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The Different Types of Fireplaces: Which One is Right for You?

  • 11 min read

Electric Fireplace handing on the wall of a beautiful white living room

Create a focal point with the perfect fireplace

The appeal of a fireplace in action has endured for millennia. Although most of us aren't utilizing one as our main heat source anymore, the ancient spell cast by flickering flames and a toasty hearth hasn't been broken. Whether for practical or aesthetic reasons, or both, a fireplace is still desirable addition to a property.

There are many types of fireplaces to choose from, and each one has its own advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will take a closer look at the different types of fireplaces so that you can decide which one is right for you.

We will discuss built-in wood- and gas-fueled models, simple electric or alcohol-fueled setups, and fireplace inserts that can totally transform an inefficient or unusable masonry firebox. For each type of fireplace, we will list the advantages and disadvantages, as well as the most popular question about that type of fireplace.

The most popular types of fireplaces are:

  • Wood
  • Gas
  • Electric
  • Ethanol

Other types of fireplaces include:

  • Alcohol
  • Outdoor

The traditional fireplace is fueled by wood and has a chimney. A gas fireplace is fueled by natural or propane gas and does not have a chimney. An electric fireplace plugs into an outlet and does not have a chimney. Ethanol fireplaces are fueled by ethanol and do not have a chimney.

If you are looking for a fireplace to add to your home, you will want to consider the different types of fireplaces and which one is right for you.

In case you don't want to read each fireplace style thoroughly (although you should), here are the direct links to the different fireplace types:

1. Wood Fireplaces

2. Gas Fireplaces

3. Electric Fireplaces

4. Bio-Ethanol Fireplaces

5. Alcohol Gel Fireplaces

6. Outdoor Fireplaces

Now, let's get started finding the perfect fireplace for you!


Wood Fireplaces

It doesn’t get any more “old-school” than a wood-fueled fireplace: the true "hearth," which for ages was the practical centerpiece of a home. 

Superior Wood Fireplace in a cozy living room

Wood Fireplace Advantages

We’ll point out from the outset that no other kind of fireplace can compete with a traditional wood one in the ambience-and-atmospherics department: Not many people can resist the crackle, snap, and perfume of burning logs, after all. A wood fireplace doesn't require electricity and is the most authentic and traditional form for enjoying fire.

Wood Fireplace Disadvantages

Wood fireplaces, at least traditional masonry ones, aren’t actually very efficient when it comes to heating a room. Much of the air that they warm—as much as 90 percent, in fact—simply hightails it up the chimney via convection along with the combustion gas and smoke. That’s not all, either: This draft—essential for continuing combustion in the fireplace—sucks in warm air from your house, often cooling the room down if its effect overpowers the radiative heat emanating from the flames. A wood fireplace is often only about 15 percent efficient, which is pretty darn paltry.

There are other potential drawbacks to a wood fire besides the general inefficiency. Sparks leaping out from an open fireplace can injure you or catch fire, for one thing. A wood fireplace is also unquestionably messy, generating large quantities of ash and soot—unburned carbon leftovers from the combustion process—which necessitate regular cleaning of both the firebox and chimney.

Heavy coatings of soot and creosote, a tarry byproduct of incomplete combustion, can hamper airflow in indoor fireplaces and chimney, diminishing draft and making it hard to keep a fire going; in a vicious cycle, this can lead to more draft-constricting deposits, in addition to excess smokiness. Creosote buildup inside the flue can also ignite to cause chimney fires: a major hazard, needless to say. 

Both to ensure a good draft and minimize the chance of a chimney blaze, it’s important to have your chimney inspected and swept on a regular basis. Burning well-seasoned wood—firewood that’s sat and dried for at least six months and ideally a year or more—is crucial. Hardwood logs generate more heat and generally result in less creosote accumulation than softwoods, which aren’t as appropriate for burning in an indoor fireplace.

