Winter is slow to arrive this year. But I live in Ottawa, one of the world’s coldest capital cities, so I know that it will eventually come, with a vengeance.
When we moved here we did a home energy audit and we have since made significant investments in upgrading the insulation, windows, heating system, etc. One of the quickest (read: easy and cheap) fixes was to install a fireplace draftstopper (available in Canada and the US) or chimney balloon (available in the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada and the US).
The name pretty much says it all. These are low-tech but effective beasts: literally heavy-duty plastic cushions which you partially inflate then lodge in front of your chimney flue (even if closed, this may well be a big source of drafts).
The cushion stays in place courtesy of the (included) telescoping rod. You then fully inflate the cushion through a mouth tube (is this what a breathalyzer feels like? or inflating one of those dubious lifejackets that they claim to have under every aeroplane seat?). Once snug the cushion prevents drafts, makes your room more comfortable and saves you money.
At least that is the claim. I can’t say exactly how much money I have saved or whether I have recovered the approximately $50 I shelled out for the cushion, but I do notice significantly fewer drafts from my fireplace, which has to be a good thing. One of the vendor websites claims that without a cushion many fireplaces have an `effective leakage area’ of 30 square inches (that would be about 200 square centimetres) even when the damper is closed. 30 square inches of -25C air falling down my chimney is not a happy thought.
In my homeland (the UK) the weather is seldom this cold, but the UK chill is still stuff of legend. Since most UK homes do not have fireplace dampers that can be opened and closed, there really are gaping holes to be plugged.
You can choose various shapes of cushion to accommodate different fireplaces (both websites discuss this and the Chimney Balloon website presents a detailed sizing guide). By choosing which vendor you use, you can also choose between black (Fireplace DraftStopper) and transparent (Chimney Balloon). I have a black one and I really don’t notice it when it is tucked up my chimney (as long as the tube is not hanging down). The Chimney Balloons appear to have detachable inflation tubes so you would not even have that problem (though you would have to decide where to store – and not lose – the tube).
Though easy to insert and replace, I do admit that the cushion might provide a slight disincentive to lighting a fire, but I think it is the cleaning up after the fire that is the real culprit. Certainly if you were having a fire every night, you might not want to use a cushion. But as an occasional fire builder, I am happy (and I do have to note that it is not exactly eco to burn wood every night).
If you are concerned about accidentally leaving the cushion in place when lighting a fire, apparently you don’t have to be. The cushion will melt, fall and smother the flames or at least let the fumes escape (assuming you have opened your flue). A $50 loss for the cushion, but nothing worse…oh, apart from those rather nasty fumes from burning plastic (probably best to remove the cushion, after all).
Last word on these nifty things: there seems to be a bit of a battle over who invented them. Both websites claim to be the original inventors of the product, one in the UK and the other in Canada. Maybe the two are different enough that this is true. Or maybe we are about to witness the eruption of a global chimney cushion patent war.