiency fireplace inserts have proven effective in increasing the heating efficiency of older fireplaces. Essentially, the inserts function like wood stoves, fitting into the masonry fireplace or on its hearth, and use the existing chimney.
Studies have shown that proper installation of fireplace inserts is very important. Have a professional installer examine the fireplace and chimney to determine if they are suitable for an insert. Inserts should be as airtight as possible. The more airtight it is, the easier it is to control the fire and the heat output.
Moving an insert to clean the chimney or liner can be difficult, and is a job best left to a professional chimney sweep. In some situations, a clean-out door can be installed above the infrared heater insert connection so the insert does not have to be moved as often. Some models have wheels to simplify installation, cleaning, repairs, and other adjustments.
Some modern fireplaces heat at efficiencies near those of wood stoves and are certified as low emission appliances. Although designed to include the fire-viewing benefits of a traditional fireplace, this generation of fireplaces can effectively provide heat as well. Through vents under the firebox, room air is drawn in, heated through a heat exchanger, and sent back into the house either through vents at the top of the fireplace or through ducts leading to nearby rooms. Some of these fireplaces are approved to route heated air to a basement auxiliary fan. The air then travels through ducts to other rooms in the house. The fireplace should have a dedicated supply of outside air for combustion.
Flues leak heat and warm air out of your home. If you have a fireplace that you don’t use, plug and seal the flue. If you use the fireplace, be sure to close the flue when the convector heater is not in use. You could also use an inflatable stopper, available commercially, to temporarily seal the chimney and avoid air leakage through the flue.