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 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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9 Comments

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LorenRoarke

Great analysis and I prefer genuine firewood fireplaces. Nothing beats the smell of burning wood, and it's much safer compared to gas and electric fireplaces. Anyway, I'm not sure if there are apartment units with fireplaces, but I do know that http://urbansiderentals.com/ will be able to help you out in this regard.

November 19 2014 at 12:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
fgang54663

I USE A PELLET STOVE INSERT IN MY FIREPLACE. IT IGNITES AUTOMATICALLY AND FEEDS THE PELLETS AUTOMATICALLY ACCORDING TO THE DEMAND OF THE THEMOSTAT. THE EXHAUST IS FED BY A BLOWER MOTOR INTO A FOUR INCH STAINLESS STEEL FLUE. THERE IS ALSO A FAN MOTOR THAT BLOWS THE HOT AIR AIR INTO THE ROOM FROM THE HEAT EXCHANGER. PELLETS ARE SOLD AT LOWE'S AND HOME DEPOT AND ALSO AGWAY STORES. THEY ALSO MAKE A HOME FURNACE THAT HOOKS INTO A HOME HOT AIR DUCT SYSTEM. I HAVE NOT BOUGHT HEATING OIL IN OVER FIVE YEARS. THE ENTIRE SYSTEM IS SEALED SO IT IS DUST FREE. THE GOVERNMENT GIVES A TAX BREAK TO ANYONE INSTALLING THIS SYSTEM.

November 04 2014 at 3:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rex freeway

Most wood stoves made today have an outside air vent that brings air from out side you house to feed the fire. And a fan that circulates air around the fire box making it more efficient. Many have a gas line run into fire box that helps start the fire. This can also be used to convert to a gas fireplace if so desired.

November 04 2014 at 12:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
blackbelt.ron

Had wood fireplace and had gas/wood combo.
By far the best is just gas - with a high end real looking/acting log insert.
No mess from wood. --
No cost replenishing that wood or work stacking it..!
No smoke no punky smell and the best part is --
Just flick the switch and your fireplace is on... ;-)
Easy.. Warm..
Safe and Clean...
Never going back to wood
And I have never seen a good, realistic looking electric.
Do I have you sold..? ;-P

November 03 2014 at 4:12 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
onedustfarmer

Wood stove. Lopi Liberty. The best. No mention of that here. For the uninformed. Heats 2000 sq/ft very comfortably with radiated heat. Add water to a humidifying device and there is moisture in dry air. Coals in the morning once one learns how to adjust the air intake, for into the night or day use. Restoke in the morning and it all starts again. Brass legs and edgings, Elk scene, clear, mountain or other you may like on the loading door. Plenty of room for the Dutch Oven on the top area. No cycling like an FAU and very even continous heat. I used Lopi for 12 years. Splitting and stacking logs and splits will also keep you in shape during the summer months. You can build a stone hearth and wall surround with timber mantle and this unit will have more ambiance and function than any masonry Rumsford or factory built fireplace. Operating cost depends on how you plan your fuel supply. Many people also opt for the pellet stoves.

November 03 2014 at 10:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sam Streubel

A wood burning fireplace is fine if you don't mind seeing 90% of the heat going up the flue. It's like spending $23 a gallon for heating oil at today's prices. Vented gas fireplaces are worthwhile but I would never install an unvented gas appliance in my home. I like electric fireplaces because they're clean, 100% efficient and add a nice decorative touch to the room. You can pick up a nice electric fireplace for around $500 but I've seen examples of eelctric fireplaces costing as much as $10,000. If you'd like to see what you get for 10 grand check out this page: http://goo.gl/dP50xb

November 03 2014 at 8:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
parisgirl

I have a wood burning fireplace and would NEVER change it for gas, or electric. --mmm the sickening scent of gas (oh yes you CAN smell it) filling your home with the scent of a pumping station. Electric? That's sounds like a toy. Cheap looking flames- btw. (no wood scent, or blazing warmth)
"let's get the logs for the fire place''...not ''let's gas up'' or ''where're them batteries for our fake fire'' somehow diminishes the idea of a real wood burning fireplace from long ago.
Speaking of which--how will Santa ever get down those others?

November 03 2014 at 1:24 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to parisgirl's comment
depends.on.the.meaning.of.is

If you can "smell the gas" you have a defective fireplace.
There is no smell and I have had two gas fireplaces at two locations.
On the other hand... if you like smoke, soot, high cost of wood, work storing.
And the chance of burning your house down and killing your family then wood is Great..!

November 03 2014 at 4:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
hfmcompanyinc

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November 01 2014 at 8:44 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply