Fireplaces are inefficient because most of the heat rises up the chimney. In fact, the heated house air may go with it, making the house even colder than it would have been without the fire.
Think of installing an enclosed wood burning stove with an adjustable air vent over the fireplace opening; this gives the fire enough air to burn while controlling the loss of heated air. Close the air vent whenever the fireplace is not in use and before leaving the room.
Raise efficiency another notch by putting in a cast-iron plate, many of which are decorated at the back of an open firebox. It reflects heat into the room. Keep a hearth brush with your poker and shovel to make it easier to sweep up little bits and pieces of bark, coal and firewood.
Remove ashes from the fireplace as soon as they're cold to prevent them being spread throughout the rest of your home. With the damper closed, gently sweep up as much as possible into a dustpan. To make the job easier next time, spread aluminium foil beneath the grate; when the ashes are cold, simply gather up the foil and discard it.
Vacuum the fireplace occasionally, using the crevice tool to clean out the corners. Wipe the andirons with a damp cloth or buff them with a metal cleaner.