A crackling fireplace during the cold season is an aesthetically pleasing heat source and a desirable one in Durango’s vacation homes, and it’s an asset the National Association of Realtors estimates can add as much as $12,000 to a home’s value.
How often the unit will be used, whether its purpose is ornamental or utilitarian, a homeowner’s cost limitations, or whether the heater is built during construction or added to an existing home factor into choosing the right type of unit.
Generally, there are three – gas, wood-burning and pellet units – and local suppliers offer varying recommendations to their clientele.
“I don’t sell pellet stoves,” said Frank Waggoner, 38-year owner of Endless Energy Systems. “They’re expensive, not reliable, and they require line voltage.” Waggoner said his customers buy wood-burning and gas units equally.
Pellet stoves are a popular choice because of their energy efficiency, but because they run on electricity, they’re not 100 percent reliable as a heat source, even with a backup generator.
Gas fireplaces are more expensive to fuel than wood units, but they’re less labor-intensive, or cheaper to install and provide a cleaner burn. Unlike wood, they also don’t leave creosote deposits, the leading cause of chimney fires.
Wood-burning fireplaces are favored as the most authentic option, but they’re also the costliest to install and tend to be the most arduous to fuel and the least environmentally sound. The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association rates older wood-burning models manufactured before 1990 at 10 percent efficiency or less.
Fireplace and chimney installation adheres to the National Fire Protection Association standard 211 for chimneys, fireplaces, vents and solid fuel-burning appliances, and the standard has been updated minimally in the past decade. But fireplaces and stoves are becoming much cleaner sources of heat and decoration because of new and more rigorous federal emissions standards.
All Environmental Protection Agency-certified wood stoves meet an emissions standard of no more than 4.5 grams per hour. By 2020, that emission limit for room heaters will fall to 2 grams per hour, a standard announced in 2015 to be phased in over five years.
“That makes some of them harder to operate and cost more,” Waggoner said. “Some manufacturers had to can half their lines.”
Homeowners can take their own steps to boost overall efficiency by installing fireplace inserts – boxes of steel or cast iron that fit into the fireplace unit, connect to a flue and create a cleaner burn; an insert can increase a wood-burning fireplace’s efficiency up to 80 percent.
“They basically fill cavities in the fireplace so it doesn’t lose heat,” said Sean Peck, owner of Ashes Away.
Some inserts operate with catalytic combustion systems, which can drive the price of the unit up $200 to $400, Waggoner said.
Selecting the right type of fuel, particularly with wood-burning stoves, also cuts down on excessive smoke.
“Cured, seasoned wood is important,” Peck said. “If it’s been split and stacked, sitting there for a year, that’s probably not usable wood.”
And once a homeowner installs any type of heating unit, it should be used only as the manufacturer intended.
“Homeowners should never burn anything in a wood-burning unit other than well-seasoned wood with a moisture content below 25 percent,” said Jordan Whitt, spokesman for the Chimney Safety Institute of America. “Likewise, homeowners should never burn anything in a natural gas unit other than natural gas. Gas logs are typically installed in a way to maximize unit efficiency, so homeowners shouldn’t rearrange these for cosmetic purposes. Common sense goes a long way.”
In addition to consulting with suppliers about the best option, a homeowner can use the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association home heating calculator to help determine the most cost-effective and clean unit.