Nothing is nicer on a cold winter night than curling up beside a warm fire. Gas fireplaces can offer a clean burning option with a convenient click of a button. A recent survey of household energy use found that 23 per cent of Canadian single- and semi-detached and row-housing reported having a gas fireplace and of those, 22 per cent reported using them every day once the temperatures dip. Depending on the size and location of your fireplace, the added warmth can help ease the heating burden on your furnace, causing it to turn on less frequently. But will that save you money? Not necessarily, according to research undertaken at the Canadian Centre for Housing Technology (CCHT).
The study tested gas fireplace use and its impact on both furnace use and total gas energy consumption in the CCHT’s R2000 certified research house. Researchers wanted to find out if operating a gas fireplace would reduce total gas consumption. It also looked at whether running the furnace fan continuously had any benefits on heat distribution to rooms away from the fireplace compared to having the fan automatically turn on only when the furnace was required to provide heating for the house.
The results showed that, while the furnace came on less frequently during fireplace use, total gas energy consumption overall actually increased by approximately 10 to 16 per cent. This is because the gas fireplace, which had a measured efficiency of only 76 per cent, was offsetting the operation of the furnace with an efficiency of 94 per cent. The study also found that even when the fireplace was not in use, overall gas energy use was 6 per cent higher compared to the control house because of the gas consumed by the small, but continuously running, pilot light.
While running the furnace fan continuously was expected to distribute heat from the fireplace to other rooms more effectively than when run intermittently, the researchers found that operation of the fan had very little influence on the temperatures in other rooms in either mode. In fact, not only was there no difference in heat distribution, continuously running the furnace fan actually increased daily electrical energy use from 6 kWh to 11 kWh, which can be significant given that typical Canadian homes use a total of 15 to 30 kWh per day.
Gas fireplaces are a wonderful way to enhance the beauty of your home, providing a warm ambience during our cold Canadian winters. However, using your high efficiency furnace as the main method of heating your home will save you energy and money in the long run.
For more information on this and other CMHC research visit http://www.cmhc.ca/. Research undertaken at the CCHT can also be found at http://www.ccht-cctr.gc.ca/eng/projects/index.html
For over 65 years, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has been Canada’s national housing agency, and a source of objective, reliable housing information.
Published: December 20, 2012