Open fireplaces can be found in many homes both new and old and were traditionally used for both cooking and heating purposes.
Open fires can give the best fireplace experience with an unobstructed view of a real fire in your home with all the associated comforting sounds and smells.
However, efficiency has been more of a focus for fireplaces in recent years due to a change in behaviour and a strive for reduction in emissions from burning fuels such as firewood.
Traditional wood burning fireplaces aren’t keeping up with modern forms of fireplace inserts and wood stoves where the efficiency ratings are much higher than those typically seen by open fireplaces.
Newer wood burning appliances are commonly installed within existing open fireplaces to help increase heat output, but are traditional masonry fireplaces still a viable option for heating a room or even a whole house?
Wood burning fireplaces may be able to heat a room, but not by a significant amount. Open fireplaces can be as little as 10% efficient meaning that much of the heat is lost out of the chimney. An open fireplace by itself is unlikely to be able to warm a whole house, and in some circumstances may even make a house colder when used.
We have open fireplaces in both our kitchen and living rooms and so we’ve explained in more detail below whether our fireplaces can actually heat these rooms or even our whole house.
Do Fireplaces Heat A Room?
Traditional fireplaces have always had typically poor efficiency ratings and the majority of the heat generated by an open fire can be lost up the chimney rather than being used to heat a room. Fireplaces won’t be able to heat a room as well as a wood stove is able to, but you’ll still feel warmth sitting nearer to an open fire.
Wood burning fireplaces aren’t known for their ability to generate large amounts of heat for a room.
We’ve explained in another article about fireplace efficiency that open fireplaces can be as low as under 10% efficient meaning that a large majority of the heat released by an open fire is lost up the chimney.
This is due to the design of a fireplace where the draft created by the rising hot air from a fire pulls smoke and any other waste byproducts from a fire out of your home (more about how fireplaces work here.)
Unfortunately this means that much of the heat can also be sucked up a chimney too quickly for it to really be able to heat a room.
We’ve been using the living room fireplace in our current home for a number of years and have never been able to generate much heat beyond feeling some warmth when sat near the fire.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that open fireplaces aren’t used for heating but instead are used for purposes such as creating a cozy atmosphere in your home.
‘Most fireplaces, whether masonry or low mass, are not used as a primary source of heat; their function is primarily for ambiance. Fireplaces are typically very inefficient heaters.’EPA
When having fires in our living fireplace we therefore never set out to heat the room but simply to provide a cozy atmosphere in which we can enjoy looking at and listening to the flames.
If we want to be able to heat this room without heating our whole house then we use our electric fireplace stove, which we’ve found to be able to significantly heat up a room over a number of hours.
Do Fireplaces Warm A House?
Open fireplaces are unlikely to be able to heat a whole house due to their inefficiency and relatively low heat output. In some cases, using an open fireplace can even make a house colder as a result of warmer air within a home being pulled up the chimney.
While wood burning fireplaces won’t typically generate much heat for a room, it can be even more unlikely that they will be able to warm a whole house.
The airflow through an open fireplace can’t be as easily controlled as it can be with a form of wood burning stove. Fast flowing air through an open fire and up a chimney can mean that much of the heat is lost up the chimney instead of being used to heat a home.
Furthermore, the EPA explains that as a result of rapid airflow up a chimney it can also lead to colder house than before even having an open fire.
‘Fireplace drafts can pull the warm air up the chimney, causing other rooms to be cooler.’EPA
Most of the useable heat released by a wood burning fireplace will be felt when sat near to the fire.
You may not be able to feel as much heat when sat across the room from an open fire and are even less likely to be able to feel the warmth when in another room in your home.
In our experience we can only really feel the heat from our living room fireplace when sat near to it, and not so much when sat on the other side of the room.
We also haven’t noticed that using our wood burning fireplaces makes the rest of the house colder, but this will differ between each house as every fireplace setup is different.
Heating Your Room Or House With A Fireplace
Using your open fireplace to help heat your room or trying heat your home won’t be the most efficient method, but there are a few things that you can do to get the most amount of heat from your fireplace:
- Ensure your chimney has been swept within the last year to maximize the draft. Find out more about how often your chimney needs sweeping here.
- Burn only properly seasoned or kiln dried firewood that is at or below 20% moisture content. Wet wood will struggle to burn efficiently and will produce less heat as a result. We have another article explaining how to check the moisture level of your firewood here.
For more information see our complete list of tips to maximizing the heat output from wood burning fireplaces.
You can also consider installing another form of fireplace inside your existing open fireplace to help vastly increase the heat output.
Wood burning or multi fuel stoves are a great option for getting the most amount of heat from burning firewood. See our guide to what you need to consider when buying a wood burning stove to find out more.
Electric fireplaces are also a great option for being able to efficiently heat a room in your home.
We use our electric stove to heat our living room instead of an open fire.
Wood burning fireplaces are a very inefficient source of heat for a home.
An open fireplace won’t typically be able to heat a room by a noticeable amount because much of the heat can be lost up the chimney.
Traditional fireplaces are also unlikely to be able to heat a whole house, and having an open fire can even make a house colder because warm air from other rooms can be sucked up the chimney.
A few things can be done to maximize heat output from an open fire such as keeping the chimney clean and not burning firewood that is too wet, but the efficiency of an open fireplace and its ability to heat can only be increased by so much.
Fireplaces should be enjoyed for the real fireplace experience that they can provide and using an open fire as a source of heat should be an afterthought.