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Fired up
Fireplace options abound for homeowners



Boost the efficiency of your fireplace with a wood insert.

When it comes right down to it, fireplaces are a matter of taste. Homeowners now have options — and plenty of them — when it comes to adding ambiance and warmth on a cold evening. Some want the traditional wood burning kind while others prefer to flip a switch on a gas unit. But now there is a whole new approach to fireplaces — a bio fuel line that resembles art and efficiency rolled into one.

Smokeless fires, such as Planika fireplaces, are not only aesthetically pleasing, but can be placed just about anywhere, from a tabletop to hanging on a wall. "It’s a green fireplace that omits no emissions whatsoever except carbon dioxide," says Kent McKelvey of timothyj kitchen and bath in Milwaukee. The fireplaces are run on Fanolo, a renewable green liquid based on ethanol that is safe for indoor and outdoor use.

"They’re more about design than anything else," McKelvey says.

The units are made in Poland and come in sizes ranging from 14 inches to a full-size fireplace. McKelvey says the units are beautiful in any residence, but are perfect for condos or smaller homes that don’t have the room or are restricted on fireplace installations.

"I think it is a wonderful option. This way people are not so limited," he says.

John Dunlevy, owner of American Heritage Fireplaces with locations in Milwaukee and Chicago, agrees.

Create a unique ambiance with a biofuel fireplace such as this model from Planika.

"Fireplaces have always been the focal point of the room," Dunlevy says. "People are stepping away from a log in the firebox look. They are using things like glass and high-energy stones."

New, contemporary fireplaces now run on biofuels that burn cleaner, are more efficient and use less fuel than older gas fireplaces. "People are looking to get more out of their fireplaces than they used to," Dunlevy says.

Biofuel is somewhat limited on its flame size, so an average size biofuel unit may run at 36 inches vs. a 42- to 46-inch unit, Dunlevy says.

But wood burning fireplaces certainly have not gone the way of the cave man. Rob Diderrich, manager of Genesee Fireplace Company Inc. in Wales, says that gel packs "are something pretty to look at" but "to get heat out of it you want wood or gas."

If you have an existing fireplace there is a way to make it more energy efficient without spending exorbitant amounts of money. Wood inserts can be installed in existing fireplaces that could boost your energy efficiency from 10 to 75 percent, according to Diderrich.

The insert is a completely sealed unit that is installed inside the existing fireplace along with a stainless steel liner up the chimney. The insert allows a fire to burn for eight to 10 hours. "The key is burning good, dry wood," says Diderrich.

Inserts are also available for gas fireplaces and can make an older gas fireplace up to 90 percent efficient. The bonus to making your fireplace efficient right now is the $1,500 tax credit that will be given through 2010. Homeowners will receive 30 percent or up to $1,500 for a new energy-efficient wood or gas insert.

Diderrich also says the "green smart system" gives customers a new option on gas units. An electronic switch has been added so homeowners can flip the switch, turning the pilot off when the fireplace is not in use, or keeping the standing pilot left on.