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The Rumford fireplace - energy-efficiency rediscovered

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Joanne Ciccarello/Staff/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) A heat-efficient Rumford fireplace is located in the future living room at Sheep Dog Hollow. a 1902 farmhouse that's being renovated.

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One of the great pleasures of renovating Sheepdog Hollow in a green and economical manner is what one stumbles across while researching the best options.

I confess I didn’t exactly stumble on the Rumford fireplace. It was brought to my attention by Dale King, a builder we’re using who specializes in old homes. One day I was chatting with Dale and bemoaning the fact that fireplaces are so inefficient in terms of energy, and yet, so necessary -- at least as far as I’m concerned -- in a home – old or new.

“Have you thought of a Rumford?” he asked.

“A what?”

“A Rumford. They’ve been around since the 1800s. They’re amazingly efficient.”

And so I set out to discover just what “a Rumford” is. It turns out concerns about energy efficiency have been around a lot longer than the energy crisis of the 1970s and today's energy concerns.

In the 1700s, the cost of fuel (wood in those days) and how inefficient it was as a heat source also concerned great men. That’s what prompted Ben Franklin to invent the Franklin Stove in 1742. It’s also one of things that preoccupied a Woburn, Mass.-born physicist named Benjamin Thomson, who later became known as Count Rumford and for whom the fireplace is named.


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