December 21, 2012
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 the fireplace, the added warmth can help ease the furnace’s heating burden, causing it to turn on less frequently. But will that save your customers’ 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 (see HPAC feature on early results from the report at right). 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 six 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. Researchers concluded that while gas fireplaces provide a warm ambience during cold Canadian winters, use of a high efficiency furnace as the main method of home heating will save your customers energy and money in the long run.