Are you in the market for a wood stove or fireplace? Maybe you’re stuck as to which option would be better for you. Well, look no further. I’ve compiled a complete guide that highlights which option exactly would be best for you.
Wood stoves and fireplaces are common in-home fixtures. However, the better option is a wood fireplace. This is because the fireplace tends to increase a home’s value and creates a nice focal point to the space. Wood stoves are less common; however, they are more energy-efficient.
In this post, we will cover the differences between wood stoves and wood fireplaces. Then we will do an in-depth analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of wood stoves and fireplaces in your home. Keep reading to see why we’re comfortable saying that this post has the most coverage you will find on the internet for comparing wood stoves and fireplaces. Let’s dive in!
The Differences Between Fireplaces & Wood Stoves
There are quite a few differences between wood fireplaces and wood stoves: the major one being each fixture’s components and their overall look. However, since they are such different pieces of a home, let us start by explicitly defining the differences between a wood fireplace and a wood stove.
What’s a Wood Burning Fireplace?
A wood-burning fireplace, or wood fireplace, is a feature that is built into a home. The following are common characteristics of a wood fireplace:
- Good as an additional heat source, but not as a whole-house heating fixture
- Typically constructed out of brick or stone
- Has four main components: hearth, flue, chimney, and firebox
- Increases a home’s overall value
- The firebox is quite large to accommodate small and large pieces of firewood
One thing to note is that the firebox must be placed inside of a hearth. The build-out of a hearth can be quite costly, depending on your home’s existing floorplan.
In today’s time, most houses have fireplaces, as it can be more difficult to add a fireplace once construction has ceased on a home.
What’s a Wood Stove?
A wood stove, on the other hand, is a built-in feature that is responsible for heating a home. Usually, in place of a furnace, a wood stove can be installed to heat large spaces. The following are key characteristics of a wood stove:
- Energy-efficient for home heating because of size and the ventilation pipe
- A small firebox can’t always accommodate normal firewood
- Has three main components: ventilation pipe, chimney, and firebox
- The shape is a small box on four legs with one or two doors in front, where wood is added
- Only requires 1/3 firewood for heating compared to a fireplace
To install a wood-burning stove, you must meet specific housing code guidelines. This could mean that your wood-burning stove, no matter how small, will still need a certain radius around it where a fireproof platform needs to be installed.
Oftentimes, people think wood stoves are a thing of the past. But they are a great way to heat your home for a relatively inexpensive cost.
Comparing Wood Stoves and Wood Fireplaces
As you can tell, there are quite a few differences between wood fireplaces and wood stoves. However, there are many similarities between the wood stove and wood fireplaces, too.
The following chart compares a fireplace to a wood stove, summarizing the similarities and differences between the two:
|Characteristics of A Wood Burning Fireplace||Features of Both Wood Stoves and Wood Burning Fireplaces||Characteristics of A Wood Stove|
|Part of a house’s structureIn addition to the firebox and chimney, there is a flueMore popular than wood stovesRequires annual flue cleaning and maintenance to stay safeNo way to control the rate at which the wood burns||Great heat source and can be used as a main or alternative source of heatSafely contain a fireHas both a firebox and chimney||The device is separate from your home’s structureIn addition to a firebox and chimney, it has a ventilation pipe Less maintenance requiredEasy to cleanProduces more heatUses less firewoodEasily control the speed of the burn by increasing or decreasing airflow|
Now that you can see how different each of these heat sources is let us dive into the advantages and disadvantages of each next.
The Pros and Cons of Wood Stoves and Fireplaces
Wood stoves and fireplace both have their perks. However, there are some weaknesses that you should consider before making your final decision.
