Nothing can replace the aroma of burning wood wafting into the house. That's why, even with many attractive and lower maintenance options available, many homeowners continue to accept no substitutes. For many of them, buying the wood, hauling it in, setting the kindling, and getting a roaring blaze going are not a chore. They're all part of the rugged romance. (Cleaning the ash, of course, is a chore. There's nothing fun about it. But many homeowners feel it's worth it for the upside.)
Starting in the 1950s, wood fireplaces became more decorative and less efficient. They began to drain heat out of the home, even when the fire was going full blast. Later developments and innovations have corrected this problem. Modern wood fireplaces can be a good source of heat without losing any of their decorative appeal.
Installing a wood fireplace is a task best left to the professionals. It's not just a matter of making sure everything is straight and looks nice. You need to make sure the fireplace will create the proper drafts so that toxic fumes and smoke are funneled to the outside world rather than back into your living room.
A good wood fireplace will have a tall, straight chimney in order to secure an excellent draft. The best way to do this is buy installing the fireplace and chimney inside the building envelope rather than tacking them on to the outside. It's a popular maneuver to put fireplace and chimney outside the building envelope. It saves floor space and allows the fireplace to be mounted flush against the wall on the inside.
But this maneuver has its price. A fireplace and chimney that are outside the envelope are much more exposed to the surrounding cold air. This makes it much easier for the system to produce a down draft effect. The cold air in the chimney will fall. And this force can easily be greater than the countering force that is trying to take hot air, smoke, and fumes up the chimney and out into the air. The result can be an unpleasant exhaust of soot, smoke, and fumes into the home instead of outside.
Building a tall chimney can work against this effect to some extent, creating more of an updraft to get things moving along in the right direction. Building hot fires can also help in this regard. Hot fires are best built with seasoned, hard wood. Green woods and soft woods such as pine and spruce will burn much more slowly and at lower temperatures. This increases the probability that the updraft will not be sufficient. It also increases the risk of creosote buildup on the inside of the chimney and a resulting chimney fire.
Properly installed and used, a wood burning fireplace can provide plenty of smoke-free warmth with a minimum of risk.