Heating a space, especially without central heating, can present a range of challenges. While relying on a fireplace for warmth makes sense, choosing between a gas, wood, or electric fireplace is never a straightforward decision.
This is because each type of fireplace has different benefits and drawbacks based on an individual or family’s needs. Homeowners need to consider how much upkeep they want to do, how much money they’re willing to spend, and which type of fireplace will ultimately work best in their home. Though gas, wood, or electric fireplaces are all popular options, each has its own maintenance schedule and operation.
If you’re aiming for a more rustic, self-driven fire, then choosing a wood fireplace is probably best for you. If you prefer on-demand heat with hardly any maintenance, then electric models are more convenient. Once you nail down your goals for the space and where the fireplace will go, it’ll be much easier to choose the one that will work best.
As you consider your options, we’ve put together a comprehensive buyer’s guide to gas, wood, and electric fireplaces. Let’s dive into the main differences between each type of fireplace, as well as the pros and cons!
What are the main differences?
It may seem obvious that the difference between these fireplace types centers around the resource they use to generate heat: gas fireplaces burn gas, wood fireplaces burn wood, and electric fireplaces are powered by electricity.
But the reality is, the differences between gas, wood, and electric fireplaces goes much deeper than that, and there are certain pros and cons to each.
Gas fireplaces’ real flames add ambiance and heat at the touch of a button. They are easy to care for and much cleaner than a wood-burning fireplace.
All types of gas fireplaces require a gas line or propane supply. There are two styles of gas fireplaces: vented and ventless. Vented gas fireplaces have a sealed venting system that draws fresh air from the outside into the firebox to aid in combustion and exhaust removal.
Ventless gas fireplaces draw air from the room, which results in nearly 100% heating efficiency since cold air from the outside isn’t part of the equation. Ventless fireplaces do release a minimal amount of exhaust into the room (when installed properly) but it is so little, it has been deemed within safe limits.
Gas fireplaces are prized for their easy use, lack of intense upkeep, and overall efficiency. Since you can control how much gas is being burned, you won’t lose as much energy to combustion.
Here are the main pros and cons of gas fireplaces:
- Convenience: Gas fireplaces can be turned on or off with the flick of a switch or the push of a button, making them a great option for those who don’t want the hassle of building and maintaining a fire.
- Cleanliness: Gas fireplaces produce much less mess and ash than wood-burning, meaning less cleanup is required. There is also no need to store or handle firewood.
- Efficiency: Gas fireplaces are generally more efficient than wood-burning fireplaces, as they don’t lose heat through the chimney. This can reduce energy costs and make them more environmentally friendly.
- Heat output control: Gas fireplaces offer better control over their heat output than other types of fireplaces, which allows for more precise temperature regulation and greater comfort.
- Environmental impact: Gas fireplaces burn natural gas or propane, natural gas being the cleanest of the fossil fuels. It has a 92% efficiency rate. That’s better than electricity, wood, or coal.
- Limited aesthetic appeal: Gas fireplaces tend to lack the authentic look and feel of a wood-burning fireplace. They may look too uniform or artificial, with less character and charm than a wood fire.
- Dependence on gas: Gas fireplaces rely on a steady supply of natural gas or propane to function. If there is a gas outage or interruption, you won’t be able to use your fireplace.
- Indoor Air Quality Risk: All gas fireplaces produce a minimal amount of exhaust. It is so minimal that even ventless gas fireplaces, which exhaust into the room, operate within safe limits and have minimal impact on air quality. If a gas fireplace is not properly installed or maintained, it can release dangerous carbon monoxide fumes into your home. All homes with gas fireplaces should install carbon monoxide detectors and regularly have fireplaces checked by a certified technician.
- Expensive to install: Gas fireplaces require a gas or propane line before they can be installed. Even if you already have this feature, a professional should install your fireplace to ensure proper and safe installation.
Wood-burning fireplaces are one of the most common types of fireplaces, dating back centuries to times when fireplaces were used to cook food as well as heat homes. Since wood is so abundant, relying on wood as a fuel source is easy to come by and convenient for many. Thus, wood fireplaces tend to be a popular option for people that live more off-the-grid or in rural areas and like to utilize firewood for heating during colder months.
