Heating a space without central heating can be a tricky game. Choosing a fireplace option makes sense, but the decision between wood, gas, or electric can be a challenge. Buyers need to consider what type of maintenance they feel up to, how much they are willing to spend, and overall what would work best for their space.
The most common fireplaces on the market are wood, gas, or electricity. Each comes with widely different operations and maintenance schedules. Depending on how space is used, each type can meet unique demands.
If you’re shooting for a more rustic, self-driven type of fire, then maybe wood would be great for you. If easy use and on-demand heat is your goal, then electric and gas fireplaces are probably much more convenient options. Judge your goals for your space, and consider what will fit in your home. Keep reading to learn the pros and cons of each option.
What’s the Difference?
Although it may seem obvious, there are some surprising differences between the wood-burning, electric, and gas fireplaces.
Wood-burning fireplaces are tremendously popular. Wood fireplaces were common and used worldwide as hearths for homes for centuries. Wood is abundant in many parts of the world, too, so fuel is easy to come by.
Wood fireplaces, however, do need regular maintenance. Depending on how often it is used, a wood fireplace will need to be cleaned. Wood can burn reasonably clean, but it still leaves layers of soot that are an ignition hazard.
Wood is also the most reliable way to heat a space. Those who live off-grid rely on wood-burning stoves and fireplaces to keep their homes warm. So, as long as you can whip up a fire, you can heat the house.
Further, a wood fireplace’s ambiance and mood are a big bonus. Imagine the crackle of a fire safely in your home as you bundle up with the family for the night. Not only is the whole family happy and calm, but the fire was an achievement in itself.
Maybe the fact that each fire is an achievement, though, is dissuading. Although rewarding, not everyone wants to put in a great deal of labor to get a fireplace going. Luckily, there are alternatives to the classic crackling wood-burning fireplace.
Natural gas is already a source of heat and energy heavily relied upon both in the United States and globally. Homes in seasonally cold climates commonly use natural gasses to stay warm. Central heating systems use it to heat homes, and many kitchen ranges use them for cooking and baking.
Gas has been being used in fireplaces, too, for quite some time. They work by igniting a steady stream of natural gas as it exits a pipe in your fireplace. For a home already hooked up to natural gas, installation can be easy.
They are just as easy to use as a stovetop and provide instant heat. Turning them on can be as simple as a flick of a dial. Further, you can control how much gas is being burned, making it easier to control the heat output of your fireplace.
Gas also burns much cleaner than wood. Its high efficiency means no soot buildup or costly chimney cleanings. It also guarantees that you are getting the most heat possible without energy lost in combustion.
Gas fireplaces are prized for their easy use, lack of intense upkeep, and efficiency. These types of fireplaces require a home that has access to natural gas, though.
Electric fireplaces are the most accessible fireplaces on the market. So, as long as you are on the grid, electricity is abundant and labor-free. These fireplaces are grand at heating areas, don’t require any new utility hookups, and are as clean as possible.
Those living in a place that does not become cold often may want to look towards electric fireplaces as an option. There are significant tradeoffs with using electricity to generate heat, though. Not only does it consume large amounts of electricity, but it also does so very inefficiently.
That being said, electric fireplaces can be great for certain spaces. If one room in the house doesn’t get enough heat in the winter, space heaters are a worthy option. They are even better for homes that do not have harsh winters.
A chilly day here and there can be significantly improved with an electric fireplace. Electric fireplaces are best when only used on occasion. For a regular, reliable source of heat, wood or gas should be used.
Pros and Cons of Each Fireplace
Whether if it’s wood, gas, or electric fireplaces, each will have its pros and cons. Some could be a deal-breaker, so be sure you understand the full requirements of each type of fireplace before buying.
Pros and Cons of a Wood Fireplace
For many, nothing beats a wood fire. Their ability to set a mood and keep a room cozy is great. Wood fireplaces are the most intensive to operate and maintain, though.
