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Can a Fireplace Heat a Whole Room (or House)? Answered

My parents are looking at buying a new fireplace, but they first wanted to know if it’s enough to heat their home. I was curious about it as well, so I did some research to help them out. Here’s what I found.

Most fireplaces sufficiently heat a room or small home. For best results, use a wood-burning or gas fireplace that’s properly sized to the space. Larger fireplaces can heat an average to large-sized home but may need supplemental heating such as a furnace or spacer heater opposite to the fireplace.

While a fireplace can heat a whole room (and occasionally a house), just how efficient are they, and exactly how much space do they heat? Let’s take a closer look.

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a fireplace in the living room

How Much Space Can a Fireplace Heat Up?

Fireplace SizeHeat OutputRoom Size
Small10,000-18,000 BTU800 sq. ft.
Medium25,000-30,000 BTU1,400 sq. ft.
Large35,000-40,000 BTU1,800 sq. ft.

A small firebox of 1.8 cubic feet heats up to 800 square feet of well-insulated space. A mid-size firebox is around 1.8-2.8 cubic feet and heats up to 1,400 square feet. A large size firebox is around 2.9 cubic feet and heats up to 1,800 square feet or more.

Heat efficiency depends on the type of fireplace, insulation, location, and more.

For example, fireplaces without doors are much less efficient than those with doors. The reason is that open fireplaces suck in warm air from your house during the combustion process and feed it up the chimney.

Recommended: When to Close Glass Doors on a Fireplace (The Truth)

Comparatively, the average electric fireplace can heat between 400 and 1,000 square feet. However, the electric fireplace provides consistent heat at the same level.

Compared to a wood stove, which is affected by outdoor weather and wood quality, the heating is more inconsistent.

So, if you like consistency and have a small to medium-sized space to heat up, an electric fireplace may be more efficient.

When compared to a gas fireplace, you’ll have consistency as well as a wider range of sizes. The different sizes can allow you to heat anywhere from less than 500 square feet to over 2,200 square feet.

Recommended: Fireplace Size vs Room Size: How To Tell What You Need

One key consideration when it comes to cost is comparing the cost of firewood vs. the cost of gas.

The cost of firewood and gas are connected because processing firewood uses a substantial amount of gas in the first place. This is because loggers need their fuel for chainsaws, skidders, logging trucks, splitters, and transportation.

Keep in mind heat is measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units) and it’s a measure of how hot or cold an appliance will make your space.

So, the more BTUs, the more heat you will receive from the appliance.

It’s also important to avoid overdoing it when it comes to the BTU output from your appliance. You’ll want the correct BTU output to match the size of your room or zone.

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out my post on fireplace size vs room size, linked above.

How Efficient Are Fireplaces in Heating a Room or Home?

Our fireplace in our living room

Many factors contribute to how efficient fireplaces are, including:

  • Fireplace Type
  • Room Size
  • House Insulation
  • Venting
  • Fireplace Location

There’s no doubt that fireplaces make rooms cozy, but when it comes to efficiency, that’s another story. The question you should answer before investing in a new fireplace is what’s your goal with the fireplace.

For example, most homeowners are focused solely on cost efficiency as it relates to installation, the cost of firewood, and the cost of maintenance compared to other heating appliances.

Recommended: Fireplace vs. Furnace: Pros and Cons

When it comes to heating an entire home, fireplace alternatives are usually more efficient (such as a furnace).

Also, consider the size of the house, smaller homes with fewer windows and doors can be heated more easily than large homes with many windows and doors.

A home with large windows in a south orientation will also have better passive heating (north orientation if you live in the southern hemisphere).

However, while fireplace alternatives are often more efficient, the coziness and ambiance of a roaring fireplace shouldn’t be underestimated.

Especially around the holidays, people love a blazing fire (even if it’s just from a TV channel).

Depending on the design of your home and the type of fireplace, you may be able to find an efficient model that thoroughly heats your space.

Also, consider if you want to heat just one room or your entire house. A well-placed fireplace (especially in the center of the house) can provide more efficient heat.

How Much Do Fireplaces Cost to Run?

FireplaceEst. Cost
Gas$60/year
Wood$190/year

For a gas fireplace, it usually costs around 17 to 19 cents an hour to run the fireplace or about $60 per year for the average homeowner. To get the same BTUs, it can cost $190 per year to use a wood-burning fireplace.

For modern homes, a furnace or electric fireplace is often cheaper than heating with a fireplace (especially if you buy your firewood).

Even though it may seem like cozy wood heat is keeping you warm, you’re likely spending more money to receive that heat compared to using other appliances.

If you live in a small, well-insulated house with a large fireplace right in the center, a wood-burning fireplace may be more cost-effective.

On the other hand, a furnace and vent system has a higher initial cost but more evenly and consistently delivers heat throughout your home.

The Best Types of Fireplaces To Heat a Room or House

a new fireplace installed in a new home

The best types of fireplaces to heat a room and home are:

  • Wood Fireplaces – With EPA standards, wood-burning fireplaces have become more efficient and have sealed doors and ceramic glass to retain heat. Choose a fireplace that has variable air control so you can increase or decrease the strength of the fire.
  • Gas Fireplaces – Choose high-efficiency gas fireplaces, such as a direct vent with ceramic glass doors. Those with a thermostat or other heat control work best.

When it comes to efficient fireplaces, choose either electric or gas fireplaces. Depending on your provider, these fireplaces may cost less to install (as you can often avoid the cost of the chimney, masonry, and more).

However, electric fireplaces often have a lower heat output and are comparable to an electric space heater.

There are also different types of gas fireplaces, such as vented, ventless, and ethanol fireplaces. Each of these fireplaces serves different purposes, can be used in different spaces, and have different levels of efficiency.

Recommended: How to Get More Heat From Your Gas Fireplace

When choosing a wood-burning fireplace, select one with glass doors. These gaskets and doors prevent warm air from being sucked into the chimney or vent and out of your house.

Worst Types of Fireplaces To Heat a Room or House

electric fireplace with hands warming in front of it

The worst type of fireplace to heat a room or house is an electric fireplace and one that is too small or too big for the room in which it is placed. In terms of heat output, electric fireplaces are often compared to a space heater.

Ultimately, choosing between wood, gas, electric, or even pellet stoves is up to you and your goals. However, regardless of the type of fireplace, make sure to choose one that fits the room.

If you choose a fireplace that’s too big, you’ll likely spend more money on fuel and find you’re making the place way hotter than needed. Because of this, windows may need to be opened to let out the excess heat in the middle of winter.

If you choose a fireplace that’s too small, you’ll likely end up trying to overwork an appliance to do something it wasn’t designed to do. No matter how high you turn up the fireplace or add logs, the room may not warm up enough to your liking.

Remember to get a fireplace that is EPA-certified.

EPA-certified fireplaces produce less smoke and are more efficient than non-certified fireplaces. The law for this certification went into effect in 2015, and the EPA has provided a database of all fireplaces and wood stoves that fall under this certification.  

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