You are correct; heating a house with an open fireplace is not the most efficient method of heating your home for the reason you had mentioned; the heat goes straight up the chimney along with the indoor air, this is known as the chimney effect.
There is a solution though which does not utilize your fireplaces but replaces your oil furnace and would cost less than rebuilding your fireplaces and or adding fireplace inserts.
- The solution which I am referring to is a whole house wood burning furnace.
- This is not the same as the stand alone wood burning heating systems which you typically see installed outside of the home.
This whole house wood furnace system is installed in place of your oil or gas furnace and is located in the home in the basement. The furnace utilizes the same duct work from the oil/gas furnace and can even use the existing blower motor on the oil/gas furnace to distribute the heated air through out the house. The manufacturer is Yukon-Eagle and you can check out the line of furnaces that they offer at www.yukon-eagle.com.
I personally installed their "Big Jack" unit in conjunction with my LP gas furnace in 2007. The furnace performed beyond my expectation and eliminated $3,600.00 in gas consumption within the first year and paid for the unit and installation cost in 1.5 years.
- My results may differ from others' since I did not have to pay for wood.
- At the time I had an unlimited supply living on 5 acres of property which I had managed my wood harvesting.
- If you have to pay for wood, your return on investment will differ from mine.
If your oil furnace is in good operating condition, I would recommend that you keep it intact and piggy back it with a wood furnace. This will give you the comfort of knowing that if the fire goes out the oil furnace will come on to keep the house warm and the pipes from freezing.
If your oil furnace needs to be replaced, Yukon-Eagle manufactures a dual fuel model which burns both wood and oil.
Good Luck and stay warm,
Harold Remlinger, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB DesignTeam Plus, LLC