John and Sylvia Skistimas in Grain Valley, Missouri wanted an open wood-burning fireplace that would be efficient, so they consluted with Gene Padgitt from HearthMasters, Inc. in Independence, Missouri. Gene told the Skistimas’ about how Count Rumford designed a fireplace in the 1700’s that is much more efficient than a standard “box” style fireplace, so less heat is wasted up the chimney and more heat is reflected into the room. The couple decided to add this fireplace to their new home in 2003.
Count Rumford, for whom the Rumford fireplace is named, was born in Woburn, Massachusetts in 1753. He moved to Britain in 1776 during stressful war time. Rumford is known primarily for the work he did on the nature of heat. Back in England, Rumford applied his knowledge of heat to the improvement of industrial and residential fireplaces at the request of the Royal Family, who was concerned about the diminishing Black Forest.
Rumford designed fireplaces that are shallower and narrower, with widely angled covings so they would radiate better. And he streamlined the throat, so as to “remove those local hindrances which forcibly prevent the smoke from following its natural tendency to go up the chimney…” Rumford wrote two essays detailing his improvements on fireplaces in 1796 and in 1798. He was well known and widely read in his lifetime, an shortly after his modifications his “Rumford fireplace” became state of the art worldwide. The book The Forgotten Art of Building a Good Fireplace by Vrest Orton has detailed information on the Rumford design.
Rumford fireplaces were common from 1796, when Count Rumford first wrote about them, until about 1850. Jefferson had them built at Monticello, and Thoreau listed them among the modern conveniences that everyone took for granted. There are still many original Rumford fireplaces – often buried behind newer renovations-throughout the country. Many are still in use in the U.K. and Europe today.
Rumford fireplaces are becoming a popular option in the U.S. and Rumford builders are able to build a new Rumford fireplace or “Rumordize” an existing masonry fireplace. Rumfordizing a fireplace is a solution to several problems, such as flues or smoke chambers that are too small to work properly, or for shallow depth fireplaces, where not many solutions are available to make a working fireplace. This is also a good option if higher heat output from an open fireplace is desired.
Rumford fireplaces have shallower depth, angled walls, a smooth throat transition, and a smaller flue than is required for a box-type fireplace. A Rumfordized fireplace requires several modifications. This style of fireplace is approximately 35% to 40% efficient. Compare that to a regular box-style fireplace, which is -30% to +10% efficient, and you can see the huge difference in heating ability.
Visit www.rumford.com for more information. To find a list of Rumford builders visit www.rumford.com or www.mcsc-net.com.
The Bellfires retrofit pre-cast fireplace uses a similar design, but instead of being site-built by a mason, the unit comes in a kit that the mason installs. Bellfires also makes a pre-fabricated version for close clearance installations in wood framing and a wood chimney chase. See more information at www.bellfiresusa.com
The Skistimas’ use their fireplace often and are pleased with the heat output it provides. Sylvia Skistimas said “I was so surprised at the amount of heat the fireplace puts out. We were even able to heat our entire home with this fireplace during a three-day power outage in 2005, so we were able to stay in our home rather than go to a hotel.” The Skistimas’ have an abundance of wood on their 25-acre property just outside of Grain Valley, East of Kansas City, Missouri. John Skistimas cuts his own wood and uses the fireplace for supplemental heating purposes.