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Today’s hearth appliances can act as zone heaters, putting warmth where it’s most needed

In the days before central heating, people stayed warm in winter by sticking close to a stove or a fireplace and closing off the rest of the house. Many an East Coast home had a door to the upstairs that stayed closed all winter, and a daybed by the cook stove in the kitchen.

With today’s open concept homes and central heating, that’s not how most of us live these days. Still, our great grandparents had the right idea, according to Laura Litchfield, executive director of the Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association of Canada. Concentrating heating in zones of our homes still makes sense. Today’s hearth appliances can act as zone heaters. Whether it’s a bedroom, a den, a kitchen or a living room, we can feel warmer, be warmer, save on heating bills and reduce our carbon footprint with appliances that are now more convenient, efficient and economical than in the past.

“There are efficient gas fireplaces that work very well as zone heaters,” says Litchfield. A wood burning fireplace does the same thing. “They emit radiant heat, which warms up the room itself, the floors and the furniture in the room, not just the air. It’s for efficiency and comfort, a nice, cozy heat.” Because many new hearth appliances provide instant heat controlled by thermostats and circulated with fans, a room can be made comfortable very quickly.

Built-in fire pits for the patio area are another popular alternative for zone heating.

Litchfield says she recommends zone heating units, which works by emitting radiant heat in this way, because such appliances concentrate heat in spaces where we spend the most time, rather than the entire house. You can keep your furnace thermostat set a little lower through the rest of the house if you’re not spending time there. “If you are spending most of your time in, say, your kitchen or your living room area or your bedroom and you’ve got a gas fireplace in there or a wood-burning appliance, then you’re heating the space you’re living in,” she says. “You can reduce the heat in the rest of the house.”

Before going with zone heating, Litchfield recommends considering your lifestyle. “Either gas or wood works. But depending on where you are and what your needs are, if you’re not interested in the labour and effort involved with wood burning—carting wood, storing wood—then a gas fireplace is a great option.” Whatever way you go, zone heating appliances can save 20 to 40 per cent on energy use.

Recently, zone heating has also moved outside. For the deck or patio area, some homeowners are now installing a portable propane patio zone heater designed for outdoor use.

For a couple hundred dollars, these can extend the use of your deck into the cool of the evening and into the fall and spring.

Whatever use you imagine for zone heating appliances like fireplaces, stoves and inserts, Litchfield suggests taking a look at her association’s free e-book that’s loaded with information about zone heating and radiant heat. It’s called The Heart of Your Home and is available on their website at

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