(StatePoint) Nothing beats gathering around the fire in winter. Unfortunately, a wood-burning fireplace could be a major source of energy loss in your home, sending your utility bills sky high.

However, you donít need to sacrifice the fire to improve your homeís energy efficiency and reduce your heating bills; in fact, itís possible to convert your wood fireplace into an efficient heat source with the following tips.

Upgrade Your Fireplace

Consider a gas fireplace insert. They generate more radiant heat and are cleaner to maintain than traditional masonry style wood-burning fireplaces, which are a leading source of indoor air loss.

ďTraditional wood fireplaces add a lot of charm to a home, but they are inefficient -- even when they arenít in use,Ē says Andy Tesch, brand director of Heat & Glo, the leading manufacturer of innovative gas fireplaces, stoves and inserts. ďA gas fireplace insert is a great alternative to maintain the ambiance a fire creates while enhancing efficiency.Ē

A gas fireplace insert is cleaner, too, creating no ash, soot, or smoke. Models like the Escape from Heat & Glo use energy-saving FireBrick technology to increase efficiency and are low maintenance, turning on and off with the flip of a switch. Learn more about the benefits of a gas fireplace insert at†heatnglo.com/insertawareness.

If you canít part with the aroma, crackle and act of building a real fire, consider pellet and EPA-certified wood inserts, which can be an easy, clean and efficient alternative as well.

Best Practices

†If making the upgrade to an insert is not possible, a few simple steps can drastically improve the energy efficiency of your fireplace. Number one, when the fireplace is not in use, close the chimney damper. Youíll prevent warm air and your money from going up and out the chimney. A flue sealer is an affordable, inflatable stopper that fits below the damper to further seal off the chimney and is a worthwhile purchase.

Proper maintenance can also go far to improve your fireplaceís efficiency. Have it inspected, maintained and cleaned annually. Even if you love DIY, you may want to hire a contractor to ensure the job is done safely and thoroughly.

Considering adding doors or a cover to the front of your fireplace to help reduce the draft and improve the look. There are many styles available to enhance your interior design.

This winter, bring together both traditional charm and modern energy efficiency. A few upgrades and habits will allow you to enjoy your fireplace all winter long, while keeping heating bills low.

*****

Photo Credit: (c) Steve Herder - Shutterstock