Bring the Heat: Fireplaces, Inserts, Wood Stoves, Pellet Stoves, and More

I am happy to announce that I have to get back to Schat’s Bakery to pick up some more gift cards because I’m getting several excellent column ideas. Thank you!

Although I had planned to talk about rules for renters, this week I’m responding to a question about fireplaces. Spring in Ukiah can be chilly, especially in the mornings, so I think it’s still timely to share a little information on this topic. The reader asked what I recommend for a fireplace insert, and that question got me thinking of all kinds of options.

The classic fireplace is an open hearth, in which you place wood logs and enjoy the attractive ambience (if not a lot of heat). Open hearths are my personal favorite, even though they come with some drawbacks. Since cavemen huddled around a fire, people have gathered together for the warmth and camaraderie a fire can foster and I love the crackling sound, the look, and the warmth they provide.

However, if I pull out of the sentimental spot they hold for me, open hearths are hard to recommend. They are the highest maintenance, least efficient, dirtiest option. You have to bring wood in from outside, clean the ashes out of the fireplace, and feel guilty about the pollutants you’re releasing into the air. If you actually want a source of heat, open hearths are not the way to go. While I’m not an expert, I understand that about 90 percent of the heat goes up the chimney. And, since the fire requires oxygen to burn, it actually pulls the hot air from the house and releases a good portion of that heat up the chimney.

You also have to contend with firewood: acquiring it, storing it, and hauling it in. A cord of wood will set you back a few hundred dollars. Storing it requires space and can cause a bit of an eyesore; it can also bring unwanted critters like black widow spiders, rattle snakes, and powder post beetles (and the beetles can go from your wood pile into the siding of your home, providing an interesting note on the pest and fungus inspection you may need someday). I know of one case in which a fox took up residence in a woodpile. As cute as foxes are, a mother protecting her babies turns a woodpile into a den to defend—not too safe for the twelve-year-old who was supposed to bring the wood to the house. And, carrying dirty, splintery wood into your house is no picnic, either.

So, if you can live without the crackle and burn of a real wood fire, consider a fireplace insert. They are much more efficient and readily available to retrofit into your fireplace space.

The next best option is probably the wood stove. The wood stove was basically the market’s response to the inefficiency of the open-hearth fireplace. Wood stoves still come with all the downsides of dealing with wood as the fuel source; however, they burn a little cleaner and provide more heat.

Pellet stoves are relatively new, and the first significant technological advancement in home heating with a stove. Pellets are a processed wood product that burn efficiently. The pellet stove can be automated to maintain a certain temperature–a major innovation. Just fill a hopper with pellets, set the thermostat, and you’ll have a cozy home without the constant tending required by wood stoves and fireplaces.

If you want to go a step up on the easy-to-manage scale, choose a propane, natural gas, or electric artificial fireplace (stove). They are efficient, don’t require messy fuel storage, and you don’t have to worry about chimney fires. These stoves offer piped in gas or wired in electricity, far easier than fighting with your teenager about bringing the firewood around. They also pull oxygen in from outside, rather than pulling the warm air from the house, to feed the flame.

While we’re on the subject of chimneys, be sure to have yours cleaned and inspected every two years if you’re burning wood. Things happen. Bricks and mortar come lose. Critters build nests. And, if you don’t have one, be sure to get a spark arrester. If you can’t remember the last time your chimney was cleaned or inspected, you’re due NOW.

Next time I’ll write about spring cleaning. If there’s something you would like me to write about or if you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at or visit our website at If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 35 years.

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