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Dear Jim: I have seen pictures of beautiful European masonry fireplaces that can heat an entire house with only one short fire each day. How do these fireplaces work and are they applicable to American homes? -- Sam R.

Dear Sam: These European (Finnish, Swedish, Russian, etc.) designs are beautiful and as efficient and effective in U.S. homes as in Europe. In fact, there are many manufacturers and distributors of them in this country. They work well for all climates from the frigid north to the mild south.

These types of "true masonry" fireplaces have been used for centuries to heat homes. Many designs also have optional baking ovens for breads or for roasting or slow cooking meats, soups, etc. while it heats your house. The larger, more ornate ones even have built-in benches and glove driers.

The heating concept of a European masonry fireplace is to burn an intense, very hot wood fire for only about 30 minutes. Since the firewood burns so intensely and hot, it burns very cleanly with little pollution or smoke. There is never a hazard of having a fire burning at night while you sleep.

The massive nature of a European fireplace makes this effective. Instead of venting the exhaust gases directly up a chimney, the hot gases wind through maze-like passages inside the fireplace before they reach the chimney.

By the time the exhaust gases get to the chimney, most of the heat has been absorbed by the heavy masonry structure. Although the exterior temperature of the fireplace seldom gets above a safe 140 degrees, it continues to slowly radiate this warmth out into your home for the rest of the day.

True masonry fireplace kits are available. Many kits fit together like a huge Legos set with tongue-and-groove blocks for simple assembly. The kit forms the functioning portion of the fireplace. You may be able to build the kit yourself, but have a mason finish the exterior.

The size and style of your home and your climate determine which European fireplace is best. A massive Russian design is good for cold climates..

Write for (instantly download -- Update Bulletin No. 847 -- list of 12 manufacturers and builders of true masonry fireplaces. Please include $3 and a business-size, self-addressed stamped envelope.

James Dulley, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

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