Adding a fireplace to your home can help improve the overall energy efficiency of your central heating system by supplying additional heat and reducing overall demand on the home's central heating system. You can choose among several different types of fireplaces for this purpose. Knowing the essential differences between these fireplaces -- differences in the type of fuel they use, for instance -- can assist you in choosing the most energy-efficient fireplaces.
To discuss the efficiency of propane fireplaces, you must first understand how fireplace efficiency is rated. Any fireplace you purchase will list the amount of heat that the fireplace can produce under ideal conditions, measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units). The efficiency of a fireplace is measured in the percentage of fuel that the fireplace uses to produce the ideal BTU heat output. In other words, a 70-percent efficient fireplace converts 70 percent of the total fuel used into usable heat, with the other 30 percent lost to inefficiencies of one kind or another.
A propane fireplace is only as efficient as the efficiency rating listed on the product's labeling. But propane fireplaces in general tend to be much more efficient than wood-burning fireplaces. Wood-burning fireplaces require a chimney for proper ventilation, and typically, large amounts of heat are lost up the chimney rather than being used to heat the home. Many propane fireplaces prevent this problem by using direct ventilation rather than chimney ventilation. Direct ventilation prevents heat loss through a chimney and directs more usable heat into the home.
Factors Affecting Efficiency
Estimating and comparing efficiency of different appliances can sometimes be a complicated affair. An important factor is the cost of propane in your area as compared to other fuel sources. Different fuels also burn at different levels, which in turn affects the amount of heat output that each fuel can produce in a fireplace. However, propane gas is often available in parts of the country where natural gas is not, meaning that a propane fireplace is sometimes the only alternative to a traditional, wood-burning fireplace. In these instances, using a direct-vented, propane-fueled fireplace in lieu of a wood-burning fireplace is almost always a more efficient choice.
Despite the several factors that can make estimating efficiency somewhat complicated, examining product labeling can still be useful in choosing the most energy-efficient fireplace. Look for a propane fireplace with the highest BTU output and the highest efficiency percentage rating that you can find. Note that sometimes, these efficiency percentages are labeled as AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency).