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Why Do Fireplaces Make You Warm?

why do you get warm standing in front of a fireplace

Fireplaces are a household technology that has been a part of human life since the beginning of civilization. Even before humans started building houses with fireplaces, we would huddle around fires in caves or the cold night air. In those early days of mankind, the fire was where we cook our food. It is where we come together, tell stories and bond as a tribe. Most importantly, it was how we kept warm at night when Earth’s surface was cold and unforgiving.

These days, most of us don’t really do much cooking using the fireplace. Additionally, we tend to sleep snugly in our beds instead of near a smoldering fire throughout the night. However, there is still a certain allure of the fireplace even in modern life. It is a symbol of warmth and comfort that has endured countless generations. Whether we want an efficient way to heat our homes, or we simply enjoy the cozy atmosphere and aesthetic that they provide, fireplaces will always have a special place in our homes.

There is no doubt that on a cold day, standing next to a warm fire is an incredibly satisfying feeling. So, why do fireplaces make you warm? Obviously, fire is hot, but let’s go beyond that. Why do you get warm standing in front of a fireplace? What is the science behind it, and how do the different types of fireplaces work?

In This Post, You Will Learn:

  • Heat Movement- We will cover the three types of heat movement and give examples of each type.
  • Wood Burning Fireplaces – We go over the different types of wood-burning fireplaces and how they work to keep you warm.
  • Gas Fireplaces – We break down gas fireplace types and what sets them apart from wood-burning fireplaces.
  • Electric Fireplaces – We examine electric fireplaces and the benefits compared to wood and gas.
  • Fireplace efficiency – How to make sure that your fireplace works efficiently.
  • Fireplace safety – We cover some important fireplace safety tips

Now let’s jump right into answering our main question: Why do you get warm standing in front of a fireplace?

What Are The Three Types Of Heat Movement?

We all understand the basics of how a fireplace works: you stand in front of it, you get warm. However, properly answering the question “why do you get warm standing in front of a fireplace” is going to require a bit of basic science knowledge.

If you think back to when your high school science class was covering physics, you might remember that there are three main types of heat movement. These are the ways that heat transfers. Keep in mind that heat always transfers from a warmer system or object to a colder system or object.

The three main types of heat movement are:

  • Conduction
  • Convection
  • Radiation

Conduction is when a hot, solid object comes into contact with a cooler one. The heat transfers from the hot object to the cooler object until both are at an equal temperature. Then the heat dissipates into the surrounding, cooler air.

A good example of this is if you use a metal spoon to stir something hot cooking on the stove and then rest it on the side of the pot or pan. This makes heat transfer from the food to the metal spoon and it starts to feel hot. This is one reason why wooden utensils work well when cooking because the wood doesn’t allow for that contact heat transfer as easily as the metal spoon does. Another example of this type of heat movement is when you hold a warm cup of coffee with both of your palms and it makes your hands warm.

Convection is when something hot that can move, like a hot liquid or hot air, circulates around into a cooler area and makes that area warmer. A simple example of this is if you have central heat and air unit installed in your house. During the colder months when you turn the thermostat up, warm air is blown through your vents and into the rooms where the vents are open. This air fills the room and warms up the cold air that is in there, bringing up the temperature of the entire room.

Radiation involves electromagnetic waves that are warm. This is when there are heat energy emissions from things like the sun, a fire, or even a heat lamp. The radiant heat is a form of infrared radiation. This is different from visible light. It is invisible to the eye, so we can’t see it, we just feel it as heat. The rays that these heat radiation sources give off bump into cooler atoms and molecules and speeds up their vibrations. Essentially, that’s all heat is. When atoms and molecules vibrate faster, it is hotter. When atoms and molecules vibrate slower, it is colder.

If these are the three types of heat movement, then why do you get warm standing in front of a fireplace? This is mostly due to the radiation form of heat movement. The fire in the fireplace radiates heat and the transfer of heat makes you warm. However, depending on the fireplace, different types of heat movement can come into place. Let’s look into the different types of fireplaces and how they work to make you warm.

What Are The Different Types Of Wood-Burning Fireplaces?

A wood-burning fireplace in a living room is what people generally picture in their heads when they hear the word fireplace. A wood-burning fireplace is pretty straightforward, it is an area for burning wood to radiate heat. However, there are a few different types that exist and some have more heat loss than others.