Speaking of the firewood itself, that’s another potential disadvantage to the wood-burning fireplace, depending on the fireplace owner's abilities and priorities. After all, it’s work to procure a source of quality firewood, whether you’re chopping it yourself—a lot of work—or buying it from somebody else. Then there’s the splitting and stacking involved. (Though, it must be said, some folks enjoy this manual labor. As the old saying goes, a wood fire warms you twice: Before you even get to the burning of it, you warm up prepping and piling the firewood.) The “footprint” of your wood burning fireplace isn’t just the hearth, firebox, and chimney system, but also the space required for storing the firewood. 

Gas Fireplaces

A cleaner, lower-maintenance, and more efficient alternative to a traditional masonry wood-burning fireplace is the gas fireplace, which generates its smokeless flame by burning natural gas or propane. 

See through gas fireplace in bedroom wall looking outside

Gas fireplaces can take several different basic forms, and may be either vented or ventless.

What is a Vented Gas Fireplace?

The most common vented gas fireplaces draw fresh air in from outside via one pipe and exhaust combustion gases and fumes back out via another (or via a flue): a two-pipe setup known as direct-vent. Another, older vented kind is the “B-vent” system, fed by inside air but exhausting to the outside via one pipe.

As This Old House notes, direct-vent systems range between 70 and 85 percent efficiency, while the B-vent version is on the order of about 50 percent. Direct-vent gas fireplaces tend to be pricier to install, however, than their B-vent analogues.

What is a Ventless Gas Fireplace?

Ventless gas fireplaces draw in air from—and exhaust gases out into—the room, and thus don’t require any flue or vent pipes. This works on account of their especially clean-burning nature. Because all the air associated with a ventless fireplace is staying inside, this kind of setup is very efficient from a heating perspective: close to 100 percent, in fact.

Emission standards and product testing ensure ventless gas fireplaces exhaust only small amounts of combustion gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide into the room, but be aware the water vapor given off as part of that exhaust can increase indoor humidity.

Gas Log Sets

Just about the simplest gas fireplace is a log set, which is simply an arrangement of ceramic “firewood” with a gas burner that can be placed inside an existing fireplace.

Vent-free gas logs for the fireplace

These are fairly cheap, but don’t give out much in the way of warmth (ventless log sets, as you'd expect, provide more heat to the room than vented ones). If you mostly just want a low-maintenance flickering fireplace in your home for its looks, though, a log set isn’t a bad way to go.

For a more efficient heating source, though, you can go with a built-in vented or ventless gas fireplace, or convert your existing fireplace with a gas fireplace insert much like the wood-burning kind. 

Gas Fireplace Advantages

Besides impressive efficiencies and low maintenance requirements, gas fireplaces are attractive on account of their versatility: You can place them just about anywhere in your house, wherever you’d like a little extra warmth and some cozy vibes.

As we’ve mentioned, a ventless wall mounted fireplace doesn’t need a pipe or flue at all, but even a vented fireplace gives you more location options given it only demands some kind of outside connection, not the use of an entire chimney.

You can set up a wall thermostat with your gas fireplace to more meticulously control room temperature. And it goes without saying you can’t adjust your wood fire with a remote control from the lazy comfort of your couch, as you can with a gas counterpart.

Gas Fireplace Disadvantages

On the con side of things, gas fireplaces don’t produce the “authentic”-looking flames of a wood fire, not to mention its attractive sounds and woodsmoke odor. The flames of vented gas fireplaces are a bit closer in appearance to those of wood-fueled ones as compared to ventless models. 

Also, in some states, the mechanics of ventless gas fireplaces have caused concerns about indoor installations and are banned in certain U.S. cities. Oxygen sensors may be required to make sure a ventless fireplace’s inflow isn’t depleting oxygen levels to a dangerous degree. 

Electric Fireplaces

Easier, more versatile, and safer yet is the electric fireplace, fed only by electrical current and emitting nothing in the way of combustion fumes or other byproducts. They can go essentially anywhere, including some truly creative and surprising perches.

