I love a fireplace in the winter, but who doesn't. It sets a romantic mood--the flames dancing, the crackling sound, it's mesmerizing. I remember as a child coming in from playing in the snow at my grandfather's house, we'd stand in front of the roaring fire. It felt so good, then we'd bend our legs, so the denim would sear into our legs. Ouch! But then we'd do it again.
The problem was, you pretty much had to stand right in front of the fireplace. If you had a big fire, you could feel it across the room, but you were burning alot of wood and most of the heat was going straight up the chimney. All that air going up the chimney has to be backfilled from somewhere, and usually that was a leaky door, window, or electrical socket. As the room with the fireplace got warmer, the other rooms got colder, and thus the dilemma.
How could you justify having one in an energy efficient home? I scoured the internet, and every answer said it's just not possible. So, what are the alternatives?
The first thing I was let to was the masonry heater. These things originate in the "old country". A couple of good websites I found were TempCast.com, makers of the Temp-Cast 2000, and heatkit.com, which has way more information, including numerous customized plans and step by step installation instructions. Basically the heated air goes through a maze of masonry, down, and then back up, so that most of the heat is absorbed by the masonry. This stores the heat and radiates it into the room.
The cores cost around $5,000, but then you have to wrap the whole thing with about 4" of real stone. This means a real mason--not the cultured stone masons. No offense to the guys who do cultured stone, but it's not the same. I'm told it would cost $15-20k, but I couldn't even find anyone that would give us a quote. Seems no one has the skills to do this around here.
The second option was a wood stove (also recommended by SunPlans.com and Southland Custom Homes). Now, I wasn't thrilled with this idea at first, because I like the look of a traditional fireplace more. The ones I remember being around were the cast iron models that got really hot, then shortly after the fire was out, they stopped giving off heat. Then my father-in-law asked if we had looked into soapstone wood stoves. These stoves combine cast iron with stone to allow for more heat storage and thus, more heat release after the fire is out. I did some searching and came across the Equinox from Hearthstone. It gives off heat for about 4 hours after the fire is out, is rated at 82% efficient, and qualifies for a $300 tax rebate if purchased in 2011.
That's all for now. We finalized our plans last week (well, aside from some minor changes), and we are just waiting to hear back from Southland Custom Homes on the total cost.