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  • Writer's pictureHearth and Home

Open-Hearth vs High-Efficiency

Open-hearth wood burners and high-efficiency wood burner fireplaces represent two distinct approaches to the age-old practice of using wood as a source of heat and comfort in homes. The traditional open-hearth fireplace, steeped in history and ambiance, is renowned for its visual appeal, but its warmth often comes at the cost of efficiency. Meanwhile, the high-efficiency wood burner fireplace is engineered to maximize heat output while minimizing waste, making it a compelling choice for those seeking both comfort and environmental consciousness. However, beyond this shared objective, they diverge in several needs and preferences of homeowners.

Wood burning open hearth fireplace in front of table with green plant on it


how efficient is my fireplace

Traditional open-hearth fireplaces and high-efficiency wood-burning fireplaces each offer unique advantages and characteristics. The most noticeable, and arguably the most important, difference between the two is the heat output, or BTUs (British Thermal Unit), that they produce. Open-hearth wood burners are known for their low efficiency. In essence, the overall efficiency represents the proportion of heat effectively conveyed into the target area during the combustion of fuel sources like firewood or pellets. They typically have an efficiency rating of around 5-15%. The reason there is such poor efficiency with open-hearth fireplaces is because of the large opening on the face of the fireplaces. The United States EPA even has said that open-hearth fireplaces should not be considered a primary heating appliance in any home. It is also estimated that having an open-hearth fireplace will cause you to lose roughly 8% of the heat in your house, which would then cost you more to heat your home. The efficiency of a high-efficiency wood burner is specially designed to be highly efficient. Most high-efficiency fireplaces have efficiency ratings of 70% or more. For more information regarding the different options of high-efficiency wood burners, check out our available products.

fireplace insert high efficiency

Design, Construction, and Installation

Traditional open-hearth fireplaces can be the focal point of a properly designed hearth room. Embellished in beauty, that is what they are designed for. However, it still is significantly less efficient. They have a classic, aesthetically pleasing design but are not very efficient when it comes to heating. They have a wide open space for burning wood, and the focus is often on the visual appeal of the fire rather than heat production. High-efficiency wood-burning fireplaces are built with modern, advanced engineering optimized to maximize heat output. High-efficiency wood burner fireplaces are engineered for maximum heat output. They use insulated fireboxes to retain heat, air circulation systems to distribute it evenly, and efficient combustion technology for clean, efficient burning. These features ensure better heat utilization, improved indoor air quality, and reduced environmental impact.

Heat Output

While providing a cozy ambiance and minimal heat, they are not effective at producing high levels of heat. The purpose of an open-hearth fireplace has changed throughout its history. Traditionally, there were very limited heating options so open-hearth was used a lot in colonial America and for hundreds of years in Eastern Europe. High-efficiency wood burner fireplaces, on the other hand, are intentionally crafted to deliver substantial heat output, making them exceptionally versatile for various heating needs. Their design and capacity allow them to serve as a practical heating source for individual rooms or even entire homes, depending on their size and specifications. They are able to produce astonishing amounts of heat with many of the products we sell at Hearth & Home producing over 60,000 BTUs, which is approximately enough to heat 2,000 sqft. For example, the Lopi Large Flush NexGen-Hybrid can produce a mass amount of heat at a staggering 70,000 BTU - enough to heat up 2,500 sqft.

woman reading book next to fireplace insert

Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of open-hearth wood-burning fireplaces and high-efficiency wood-burning fireplaces are vastly different. This is due to the high efficiency of specially crafted airflow ventilation systems that help the burn be long and clean. Traditional open-hearth fireplaces are known for their charm and timeless appeal. However, they come with a significant drawback in terms of environmental impact. These fireplaces tend to produce more smoke and emissions compared to their high-efficiency counterparts. The inefficient combustion of wood in open hearth fireplaces results in the release of particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. This not only contributes to air pollution but can also pose potential health concerns for those exposed to the emissions. In contrast, high-efficiency wood burner fireplaces represent a remarkable leap in fireplace technology. These innovative heating solutions are meticulously designed to prioritize both environmental sustainability and optimal heat production. They incorporate advanced combustion technology that fosters cleaner and more complete burning of wood or pellets. This means that a higher proportion of the fuel is transformed into usable heat, while harmful emissions and pollutants are significantly minimized. As a result, high-efficiency wood burner fireplaces are undeniably an eco-conscious choice, not only providing comforting warmth to homes but also reducing their carbon footprint, making them an ideal option for those who value both a cozy ambiance and environmental responsibility.

man in blue shirt doing work on gas fireplace

Installation and Cost

Open-hearth wood-burning fireplaces, rooted in tradition and aesthetics, often come with a distinct financial advantage. They are typically less expensive to install compared to their high-efficiency counterparts. The reason lies in their simpler design and construction, which do not demand the same level of advanced technology and engineering. This cost-saving aspect can make them an appealing choice for those seeking the charm of a classic fireplace without a hefty initial investment.

However, high-efficiency wood-burning fireplaces may present a higher upfront cost due to their sophisticated and innovative design, as well as their construction with high-quality materials. However, this initial investment can translate into substantial long-term benefits. High-efficiency fireplaces are engineered to optimize heating efficiency, ensuring that more of the heat generated is effectively utilized to warm your space. This increased efficiency can lead to notable energy savings over time, reducing heating costs. Moreover, their ability to distribute heat more evenly can enhance overall comfort, making them a wise choice for those looking beyond the immediate expense and seeking cost-efficiency and improved heating performance in the future. Additionally, for those who already have an existing open-hearth fireplace, there's the possibility of retrofitting a high-efficiency wood burner fireplace into the space, allowing homeowners to enjoy the best of both worlds – the ambiance of the traditional hearth and the efficiency of modern heating technology.

Summary of Open-Hearth vs High-Efficiency

For homeowners who already have the comforting presence of an existing open hearth fireplace but desire the efficiency and benefits of modern heating technology, there's an appealing option on the horizon. It's possible to retrofit a high-efficiency wood burner fireplace into the existing space, seamlessly marrying the ambiance of the traditional hearth with the cutting-edge efficiency of contemporary heating systems. This ingenious retrofitting solution not only preserves the charm of the original fireplace but also upgrades it to meet modern comfort and environmental standards. By choosing this path, homeowners can enjoy the warmth, nostalgia, and cost-efficiency of their cherished fireplace while reducing energy consumption and minimizing their environmental footprint.

At Hearth & Home, we understand the importance of balancing tradition and innovation in creating the perfect home environment. We're here to assist you in the seamless installation of high-efficiency wood burner fireplaces into your existing hearth. Our team of experts is more than happy to answer any questions you may have about this process, helping you make an informed decision that aligns with your heating needs, aesthetics, and eco-conscious goals.



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