In general, wood fireplaces need more care and maintenance than other fireplace types, requiring regular cleaning to mitigate build-up and soot. Other tasks, like clearing the chimney, stoking the fire, and carrying or restocking logs, will also be part of upkeep.
The crucial drawback of wood fireplaces that looms large is the emissions they produce. Burning wood releases pollutants into the air, like carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. This can contribute to air pollution and become detrimental to health, especially for those who already have respiratory concerns.
Let’s look at the main pros and cons of wood fireplaces:
- Ambiance: A wood fireplace creates a cozy and inviting atmosphere, with the warm and crackling sound of a real outdoor fire.
- Independence: Wood fireplaces provide independence from utilities companies and power outages. In the case of an emergency, it’s still possible to keep the home warm and cook food using the fireplace.
- Sustainability: Wood is a renewable resource, meaning that using a wood fireplace can be more sustainable than using other types of heating that rely on non-renewable resources.
- Mess and maintenance: Wood fireplaces produce ash and soot that need to be cleaned out regularly. They require ongoing maintenance to keep them clean and safe, with the chimney needing to be cleaned at least once a year.
- Environmental concerns: Burning wood releases emissions into the home and the environment, including particles, carbon monoxide, and VOCs. Such pollutants can harm the environment and also be harmful to human health over time.
- Inefficiency: Wood fireplaces are not very efficient at heating a home, as much of the heat will be lost to the chimney. This can lead to higher energy bills and make it difficult to keep a home warm.
- Safety concerns: Wood fireplaces can pose safety risks if not properly maintained. In addition to the risk of chimney fires, there is also the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if the chimney is blocked or the fireplace isn’t properly vented. Risk of flying sparks are also a concern to consider. Wood fireplaces are hot and pose a risk for burn to pets and children.
- Cost: Wood fireplaces can be expensive to install, particularly if the chimney needs to be retrofitted or if there isn’t any existing chimney. They also require a steady supply of firewood, which can be costly and require storage space.
So long as you’ve got electricity, electric fireplaces are the most accessible types of fireplaces available. Since electricity is abundant and labor free, you’ll always be able to power your fireplace with a mere flick of a switch (unless, of course, there’s a power outage!)
While electric fireplaces don’t create actual fire, they create the illusion of flames and will still generate heat to keep you warm. They are seen as a modern home heating option and come in a variety of styles and sizes that can be recessed into the wall, mounted on walls, or even built into furniture.
Clearly, there are a lot of considerations that go into purchasing a gas, wood, or electric fireplace. Now that you know all of the main pros and cons, we hope this guide will help to make your decision a little bit easier.
Most electric fireplaces only need a standard electrical outlet to function, but homeowners may need to run a new line or dedicated circuit. All in all, their low maintenance, energy efficiency, and easy installation make electric fireplaces an increasingly popular choice.
Easy installation: Electric fireplaces are quick to install and do not require a chimney or gas line like traditional fireplaces. They can be easily mounted on a wall or placed in an existing fireplace opening.
Safe to use: Electric fireplaces don’t produce any harmful fumes or smoke, making them safe to use in homes with children or pets. Plus, there’s no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning or chimney fires. Electric fireplaces are cool to the touch and have not burn risk for pets or children.
Customizable: Available in a wide variety of styles, you can customize your electric fireplace down to the flame intensity or temperature setting.
Low maintenance: Electric fireplaces require very little maintenance compared to other fireplace types. They don’t require cleaning of soot or ashes, and there is no need to hire a professional for regular upkeep.
Cost-effective: Electric fireplaces are more affordable than traditional fireplaces, because they can be used for extended periods without significantly increasing your energy bills.
Limited authenticity: Some people may view the look, sound, lack of smell of an electric fireplace as lacking authenticity compared to traditional wood-burning models.
Dependence on electricity: Electric fireplaces require a stable source of electricity to function, meaning they won’t work during a power outage.
Low heat output: While electric fireplaces can provide supplemental heat to a room, they are not as effective as traditional fireplaces as a primary heat source, especially in cold climates. They are not efficient for heating spaces larger than 400-800 square feet.
Requires space and outlet: Electric fireplaces require a dedicated space and electrical outlet to operate, which may not be available in all homes or apartments.