In the following table, we summarize the major advantages and disadvantages of wood stoves and fireplaces in a side-by-side comparison:
|Key Characteristic||Wood Stoves||Wood Fireplaces|
|Initial cost||$2,500 to $4,000 for the stove itself, and then the additional installation cost||$3,000 to $5,000 for new installation|
|Monthly running cost||A wood stove and wood fireplace cost about the same to run. And the monthly cost varies based on the type of wood you buy, how much you use, and how often you buy it.|
|Safest option||Safer than fireplaces because of the door(s) which keep fumes only exiting through the ventilation pipe and chimney||Less safe in terms of carbon monoxide exposure because the fireplace must be open to allow for airflow and heat transference. Chances of harmful gases entering your home are low unless the chimney is not working properly.|
|Easier to install||Wood stoves are easier to install.||Fireplaces are more difficult to install because of the need for a chimney.|
|Average lifespan||10 to 20 years||20 to 30 years, if well maintained|
|Heating efficiency||More than 80 percent heating efficiency – Heats almost three times better than a wood fireplace.||25 percent heating efficiency – Good for providing heat if you are sitting close to the fireplace|
|Aesthetic appeal||Not very appealing. Many modern designs available, but a wood stove does not give the same atmosphere as a fireplace.||Superb aesthetic appeal, you can have those picture-perfect, storybook fireplace moments.|
Now that we have covered a summary of the different features a wood stove and fireplace offer let us give a detailed overview of each of the key characteristics.
Cost to Install a Wood Fireplace Vs. a Wood Stove
Whether you are interested in buying and installing a wood fireplace or stove, you should prepare your wallet for a big expense. Installing a fireplace in a house without a chimney can be expensive, and the same goes for a wood stove if your home does not have the existing ventilation.
Installing A Wood Fireplace
Installing a wood fireplace can cost up to $5,000. This includes only the firebox, chimney, and flue. The additional masonry that is customary around a fireplace, also known as the hearth, costs extra.
To build a hearth, chimney breast, and chimney, you are looking at a significant additional cost. These structures can cost upwards of $10,000 if you choose to have a mason lay the brick for your fireplace.
However, if you choose to install a manufactured fireplace, you can save between $7,000 and $8,000 compared to the classic masonry you picture with a fireplace.
Installing A Wood Stove
You can use a few different cost breakdowns to estimate the cost to install your new woodstove. Use the following chart to find which installation option fits your needs best:
|Type of Cost||Estimated Cost|
|Free-Standing Wood Stove||$400 to $3,500|
|Installation Labor||$250 to $800|
|Wood Stove Insert||$1,200 to $3,400|
|Ventilation and Chimney Installation||$300 to $3,500|
|Hearth Pad Installation||$200 to $500|
Based on the numbers above, if you need to install a new wood stove and outfit your home with the proper ventilation, hearth pad, and chimney, you can expect to pay anywhere between $2,000 and $7,000. However, it may cost more depending on the materials you choose.
If you already have a chimney and the proper venting system in your home and you are replacing a wood stove or retrofitting a fireplace, the cost to install a wood stove is a little more than half of a brand-new install. This costs up to $4,500, depending on your home’s existing conditions and location.
Also, keep in mind that the size of the space you are trying to heat with your wood stove will greatly impact the price of the stove. As you increase the number of square feet you are hoping to heat in your home, you also increase the estimated cost of your wood stove.
From all this information, you can see it is probably less expensive for you to choose the wood stove option. Even if you do not want to run it as a primary heat source, it will still cost less to install than a wood fireplace.
Cost to Run a Wood Fireplace Vs. a Wood Stove
Running a wood fireplace or stove can be quite an expense, especially depending on how you plan to use your fireplace or stove. It can be difficult to estimate the monthly cost for either the wood stove or fireplace.
Generally, you can buy firewood by the cord for $175 to $580, depending on where you live. And most people buy firewood about four times throughout the cold season. But if you choose to chop and season your own firewood, you will save a lot more money.
To chop and season your own wood, use the following tips as a guide:
- Start with the right location. Know your area. If you have acres of land with hardwood trees, then chopping your own wood might be perfect for you.
- Purchase a log splitter and good ax. You will want to use a sharp ax and wear the proper protective equipment. You will want a log splitter to easily split your firewood because splitting your logs will help them dry faster.
- Chop, chop, chop! Once you have a good location and the right gear, you are now ready to get chopping.
- Split those logs. After chopping down a few trees, it is time to split all your logs into the right size for your fireplace or wood stove. Keep in mind, your wood stove might have a small opening and need shorter logs than traditional firewood.
- Season that wood. Wood must be seasoned for six to 12 months. Seasoning wood simply means that it has dried for enough time to reduce the overall moisture content by over 80 percent.
- Light it up. After you have chopped your wood and let it sit to dry for six months to a year, you can start your fire burning!
People will often begin chopping wood in the late winter and early spring for it to be ready for the next cold season. And even still, people will purchase a few cords to supplement the wood they can chop themselves.