Electric fireplaces are heater systems utilizing electrical parts to imitate classic wood and gas-based fireplace designs. The coils are heated when electrical current passes through them.

Modern fireplaces replicate real flame perfectly and have different LED lighting options allowing the change of colour. Many of the fireplaces have audible speakers emitting loud cracking sounds too!

Electric Fireplace Dimplex IgniteXL 50

Some electric fireplaces are basically pure decoration, while others incorporate a heating element to supply some associated warmth, though nothing like a gas or wood fireplace. These models give you the option of running flame-only settings if you don’t want the heater going.

Electric Fireplace Advantages

An electric fireplace is a good choice for taking advantage of a masonry fireplace that’s no longer safe to use with an actual fire, and for any situation where you want that friendly flicker with absolute minimal upkeep. It’s also ideal if your living situation—say, a rented apartment or condo—doesn’t allow for installing gas or wood burning fireplaces. 

Most electric fireplaces are smart! A smart fireplace is a combination of technology, comfort & design. The newest generation of smart devices lets users control electric fireplaces from anywhere via their smartphone or wifi. Just one tap activates the fireplace. Smart Fireplaces offer many functions depending upon their design. The simplest safety features are the automatic stopping of systems if they have increases in carbon dioxide levels or lack of oxygen.

Electric Fireplace Disadvantages

Obviously you’re losing out a bit in the romance/ambience category with an electric fireplace, but sometimes it's convenience—or simply the logistical limitations you’re dealing with—make it the best way to go.

Keep in mind another obvious drawback of the electric fireplace, though: A power outage will render it useless—and in the dead of winter a power outage is often when you wish you had a fireplace to cuddle up in front of the most.

Bio-Ethanol Fireplaces

If you thought an electric fireplace was simple, a bio-ethanol fireplace—also called simply an ethanol fireplace or a “bio fireplace”—pares things down even more.

Fireplaces burning ethanol have become a recent trend due to the simple installation and contemporary design. There is something to suit any décor. The products are clear, smellless and most important is the minimum installation time.

A bio fireplace runs off liquid bio-ethanol fuel: aka denatured alcohol. The burner unit is simply a container into which this liquid is poured and then lit, producing a genuine flame.

Bio ethanol silver fireplace hanging on a living room wall

Ethanol Fireplace Advantages

No vents or flues are required, as the amount of combustion gases emitted is modest (though see below), and naturally you don’t need any gas lines or wiring. This makes bio fireplaces crazy-easy to install in any number of settings, from tabletop and wall-mounted configurations to freestanding structures in the middle of a room. 

Ethanol Fireplace Disadvantages

So bio fireplaces are simple to set up and use, and—unlike an electric fireplace—actually give you a flame to enjoy. What about the drawbacks? Well, for one thing, bio-ethanol is highly flammable and thus potentially dangerous; you need to store and handle it with care. Also, bio-ethanol fireplaces can influence air quality given the particulate matter they emit along with combustion gases, so it’s important to use them in a well-ventilated room.

You also aren’t going to get major heat output from a bio fireplace, though it can produce on the order of 5,000 or 6,000 Btus. And you can’t refuel until it's fire is out, unlike with a wood- or gas-powered fire. That said, a filled burner can produce flame for several hours.

Alcohol Gel Fireplaces

A cousin of the bio fireplace, a gel fireplace burns an alcohol gel for a ventless, freestanding source of flame and modest warmth. This kind of fireplace is popular in Europe where you can find these types of fireplaces in many different styles and sizes.

Alcohol gel fireplace sitting in living room recess

Alcohol Gel Fireplace Advantages

It uses a special type of gel that burns very clean and is very easy to use. They are also very portable so you can take them with you when you travel. The gel fuel produces a slightly crackly flame that at least nods in some small way to the bewitching soundtrack of a wood fire.