  • Traditional Open Hearth – This is the common type of fireplace that has been built into homes for hundreds of years. They involve an open area along a wall to stack wood for burning. Smoke from the fire goes up the flue and out of the chimney. Like all of the wood-burning fireplaces listed here, the flue needs to remain unblocked and the damper needs to be open or smoke will fill the room. The damper is the little door that closes the chimney off when the fireplace is not being utilized. 
  • Enclosed Fireplace – An enclosed fireplace works much in the same way that the traditional open hearth does. The difference is that in front of a fireplace is an enclosure. The front of the fireplace is usually glass doors so that the fire can still be seen. With an enclosed fireplace, less heat is able to escape through the chimney, so the room is able to get warmer and run more efficiently. 
  • Woodstove – These aren’t actual fireplaces, but are often used to keep places warm like old cabins. They are enclosed stoves with a duct running to the roof for smoke to escape. Inside of the stove, you burn wood in the firebox. As wood burns in the firebox, it radiates heat through the top of the stove and the walls. Some variations of wood stoves also have convection chambers that bring in fresh air from the room, heat it, and then release it into the room again. 
  • Fireplace Insert – A fireplace insert is an enclosed system that you can install in your existing traditional open-hearth fireplace. By installing a fireplace insert, you are essentially turning it into an enclosed fireplace. This makes it more efficient, and it will keep the room warmer with less wood used.

How Does A Wood-Burning Fireplace Make You Warm?

For the most part, wood-burning uses radiation to make you warm. Heat radiates from the burning wood just like we explained in our example in the section under heat movement types. However, convection also takes a small part, especially in the example with the wood-burning stove that has a chamber built into it for that purpose.

What Are The Different Types Of Gas Fireplaces?

Natural gas fireplaces feel a bit different than a traditional fireplace that burns wood. However, natural gas fireplaces burn much cleaner. There are no problems with a smoky smell filling the room, and they are known to create more heat compared to a fireplace that is wood burning, and at a cheaper cost compared to buying firewood. Also, if you are buying a new fireplace, they are quite attractive due to requiring very little construction to install one in your home. You can even buy some with gas logs for a more authentic look. A gas fireplace will have a pilot light that can be kept on to keep gas moving and protect against corrosion.

Let’s look at the two most common types of gas fireplaces:

  • Direct-Vented Built-in Fireplaces – A direct-vented built-in fireplace can be installed in a newly constructed chimney or one that already exists in the house. You can also use a pipe instead of a chimney. This makes it a lot easier if you want to install a fireplace in a room that doesn’t already have a chimney. These kinds of fireplaces tend to glow with a yellow flame, which makes them feel more like a traditional fireplace. 
  • Ventless Built-in Fireplaces – A ventless built-in fireplace is one that doesn’t require any chimney or venting of any kind. Unfortunately, these don’t look as authentic as a direct-vented built-in fireplace because the flame glows blue. Ventless fireplaces tend to burn incredibly clean, however, there is still always the possibility that some contaminants will find their way into your home. For this reason, a direct-vented fireplace is considered slightly safer.

How Does A Gas Fireplace Make You Warm?

Gas fireplaces radiate heat due to the burning flame. However, there is also some convection-style heat involved with them. Many of them have channels to control the movement of the warmer air before it escapes up through the chimney and helps redirect that air into the home. These air control channels are much safer with a clean-burning gas fireplace compared to a traditional fireplace that will have smoke contaminants.

What Are The Different Types Of Electric Fireplaces?

Electric Fireplaces are different from both traditional fireplaces that burn wood or even fireplaces that burn gas. Electric fireplaces, like MagikFlame, require no fuel for burning, and there is no venting necessary. As the name implies, they run completely on electricity. They use about as much electricity as a space heater, and it is one of the most cost-effective ways to heat your home. A great thing about electric fireplaces is that they can be placed into apartments, condos, or homes in areas where it isn’t legal to build new traditional fireplaces.

There are a couple of different types of electric fireplaces:

  • Mantel Electric Fireplaces – These are electric fireplace mantel units that look incredibly authentic. These mimic what a real fireplace looks like with a traditional mantel. These units simply get placed against the wall like a bookshelf and are plugged into an outlet. They can easily be put in any room of the house that has sufficient space. 
  • Electric Fireplace Entertainment Centers and TV Stands – These are TV stands and entertainment centers that come with an electric fireplace built directly into them. The upside of these is that by using this kind of combination furniture, it is ideal for very small places that may not have a lot of space to work with. The downside is that if there are any problems with the unit, that is two pieces of furniture in one that need to be replaced. 
  • Other Electric Fireplaces – There are some other variations of electric fireplaces like ones that insert into the wall. While the look can vary quite a bit, all electric fireplaces work in a similar way. 

How Does An Electric Fireplace Make You Warm?

Electric fireplaces make you warm by using convection-style heating. The fireplaces draw cool air from the room into the unit. The cool air is then internally heated with a heating coil. The air that has been warmed is then gently pushed out of the fireplace and circulated into the room.

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Why You Should Consider Using A MagikFlame Electric Fireplace

MagikFlame electric fireplaces are a great alternative to a traditional fireplace. They have 30 different flames that look ultra-realistic. This is due to their patented holographic projection flame technology. It makes the flames look very life-like.

The heating element is built directly into this electric fireplace and gives off a cozy 5200 BTUs of heat. This is enough to keep a cold living space feeling very warm.

Unlike some other electric fireplaces, the MagikFlame also replicates the nostalgic sound of crackling wood for an authentic fireplace atmosphere. Because the sound of a crackling fire is so soothing and a big part of the fireplace experience, it is a great addition here.

You can also add a scene module to this electric fireplace that provides a fresh-cut pine smell.

Because these don’t require any venting or a chimney, they work great in an apartment or a house where a traditional fireplace isn’t possible. Additionally, you don’t have to clean up ash, worry about a smoky smell, or remember to call the chimney sweep once or twice a year.

If you are interested in an electric fireplace for your home, you should check out this MagikFlame electric fireplace buying guide.

How To Make Your Fireplace Heat The Room Efficiently

Fireplaces are great at heating a room, however, not all fireplaces are created equally. Some heat rooms much more efficiently than others. On top of this, there are several tips that can help you run the fireplace you currently have more efficiently.

First, if you have a traditional open-hearth fireplace, consider cracking a window. This might sound counterproductive and you’re worried that heat will escape. However, slightly cracking a window allows a draft of fresh, oxygen-rich air flowing into the room which helps keep the fire burning hotter. Fires need oxygen to burn. Additionally, you should build your fire over a grate and stack the wood to maximize the amount of oxygen that gets to the fire.

Another tip if you have an open-hearth fireplace, consider installing one of the fireplace inserts to turn it into an enclosed fireplace. Enclosed fireplaces retain a lot more heat that is normally lost through the chimney of the fireplace.

No matter what type of fireplace you have, they are heavily dependent on the space that it is providing heat to. If you have one fireplace and you are trying to heat the entire house, you will need to keep the fire burning hot constantly. However, if you and the family will only be in the main room where the fireplace is, it is a good idea to close off doors to additional rooms. By shrinking the space that needs to be heated, the area will get warm faster. To keep the smaller area warm requires fewer logs, gas, or electricity.

If you don’t currently have a fireplace at all and are thinking about what kind you want to have installed, consider an electric fireplace. Electric fireplaces are the cheapest way to heat your home. Additionally, if you have a large home, you can have more than one electric fireplace installed for different sections of the house. One fireplace can be in the main family room when that room is being utilized. At night, when it’s time to sleep, you can turn off the electric fireplace in that room and turn one on in the bedroom to keep it cozy.

How To Use Your Fireplace Safely

You should always have smoke detectors in your home. In most places, it is the law to have a certain number of them depending on the size of your house. While a fire can start for many different reasons, owning a fireplace greatly increases the chance of a house fire. This is why it’s important to play it safe and make sure you have them installed and change the batteries when needed.

A house fire or smoke inhalation aren’t the only things to worry about. Both fireplaces that are gas burning and wood burning can cause problems with carbon monoxide poisoning due to a build-up from an incomplete burn. Because of this, you should definitely have detectors in your home as well. While smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are two different things, you can buy some detector units that combine them both.

Both kinds of detectors aren’t something you need to be waiting for Black Friday or some other sale similar to Black Friday. They should be bought and installed in your home immediately.

Some additional fireplace safety tips:

  • Crack a window – Keep a window cracked to make sure fresh air is flowing so there isn’t a build-up of contaminants.
  • Use a screen or enclosure – An enclosed fireplace is safer than an open hearth, but even a screen will help protect you from a piece of fiery log rolling onto your carpet.
  • Safe distance – Keep anything flammable a safe distance from an open fireplace in case of a spark pops off the wood.
  • Small Pieces – For wood burning, use smaller pieces of wood. They burn cleaner, produce less smoke, and it is easier to manage the flame.
  • Proper wood – Use wood that is aged and dried out.
  • Clean fireplace – Make sure you regularly clean the ash out of the fireplace.
  • Clean chimney – For a gas fireplace, you should have the chimney swept at least one time a year. For a fireplace that burns wood, you need it swept at least twice a year, sometimes more.
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