Choosing a Fireplace for your Slow Home

John and Matthew showcase a variety of fireplace designs in today’s online workshop.

  • Marilyn

    Pellets and logs provide steady heat to our modest house and is the primary heat source for us in our cold climate (tonight will be -13C or 9F, certainly not the lowest expected in January). We sit in front of the fire every night, enjoying the warmth and ambiance.

    The temperature fluctuations are gradual, but overnight, or when no one is home, the house cools considerably as fireplaces or stoves have to be ‘fed’ every 1 to 2 hours depending on their size (exterior wood furnaces are quite different). We supplement with a pellet stove that runs 24/7 from mid-October to mid-April – and also requires pellets to be added every day.

    The downside is the labour and storage (which for fire safety can’t be near the house). And wood is heavy – a hand carrier filled with split hardwood can easily weigh 60-70 lbs. After delivery of 3 cords in the fall, hours must be spent stacking it in a weather-protected area. Every day numerous logs must be brought into the house and hot ash removed to a safe place to cool. Daily vacuuming during the long heating season is a must as logs and ash are messy.

    As for the 4 1/2 tons of pellets which are delivered on three stacked pallets every fall to our detached garage, each 40 lb bag must be brought into the house , taken downstairs and dumped into the hopper – 1 to 2 a day depending on heating needs. Every 3 to 4 days, the stove must be stopped, vacuumed of ash and restarted.

    So wood heat is certainly ‘slow’, Barry in California, but few people want the huge commitment or have the careers that allow them to work from their house keeping the home fires burning.

  • Terri

    You’ve done a good job of describing the work involved with true wood heating (as a sole source). I also live in a home with a woodstove. Ours is on the main floor (ground level) enclosed in a brick-clad cement box-channel in the centre of the house with another wood-burning fireplace above (now closed off). The main living space is upstairs. Vents all around the cement box allow the heat to quickly rise into the living space.

    At 10C the fire need only burn for a few hours in the AM and then again in PM, but at 0C it needs feeding throughout the day and into early evening. However, the floors are warm in the central part of the house, warmth that you can feel 10 hours after the fire has gone out.

    Wood-burning units are most efficient if they’re placed in the central part of the home. Outside-wall-chimneys do not allow the house to benefit from the wood-burning heat which is stored in the masonry.

  • Matthew North

    Marilyn – thanks for your comments! It is of great interest to hear from someone who uses a fireplace as a heat source first hand and to learn about the practical implications of storing and organizing the logs or pellets as well as the maintenance required. This is really much appreciated!

  • Frank

    Another option that may address Barry’s concerns might be to combine fireplace and radiant heating systems into a heating source for homes. Attached are two links to outdoor wood fired boiler systems for radiant under floor heating. The buildings are quite visually unappealing and could use a little Danish design touch.

    I am unaware of any system that currently combines an in house wood, pellet, or gas burning fireplace/boiler combination although that seams like it is technologically feasible given the efficient technology used in the outdoor systems in the links above. With a little Danish Design touch It would make for a great way to enjoy a fire, heat the house, and to pass the cold winters. If it was located properly on the garage separation wall one could even design it to incorporate a pellet feeder from the garage to limit the heavy hauling.

  • Frank

    I was able to locate this well designed and innovative indoor european wood burning stove/boiler for use with radiant heating of a home. Not sure if it meets any North American code requirements.

    I have attached the link to more information and also includes a link to the German manufacturer Wamsler (unfortunately their website is in German).

  • Fiona

    My parents heat with a masonry heater in Southern Ontario – it is another, slightly less work-intensive way of heating with wood (they generally fire it twice within 24 hours in the winter – and sometimes 3 times a day when it gets below -15C). Masonry heaters are a very old and efficient method of heating – burn a fire very hot and channel all the heat through channels in masonry channels, which heats up an enormous thermal mass – then the heat is released slowly into the house from the masonry. It is a very comfortable form of heat – and very efficient and clean.

    Aside from the fact that an open fireplace is akin to leaving a window open, an open fireplace is also much less efficient than a US Environmental Protection Agency certified fireplace insert or woodstove – and, as a result, open fireplaces pollute a lot more than inserts/woodstoves. There’s a great website (also Canadian!) on woodheating here: One of the many things that I learned from this website, was the fact that it is also important to have a chimney that is within the building envelope – otherwise it will be very difficult to get the chimney to draw the heat up it and it will be more efficient.

    We were lucky enough to have a post-war bungalow with a central chimney. As a result of the advice on we bought an appropriately sized, EPA rated Dutch fireplace insert called Scan – which is lovely, clean burning and heats our house when we fire it.