|Improves home value. A new wood fireplace is a great new amenity for a home’s value.||Labor intensive to use. Constantly adding wood and stoking a fire can be a turnoff for some.|
|Most reliable. Few moving parts ensure that fireplaces are always in working order.||Wood can be expensive in certain areas. If you’re in an area with limited wood, firewood can be costly to buy.|
|Easy to use. As long as you can light a wood fire, you can start one in a fireplace.||Messy. Wood fires produce lots of ash and soot that regularly needs to be cleaned up.|
|Versatile. Wood fireplaces can create a great ambiance in a room and can even be used for mini campfire cookouts.||Requires regular upkeep. Routine maintenance of chimneys and flues needs to happen to ensure safety.|
|Cheap to run. Firewood is very inexpensive across many parts of the world. If you have your own access, it is even more affordable.||Most expensive to install brand new. A new chimney and fireplace can cost upwards of $6,000.|
|Can be easily converted to gas. If you would prefer a gas fireplace, it can be easy to convert an existing wood one.||Wood burning is not super-efficient. Although nice, wood tends to waste a lot of energy when burning in a fireplace.|
|Can produce lots of heat. Wood can pour out heat and keep a whole family cozy in the winter.||Can be a fire hazard. Wood fires are unpredictable and need to be closely watched.|
Pros and Cons of a Gas Fireplace
Gas fireplaces are quite easy to operate and provide convenient heat. Their use and installation cost may be a drawback for some, though.
|Easiest to use. Gas-burning fireplaces can be turned on from the flick of a switch.||Less adaptable. Gas-burning fireplaces are not easily modified compared to wood-burning fireplaces.|
|Easy to convert to from wood-burning. If your home already has a wood chimney, it can easily be converted to burn gas.||Costly to install. New natural gas lines will need to be routed to a fireplace. Ventilation systems may also need to be added. This can all add up quickly.|
|Clean burning heat. Natural gas burns very clean and leaves little residue or toxins in the air.||Requires gas hookups. If your home does not have access to natural gas, you may want to consider other options.|
|Most efficient output for heating a space. Natural gas is very efficient when it burns. It provides the biggest bang for your buck with heating.||Costs fuel to use. If you have limited natural gas, you may want to conserve it. Fireplaces are not as efficient as other heating systems and can dwindle a fuel source.|
|Safer than wood burning. Gas fires are much more predictable than wood fires and easier to tend.||Can pose a fire or CO2 hazard. Unmaintained or untended gas fireplaces can quickly start a fire or pump out toxic carbon monoxide. Install a CO2 alarm for safety.|
|Long-lasting. Gas fireplaces can last for a long time if properly maintained. Pipes and wiring are unlikely to go bad quickly.|
|Low fuel cost. Natural gas is very inexpensive in the United States. A lot can be used to heat a home while still being affordable.|
|Best for regular use. For reliable and stable heat, natural gas can be great.|
Pros and Cons of an Electric Fireplace
Electric fireplaces are by far the easiest to install and run in a home. They can be versatile but do not provide as reliable of heat as other fireplaces.
|Least expensive to install. Electric fireplaces only require limited installation and can be up and running in hours.||Not efficient for long-term heat. Electric fireplaces are inefficient and expensive to maintain as an actual heat source.|
|Little maintenance required. Electric fireplace units work right out of the box and need little maintenance, unlike chimneys.||Not as reliable or long-lasting as gas or wood. Heating elements in electric fireplaces can easily burn out and render the whole unit junk.|
|Great for occasional heat in the winter. Electric fireplaces can make any room cozy on demand without the labor or costs of other fireplaces. Great for occasional use.||Does not increase home value as much with installation. Electric fireplaces are not a new amenity that can increase home value, unfortunately.|
|Little concern of fire hazard. Electric fireplaces still need to be watched, but they do not run the same risks as an open flame.||Can increase energy bills more than gas-burning would. Electricity is a very inefficient way to produce heat. Lots is required to produce only small amounts of heat. It would cost much more money for an electric unit to produce as much heat as a natural gas unit can.|
|Safest around children and pets. Children and pets are less likely to hurt themselves around these fireplaces. Again, no open flame minimizes fire and burn hazards.|
|Does not require a chimney to install. The greatest upfront cost of other types of fireplaces is avoided altogether with an electric one.|
|Certain units can be portable. Many electric fireplaces can be moved around the house to adjust space and decor as needed.|
Cost to Install
Each type of fireplace will have different costs to install. If the necessary utilities or architecture to install a fireplace are already in place, the cost will be lower. Starting from scratch will raise costs, though. All wood fireplaces and many gas fireplaces will need a chimney. If your home does not already have a chimney, expect to spend at least $3,000 to install a new one.
The first step in installing any type of fireplace would be to get an inspection. This can offer insights into the viability of a fireplace and unique costs.
The Estimated Cost of a Wood-Burning Fireplace
A new wood fireplace costs approximately $3,000 to install. Chimney installation can add on thousands, though, and will be the most expensive element of this project. Chimney costs vary drastically with a home’s unique features. A proper flue, liner, and ventilation need to be installed. Further customization of the indoor feature can raise the cost. If your home already has a chimney, but it needs repairs to allow you to burn wood, you can expect to spend less.
