Down East 2013 ©
1. Consider gas. The flames produced by modern propane or natural gas units are similar enough to a wood fire to provide atmosphere but, because they're sealed behind a wall of glass, don't suck heat from the rest of the house. "In general a traditional fireplace is very beautiful, but it's a loser as far as energy goes," says architect Dwayne Flynn, of Elliott Elliott Norelius in Blue Hill.
2. Time your fires carefully. If you leave a raging fire burning when you go to bed, you'll also need to leave the damper open, which when the fire goes out is like leaving the back door open. When you're leaving for an extended period, consider sealing off the damper with insulation.
3. Do your research. Several Scandinavian companies make self-contained, wood-burning fireplaces out of either soapstone or metal that offer the glow of a natural fire but do not draw air from a home's living spaces. Examples include Rais (www.rais.com ) and Tulikivi  (www.tulikivi.com ).
4. Don't forget to feed. Today's energy-efficient houses can be so airtight, a home can be de-pressurized by a fireplace drawing air into itself. Make sure the fire is getting enough oxygen, even if it means cracking a window.
5. Size doesn't matter. In terms of heat, a larger fireplace doesn't necessarily mean a hotter fire or a larger opening through which to lose warmth. A more important consideration is the construction cost of a larger fireplace - most are priced by the square foot.
6. Mind your materials. Take note of what types of rocks you enjoy outdoors and ask your mason to bring them indoors. "When you're out walking and you come across a natural stone face, it's kind of calming," remarks Jeff Gammelin, owner of Freshwater Stone in Orland. "A lot of the large granite pieces we use respond to that sense of the natural formations that you see in this area."