Fireplaces: Pros and Cons of Wood, Gas and Electric

fireplace burning wood
ShutterstockAs much as they might like the idea of a fireplace, most homeowners don't use theirs regularly.
A fireplace can add ambiance to a room and value to a home. Many homebuyers say they would like their residence to have a fireplace. The reality is, most homeowners don't use their fireplace on a regular basis. Sure we pose for family portraits in front of the fireplace, but it's really the mantle that gets more daily attention, from displaying decorative vases and candles, hanging Christmas stockings, erecting framed art or mirrors above it. Without an ornate mantle, surround or decorations, frankly a fireplace would be rather boring to look at, and not much of a glorified focal point in the room.

But for those who love the idea of a fireplace, nothing generates debate over a home amenity as much as conversations about wood vs gas vs electric -- other than perhaps whether to leave the toilet seat open or closed.

Here's a look at some pros and cons of wood, gas and electric fireplaces.

Wood Fireplaces

Pros: If you love the crackling sound of logs burning, the smell of hickory and the ability to roast marshmallows or hotdogs over indoor open flames, this may be the choice for you. You can curl up with a glass of wine, a good book or a loved one on the rug in front of the flickering glow and feel the warmth on your face.

Cons: Don't mistake the warmth you're feeling on your skin from the fire as also warming the room or your home. Wood-burning fireplaces are quite inefficient as a heating source since most of the warm air is flowing up and out the chimney. And it's not just the warmth of the fire being pulled out of your home, so is the heat from other rooms. As the heated air rises through the chimney, the draft created pulls in other warm air from other parts of the house. That draft helps to suck in oxygen, which a fire needs in order to keep burning.

Note: The burning wood creates air pollution, inside and outside the home. That woodsy smell is actually a health hazard, and it creates Creosote, a byproduct build up that can coat the lining of the chimney and would need to be removed by a professional. (If you don't regularly bring in a professional to check out your chimney you increase your chances of having a chimney fire.)

Even long after the wood-burning fire goes out, you're losing warm air because you need to keep the damper open for about another 12 hours in order to keep the dying fire from depleting the oxygen in your home, thus you're losing even more heat after the fire goes out.

Solution: Use hard woods, such as hickory, ash, oak and hard maple for fuel, as they produce more heat than soft woods, such as pine and spruce. Thus you an offset the heat loss just a tad, but you're still losing more heat than you're bringing in. Also use doors to close off the fireplace when in use and when not in use.

Gas Fireplaces

Pros: If you don't want to bother with cleaning up soot, ash and burned-out logs, or having the smell of smoke seep into your sofa or carpet, then a gas fireplace is the answer.

Cons: If you don't have a natural gas line running into your home you would have to use propane gas. The propane tank would be sizable in size and stored outside the home. You can try to hide with with landscaping, or pay to have it buried under ground.

Electric Fireplaces

Pros: If you want a glorified room heater that adds better ambiance than a typical space heater, choose an electric fireplace, which are often just plug-and-switch-on. Most are quite portable. Tired of the fireplace on the North wall and want to move it the West wall of the living room, or maybe even move it to the master bath? Well, that is fairly easy to do. Electric fireplaces also tend to have a longer lifespan than gas fireplaces due to less corrosion of parts. Because electric fireplaces do not use a combustible fuel, they do not emit any harmful fumes such as carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide emitted respectively from natural wood-burning and gas-burning fireplaces.

Cons: If the power goes out, so will your electric fireplace. An electric fireplace also will cause an uptick in your energy bills, as electricity tends to be pricier than natural gas.

The flames in electric fireplaces aren't as realistic-looking as those in gas fireplaces. And because electric fireplaces are not permanent fixtures, they are not likely to add value to your home.

Which type of fireplace would you prefer and why? Tell us in the comments.




Follow Sheree Curry on Twitter @shereecurry

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