Electric vs. Gas vs. Wood Fireplaces: the Heat Is On

A fireplace with fake, ceramic logs on display.

Choosing a fireplace is a personal decision. You have to decide which is best for you and your surroundings, and there are a lot of things to consider when making this choice. How much can you budget? What are the amenities you are looking for? Are you into "green" heating? Do you want an efficient fireplace to cut down your heat bill or do you want one just because you want one? Getting the answers to these questions will better prepare you for when it comes time to make your investment.

Electric Fireplaces

Electric fireplaces have really made a niche for themselves in the last several years. You see them on the shelves in many big box stores, and they are a “hot” commodity (pun intended).

Electric units have a lot going for them. They are energy efficient and do not release any pollution into the air. Some models work like a space heater but are much safer and have a nice, lifelike flame. They are safe for kids and pets; they are cool to the touch because the heating element is tucked inside the unit, while a blower forces the warmed air out into the room.

They have other amenities as well. For example, you can run the flame without the heat and vice versa. Some units have timers that can turn themselves on and off once the timer is set. Most electric units come with a remote control as well, and best of all, you can put them in any room in the house because they do not require a chimney. The only maintenance for an electric fireplace is an occasional vent dusting.

Gas Fireplaces

Gas fireplaces will provide a little more ambiance than an electric unit. The fire is real and works like a gas oven, with the burner hidden by ceramic logs that spread the fire and make it look like a real wood fire.

Gas fireplaces burn either natural or propane gas. They burn pretty clean but do produce some carbon monoxide, so they need a chimney. This is where the cost can increase. You must check the codes in your specific area but most chimneys will require professional installation. Once it is installed, there is of course no moving it to another room, so you must make sure the location is perfect.

Because there is a real flame, gas fireplaces do get very hot and can burn you or anything near the hearth. Even if there is a glass front on the unit, the glass will get very hot. Gas units also come with a blower and can push warm air into the room, but keep in mind that there is a chimney, so you will lose some heat to the outdoors. Some models can also come with a remote control.

Wood Fireplaces

Unless you are building a new home, adding a real wood fireplace is very costly. Like with a gas fireplace, a chimney must be built in addition to the fireplace itself. Even though the smell and sound of a real wood fire is tempting, investigate thoroughly before diving in and dropping cash.

Real wood fireplaces can let a substantial amount of the heat escape through the chimney and also suck out about 10% of the indoor air. There are fortunately ways to make a wood fireplace more efficient. You can have it insulated and add a fan heat exchanger and glass doors, but these add-ons will cost more. Then, besides the building and efficiency costs, there is an ongoing cost of purchasing wood to consider. A real wood fireplace is a significant investment in the long term.

There is also maintenance to take into account. Each time you want to start the fire, there is no simple switch like other models of fireplace. You will have to build the fire and be responsible for seeing it properly and safely put out. The ashes have to be cleaned out often, and wood fireplaces also require a thorough cleaning once a year (at least). A wood fireplace puts more pollution into the air than any other type of fireplace as well, but it offers the most ambiance with real smells and crackling sounds.

A fireplace is where everyone likes to congregate for warmth and family meetings. They are a place to feel safe and secure, to entertain, and to warm the home. A fireplace will improve the value of your home, so consider what is most important to you when deciding which is right for you and your family.