The biggest expense after installation and upkeep is the cost of firewood. The best woods for your wood stove or fireplace are seasoned hardwoods, including the following:
You can purchase softwoods, like pine and cedar. However, you will not get the same burn for the price. Hardwoods are a great choice for all of the following reasons:
- Burns longer
- Creates less creosote
- Heats better
Now that we have covered the average monthly costs of a wood-burning stove versus a fireplace, to summarize, it is quite dependent on your household’s needs. Wood stoves are efficient and burn for longer periods than a fireplace.
However, if you are not looking to heat your house with a wood stove and want the aesthetic appeal of occasionally starting a fire, this category breaks even. There is no clear winner for which has the better average monthly cost.
Which Is Safer, the Wood Fireplace or Wood Stove?
The wood-burning stove is the safer option. That is because you can easily block access to the fire by shutting the door of the wood stove. Since, by design, a fireplace is open to allow proper airflow, it is inherently more dangerous.
The Wood Stove Is Safer – Here Is Why
The following is a list of reasons why a wood stove is considered safer than a fireplace:
- The door – The firebox on a wood stove is contained behind a glass or metal door. This allows you to control how fast the wood burns, but it also keeps the open flames and cinders from accidentally coming into contact with something flammable in your home.
- The ventilation system – A wood stove requires a sealed flue or lined chimney by regulation. This allows smoke, carbon monoxide, and other harmful gases to escape your home without much ability to come into the living space. With a fireplace, some gases would likely enter your living space, but not enough to be hazardous (if your fireplace is properly maintained).
- The stove itself – While the compartment in which the firebox on a wood stove is housed can get hot, it allows the fire to be fully contained.
The wood stove is a safer option. However, it still has an open flame, which can be dangerous if you have small pets and children in your household.
Improve Your Fireplace’s Safety
For your fireplace specifically, you should do all of the following before you light your next fire:
- Clean out all soot
- Remove any creosote and soot buildup
- Open the chimney damper
- Check for any obstructions in the chimney
To make your fireplace safer and more efficient, you can install the following:
- A fire screen – This will keep the embers from jumping out onto the surrounding hearth, floor, and anything else nearby.
- Heat-proof glass doors – This is another great option for keeping the fire contained to the firebox in the fireplace.
- A fireplace fan or blower – This is a great way to improve your fireplace’s efficiency and heating capacity.
Proper Use and Maintenance Is Key to Safety
Keep in mind that any improper use of a wood stove or fireplace would automatically make it unsafe at that moment. It could also be enough wear and tear on the stove or fireplace to cause permanent damage. This would make the stove or fireplace unsafe for use going forward.
However, both of these options can be equally dangerous if you are not taking the time to care for and maintain your stove or fireplace. To keep your wood stove or fireplace safe, you should do the following:
- Inspect for damage or possible hazards before each use
- Discontinue use if something is in disarray or disrepair
- Make sure carpets and furniture are at a proper distance
- Always put out the fire before leaving the house or going to sleep
Install A Carbon Monoxide Detector
No matter if you choose a wood stove or a fireplace, you should install a carbon monoxide detector and smoke alarm. Most homes have a smoke alarm, and it is more common that homes come with carbon monoxide detectors nowadays. But in older homes, you will want to invest in one!
Some great carbon monoxide detector options include the following:
- Most inexpensive option – Kiddle AC Carbon Monoxide Detector Alarm Plug-In
- Mid-range option – X Sense Carbon Monoxide Detector with 10-Year Battery
- High-end choice – First Alert Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Digital Display
Always make sure you check your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detectors monthly. Also, for all the battery-powered detectors and alarms, make sure to replace batteries every six months.
Hire A Chimney Sweep Today
If you have a chimney for your wood stove in a converted fireplace or a fireplace, you should consider hiring a chimney sweep. Your chimney should be cleaned once a year to keep it in its best condition and get the check that it is safe.
A chimney sweep is great because they can do all of the following things:
- Inspect the structure to assess any damage or aging
- Clean the flue and chimney
- Remove any animals or pests
- Clean away any soot or creosote buildup
Contact your local chimney sweep to get a cost estimate for your fireplace, as the age of the house and your location can greatly impact the final cost.
A Comparison of the Heat Output: Stove Against Fireplace
To put it simply, the wood stove has a better heat output. That is because, with a fireplace, most of the heat escapes through the chimney.
