Can we get rid of these ugly glass doors on our fireplace?
September 3, 2007 8:42 PM   Subscribe

Fireplace glass doors: Necessary evil or unsightly decorating no-no? We have three brick fireplaces. The house was built in 1968 or so and the folding glass doors on the fireplaces appear to be from the same era. I grew up in a 100+ year old house with no fireplace doors, and the hearths were much more attractive than these. Questions: can we/ should we remove the doors? If we leave the fireplace au naturel will there be freezing cold air flooding into the house? All my searches about his have led to sites talking about REPLACING the doors, but we want to be rid of them. ANy help from people who know more about chimneys, etc. than we do would be most welcome.
posted by mmf to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Does your chimney have a damper? (I think that's what they're called.) If not, then the door is the only thing that seals that opening between you and the cold, cold night.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:58 PM on September 3, 2007

I'm under the impression that the damper has the job of keeping your warm air in; the glass doors are there to keep sparks and ash from getting out into the room. Do they actually build fireplaces/chimneys without dampers?
posted by hattifattener at 9:01 PM on September 3, 2007

The glass doors will keep your house warmer when you have a fire in the fireplace (and also when you don't). That doesn't mean that you can't take them out, but you may want to try a few fires with the doors open and with them closed to see if you feel the difference.

My parents put them in their 100+ year old house, and it made a huge difference. It keeps all the warm air from rushing straight up the chimney and cuts down on the drafts formed from the cold air getting pulled into the house. It is not as hot right in front of the fireplace, but it is less cold in the rest of the house, if that makes sense. They also live in a big, drafty, 100+ year old house, though, and a newer house may not have as much of a problem.

If you really don't like the ones you have, aesthetically, could you find a different set that you like better?
posted by gingerbeer at 9:16 PM on September 3, 2007

Some fireplaces have the ability to pull a lot of air out of your house when in use, e.g., damper open, fire going. One of mine is like that: 20 minutes into any fire and the living room temp drops by 15-20 degrees than with the damper open and no fire. For these unfortunately designed chimneys, a glass door is essential if you want to use the fireplace.

The damper is a separate mechanism built further up the chimney: look up in there for a handle, it will be out of sightline but within reach of a poker tip. If you've got a functioning one it should shut tight enough to keep out incoming drafts.

You could test if you have a crappy chimney like mine by leaving the glass doors open and lighting a fire. Mine produces a noticeable breeze of heated air rushing across the living room and out of the house.
posted by jamaro at 9:25 PM on September 3, 2007

Forgot to add: if you own cats, glass doors are a great way—actually, about the only way—to keep them from turning the fireplace ashes into an impromptu litterbox. (Adding insult to injury, then the little monsters track black footprints over every square inch of fabric in the house. Not that Pissy McSootersons got a third chance to do that before we got the doors installed, stat.)
posted by jamaro at 9:54 PM on September 3, 2007

I think the real purpose of the glass doors is not to keep warm air in when you're not using the fireplace -- the damper in the flue is for that -- but to keep warm air from going up the chimney when you have a fire going.

Basically, you can get a fire going, close the doors, and enjoy the light (and some warmth) it provides without it sucking out tons and tons of heated air from your house.

If you don't care too much about that, I suspect you can get rid of the doors. Just make sure to keep the flue closed.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:03 PM on September 3, 2007

I too think you could remove the doors if you can stand the extra draft and heat loss. We've had different fireplaces with and without doors - the ones with doors worked fine with the doors removed (but used a lot more fuel.)
posted by anadem at 11:50 PM on September 3, 2007

You need to examine your firebox/chimney systems, to see if they provided fresh air draw intake, as not all circa 1968 systems did. If not, removing the fireplace doors will promote the kind of stack effect chimney induced heat losses described by previous posters. And as a side effect of that, you may get much greater creosote buildup in your chimneys, if you burn wood, since the flue gases will not be, on average, nearly as hot. So, you may have to have your chimneys cleaned more frequently, and be more prone to chimney fires between cleanings.

Depending on how much use your fireplaces have had, you may be looking at firebox replacements in the next several years, which would give a good opportunity to upgrade to modern firebox, combustion air control and glass door systems. Such improvements can make having a fireplace a much nicer, and more effective proposition.
posted by paulsc at 1:19 AM on September 4, 2007

A closed burning chamber is drastically more energy efficient than an open fire, and as mentioned above, without it you might in the worst case eliminate the heating effect of lighting a fire completely - so if you want to use the fireplace to heat up the place you definitely want a closed chamber.
If it's just for the esthetics - do anything that pleases you of course - but you might check if the damper is good enough to prevent cold air from going down the chimney on cold days.
posted by arnves at 3:57 AM on September 4, 2007

An open fireplace is a net loss in terms of heat--it provides radiant heat to those sitting nearby, but sucks heat out of the rest of the house and up the chimney, generating a net heat loss. If you close them while your fire burns, the glass doors on your fireplace counteract this effect to a modest degree. If you actually want your fireplace to provide a small amount of net heat, you should look into a fireplace insert.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 5:36 AM on September 4, 2007

Another issue is that the doors may be part of the design that helps prevent back drafts or downdrafts that may bring carbon monoxide or other foul fumes into the house from adjacent oil or gas chimneys. Test this by opening the door(s) and holding a candle or other flame in the upper portion of the fireplace and see if there is a downdraft... Not a perfect test, and IANACS.
posted by Gungho at 6:38 AM on September 4, 2007

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