Alcohol Gel Fireplace Disadvantages

This kind of fireplace is popular in Europe where you can find these types of fireplaces in many different styles and sizes. However, they are a bit harder to find in the US.

A canister might put out 3,000 Btus or so, but you can light multiple ones at a time to introduce a bit more supplemental heat.

Outdoor Fireplaces

If you don’t have the space, the setup, or the desire for an indoor fireplace, why not install one outside to make your patio or yard the perfect fresh-air hangout?

Outdoor gas fireplace burning orange flames on the patio

Whether you’re going for a monumental stone wood burning fireplace and chimney or a modern ventless fireplace, there are many designs adapted for an outdoor setting. 

One fun use of an outdoor fireplace or fire pit is cooking: With a simple grill setup, you can harness the energy of those flames for more than just cozying up around on a crisp evening and whip up some flame-kissed meats, veggies—even flatbreads and pizzas!

What is the difference between indoor and outdoor fireplaces?

Winter nights call for a cozy dinner at the fireplace. Is there any downside to installing an outside fireplace? Now you may mix indoor and outdoor fireplaces to create double-sided fireplaces. Okay. The house has an indoor/outdoor fireplace on its exterior wall that has an outdoor area. There is no venting requirement for the outdoor part because the outside part is used for ventilation in electric or gas applications. However, it requires a chimney and you're going to have to think about this. It could be a good renovation project.

Questions About Fireplaces

How much does an indoor fireplace cost?

 

The cost of an indoor fireplace can vary greatly depending on the type you choose and the additions you add.

A gas fireplace costs between $800 and $10,000, while a traditional wood-burning fireplace runs between $600 and $8,500. An electric fireplace costs between $500 and $4000.

Wood-burning fireplaces also require more maintenance, such as regular cleaning and chimney inspections. If you're not comfortable with or don't have the time for this upkeep, a gas or electric fireplace may be a better option.

Can you increase the efficiency of a wood-burning Fireplace?

Besides burning the right kind of wood in the right condition (i.e., fully seasoned), and besides keeping your firebox and chimney clean, there are various ways to make a traditional wood-burning masonry fireplace more efficient. There are small upgrades you can make: using andirons, for example, which provide a raised, airflow-improving platform for burning wood as well as a means for it to eventually fall to the coal- and ash-bed below for more complete combustion.

You can also use a tubular grate in the firebox, meant to improve circulation and direct fire-heated air into the room, as well as tight-sealing glass doors to cut down on the loss of warm room air up the flue draft and on cold-air intrusions from the chimney. (Speaking of, making sure your damper is properly sealing—and perhaps rigging another damper to the top of your chimney—is an important basic way to reduce inflows of cold air.)

You can also place a cast-iron or steel fireback on your hearth or inside the firebox, which captures more of the heat generated by the wood fire by absorbing it and then radiates it into the room.

What is a Fireplace Insert?

But the most comprehensive way to make your standard masonry fireplace more efficient is to install a fireplace insert. This is a metal firebox that essentially functions as a modified wood stove within your fireplace, heating air that circulates between the firebox and its shell and then warms the room rather than escaping.

These inserts exhaust gases and smoke via a stainless-steel flue liner mounted within the masonry chimney. Such a fireplace insert can boost the heat output of your masonry fireplace several times over.

Which type of wood to never burn indoors?

Woods that contain a larger moisture concentration use more heat for burning and cause more wastage. Green bark is commonly called wet timber and refers to recently cut wood. This causes an insufficient burning, which results in excess smoke.

Rotted timber is certainly not dry and has mold which makes it a huge no. It is a dangerous substance due to its health, therefore you need to be careful when dealing with it.

Driftwood is a forest that washes off of a beach and is added with salt. If burned, it causes an oxygen release that may result in cancer if inhaled.

Lock Down the Perfect Fireplace for You With Patio & Pizza

Learn more about different fireplace designs and zero in on the ideal model for your home or yard by taking a gander at our full Patio & Pizza fireplace inventory!

 

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