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I will be taking a trip this winter and staying in a rustic basically 1 room log cabin where the main source of heat is a fireplace. Just a stone hearth and chimney. I believe it doesn't even have a damper. My only experience has been with wood stoves.

I've seen it said numerous times that fireplace don't heat the interior they suck the warm air out. Obviously they must do something since for hundreds or thousands of years this was the main source of heat for many.

Considering I can't make any modifications to the structure, what can I do to increase comfort and conserve fuel? Is there any hope of walking up to a somewhat comfortable temperature without having to feed the fire in the middle of the night?

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    a reflector in the back/sides will help a lot; it reflects the radiation into the room, which is actually the primary method by it heats the room. Along that line of thought, dark objects in front of the fireplace will warm more than light colored ones. A small fan "cooling" those dark objects will warm the room air as it cools the objects. It's also possible to use conduction; heat exchange, which can be as simple as metal rods that stick in/above the flames and extend back into the room. You best bet overnight is to insulate as best you can, blankets over windows, towels under the door, etc. – dandavis Oct 16 at 16:26
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    Get a paraffin-powered/kerosene heater, those does not need electricity nor chimney and are much more efficient compared to open fires and are safe because have oxigen sensors and shake sensors embedded. I have one at home and is great for heating a single (large) room without turning on central heating. With a full tank (around 5L) I heat for 2 days and a half. Oil came in 20L tanks. – DDS Oct 16 at 16:56
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    You're correct that they obviously heat the interior, the idea that a building without a fire is warmer than a building with one is clearly erroneous. The adage about sucking heat out came about because the fireplace draft can send a significant portion of heat from the home's (more efficient) heating system up the chimney. – Matthew Gauthier Oct 16 at 20:56
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    "Obviously they must do something" - but not necessarily very much. In the middle of last century, most people in England would have regarded a room at 50F as warm, and not been surprised at a bedroom in the 30's. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Oct 18 at 8:31
  • If it does not have a damper, you have little hope of staying warm. Your best bet is to address that before anything else. You have zero chance of not having to feed the fire thru the night and zero chance of conserving firewood. – peinal Oct 18 at 11:32
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It is correct that the fireplace draws all its input air from the room (tho' some modern fireplaces are designed with separate input feeds thru the brickwork, which means only that they burn just fine with a sealed glass door in front). If you can find one, get a log support which includes a row of "C" - shaped tubes which take in air, heat the air due to proximity to the flames&logs, and exhaust that air back into the room rather than up the chimney.
Here is one example. Sadly, not cheap enough (probably) to be worth buying just for your short stay. grate heater

  • That's interesting but not for the price for this trip. Was thinking more of techniques and maybe log placement. Saw this which looks neat, is cheaper and had good reviews Model S-4 High Efficiency Smoke-Free Fireplace Grate 16" Wide, 12" Tall. amazon.com/dp/B003NB1TP8/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_GM4PDb6ZT56T5 – OrganicLawnDIY Oct 16 at 21:23
  • @OrganicLawnDIY that'll probably reduce smoke, but won't do much to force heat into the room, I fear. – Carl Witthoft Oct 17 at 12:27
  • I did some searching and found an Instructable on a DIY fireplace heater that uses some flexible muffler pipe, a small fan and some other bits to connect them all that is budget friendly. Unfortunately the only affordable flex exhaust pipe I can find is galvanized which can give off toxic fumes when heated. Do you think this semi rigid aluminum dryer duct would be a good choice with a PC fan for a short trip? – OrganicLawnDIY Oct 18 at 1:35
  • @OrganicLawnDIY I don't know whether Aluminum ductwork is "clean" either. But now I'm tempted to suggest you buy a set of Tubular Bells (Exorcist!) schooloutfitters.com/catalog/product_info/pfam_id/PFAM52310/… or smile.amazon.com/COSMOS-Outdoor-Hanging-Decorations-Different/… and an acetylene torch, and bend your own! :-) – Carl Witthoft Oct 18 at 13:31
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As other have mentioned:

  1. Use reflectors, or even frying pans around the back of the fireplace to reflect heat.
  2. Keep your fire small. Big fire with big flames sends lots of heat up the chimney. A small fire will transfer heat to the brickwork more efficiently, and will radiate better. 3.To the extent that you can, pre-heat and dry your logs by putting them at the edges of your fireplace. Don't burn wet wood.
  3. Keep the door closed whenever possible.
  4. The C shaped heat exchangers are great, but even large hunks of metal in there do well to transfer and re-radiate heat.

Basically: you want to keep the fire big enough to burn the wood, but not so big that it burns with large flames which will send a huge amount of hot air up the chimney, and draw interior air up with it. You also want to emphasize heat transfer to the surrounding area.

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The air required to burn a log is constant. The problem is that the draft takes a lot of extra air with it.

You may get some relief by picking up an aluminum edged slider window pane, placing it in front of the fireplace. (Often free when people upgrade windows) You may also break the glass either from heat, or from handling to move wood in and out. Don't use a vinyl edged window. The plastic will melt.Use paper backed fiberglass bats and double sided carpet tape to get a reasonable fit

Rig up something to keep the window from flopping down into the room.

Keep the glass clean. This reduces the chance of it breaking by uneven heat distribution.

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