A fireplace is best for the ambiance and atmosphere, but not heating.
A wood stove is specifically designed and vented to heat a home efficiently.
Fireplace Vs. Stove: Which Is Easier to Install?
Because there is a need for masonry work most of the time, it is much harder to install a fireplace.
A wood stove is an easier install because there is no need for a chimney. There only needs to be a way to affix an exhaust pipe and have proper ventilation to the outdoors.
What’s the Average Lifespan of a Stove Vs. a Fireplace?
Most of the time, a fireplace and a wood stove can last about 10 years on average. A wood stove tends not to last as long as a wood fireplace, however.
Since a fireplace is built into the existing home structure, it can last for upwards of 20 years, but that is only if it is cleaned and maintained properly.
Many times, homeowners leave the fireplace and chimney alone for too long, and it falls into disrepair. At that point, it can become much more of a safety hazard.
The Environmental Ratings of Wood Stoves and Fireplaces
Both wood fireplaces and stoves are rated by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States.
The EPA has ratings for different types of wood fireplaces and stoves:
- Fireplace inserts
- Fireplace retrofits
- Wood stoves
Generally, homes do not have EPA-certified wood-burning appliances. However, when buying a new fireplace or wood stove, you can check out the EPA Certified Wood Heater Database.
Extra Features of a Wood Stove
Another standout of the wood stove is that it has so many additional features compared to a fireplace. Take note of a few important features in the following table, which compares the qualities of a wood stove to a fireplace:
|Key Feature||Wood Stove||Wood Fireplace|
|Ability to cook||Yes||No|
|Ability to truly heat home||Yes||Not easily, would need to purchase extra accessories like a fireplace fan.|
|Cute cottage look||Yes||No, especially if you install a pot-bellied wood stove|
You may be a bit confused about how a wood stove can be used to cook. But as we mentioned earlier, because the stove itself gets so hot, you can place pots and pans on top of it to cook. However, this is only safe if your wood stove has a flat top. And you will still need to take the same precautions as you would in your kitchen.
To cook with your wood stove, you will need the following cooking gear:
- Cast iron pots and pans
- Cast iron trivets
- Grilling baskets
- Wood stove fireproof and heat-proof gloves
- Rolling cart (optional)
Which Is Better: Wood Stove or Fireplace?
The best option when choosing between a wood stove and a wood fireplace is the stove, by far. A wood stove allows you to:
- Heat your whole home, if you want
- Create a nice focal point
- Lower overall price, including installation cost
- Safer than a fireplace
Can You Put A Wood Stove in A Fireplace?
Yes, you can add a wood stove to your empty fireplace. This is a great choice, especially if you want to use the space more for true heating than just warmth and ambiance.
The following are things you need to install a wood-burning stove into your empty fireplace:
- Enough space for the new wood stove to fit inside
- A fully functioning chimney
- Ability to add flue liner
Other reasons to install a wood stove in your existing wood fireplace include the following:
- Wanting an updated or more modern look
- Looking to reduce the amount of firewood you burn
- Desiring to heat your home using wood
The following is a truncated list of steps on how to install a wood stove into your existing fireplace:
- Line your chimney. An existing chimney needs to have a flue liner installed.
- Place the wood stove. Set the new wood stove into the existing fireplace.
- Connect the flue liner. After setting the stove into the fireplace, connect the flue liners.
- Cap the chimney. The rest of the chimney opening has to be sealed with a register plate to make sure air is not flowing back into your house. Then you are set to go.
Remember, you do not need to have a chimney to install your wood stove. You need some way to route the exhaust out of your home. But you can get away without a large chimney, which is another reason why wood stoves cost less to install.
In Summary: The Wood Stove Is The Better Option
A fireplace might hold some nostalgia and extra ambiance for you, but it is not an efficient or cost-effective option. A wood stove offers the best heat and energy efficiency.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Fireplace Tips, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Chimney Safety Institute of North America (CSIA): The CSIA is your BEST resource for fireplace and chimney safety at home. They’re a non-profit governed by a volunteer board of directors dedicated to the education, training, and certification of chimney and industry related professionals.
- Self-Sufficiency and Off-Grid: If you’re like me and passionate about off-grid and self-sufficiency, see my number 1 resource—Abundance Plus. Check out their Frugal Homesteading Course on growing 90% of your own food. Get 7-days free and 10% off with the code: TYLER10