Average Natural Gas Fireplace Expenses
Gas fireplaces will, on average, run about $2,500 to install. The bulk of its cost will be laying a new gas line and hiring an electrician to hook up everything requiring electricity safely. Without any natural gas running, a home could look at spending thousands of more dollars to arrange for a natural gas hookup. For a home already with natural gas, this fireplace can be a more affordable option than new masonry work for a wood-burning fireplace.
The Cost to Buy an Electric Fireplace
Electric fireplaces are the most economical to install. Their costs are lowest with the initial purchase of a unit and installation labor. Customization, where the fireplace will go, can raise the price, but a barebones installation can be pretty low. A new unit could easily be bought and installed for less than $1,000.
Overall, a brand new wood fireplace will cost the most. Installing a new chimney and fireplace will require upwards of $5,000 in masonry, contracting, and supplies. Gas fireplaces can also be labor-intensive to install but do not require the same ventilation as a wood fireplace. Electric is the least expensive option to install but the most expensive to run.
Cost to Run (Average Monthly Cost)
Each fireplace uses a different resource and probably depends on the situation of your home. The cost to run each of these fireplaces will also differ depending on how often you use it. If your home is rural, wood could be right for you. Reliable gas and electricity hookups are necessary for gas and electric fireplaces.
- Wood is easy to acquire, especially in rural areas, and can be stockpiled for whole winters. If you have wood on your property, running a wood fireplace is virtually free. This does not account for the labor involved, though. After all, time can be money.
Homeowners can also purchase bulk firewood. A whole season’s worth of wood can be obtained in bulk orders for $300 to $700, depending on location. Costs will go up depending on how much wood you burn and how ample the space that needs to be heated is.
- Gas fireplaces can be very cost-effective to run. Natural gas is already at very low prices, especially in the United States. For a home already hooked up to gas, bills in the wintertime can already reach the $100s for heating. A gas fireplace can add $100 to a gas bill each season if used frequently.
- Electric fireplaces are the least efficient and most costly to use. Because electricity translates so poorly into heat energy, lots of energy is lost. This immediately means you are not getting the total cost of your energy. Further, to reach similar temperatures as gas and wood, electric fireplaces must use more power.
For regular users of fireplaces, wood or gas will cost the least to run. If you only plan on using your fireplace occasionally, though, electric costs should not go up drastically with electric fireplaces.
Which Is Safer? (Both for Health and Fire Hazard)
All fireplaces run the risk of fire. No matter the type of fireplace, supervision is required. Sparks from a wood fireplace can quickly ignite unguarded carpet, drapes, or furniture. Wood fires need to be closely tended. Gas fireplaces are more predictable. It still is an open flame, though, and can ignite things that get too close.
Having an Unintentional Fire
Because of the risk of spark, proper guards must be installed in a fireplace. A barrier between the room and the flames will reduce the risk of unwanted sparks. Always provide close supervision when using an open flame.
CO2 and Carcinogenic Dangers Are Real
Both gas and wood fireplaces also run the risk of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is produced by all combustion and is highly dangerous to humans. It is odorless and incredibly difficult to notice. The gas can cause various injuries and death if not noticed in time.
To prevent the buildup of this toxic gas, proper ventilation of a fireplace is necessary. A carbon monoxide alarm should be installed in at least the room where the fireplace is. This alarm should be regularly tested.
Wood-burning fireplaces can cause different health issues. Consistent exposure to wood smoke has been associated with an increased risk of cancer and lung problems. Proper ventilation is a must.
Electric Fireplaces Are Fairly Benign
Electric fireplaces, in comparison, pose less risk. They should be monitored to see if their heat is burning anything, but unless the connection experiences a short, they are unlikely to spark or cause a dangerous gas buildup in your home. Proper usage is essential to keeping any fireplace safe. For this reason, never leave an electric fireplace on while unattended.
Which Has a Better Heat Output?
Most fireplaces will put out satisfactory heat for occasional use. More efficient fireplaces, such as gas or wood, will be the most reliable for heating a larger space. Higher heat outputs depend on the overall efficiency of a fireplace system.
Gas fireplaces have the most efficient heat output. Wood stoves can be quite efficient, but wood fireplaces can release most energy into the chimney. In contrast, gas fireplaces can efficiently heat air in a room.
A constantly running gas fireplace will produce enough energy to maintain a stable temperature in a room with minimal intervention. Wood fireplaces require constant maintenance to keep aflame and produce less heat.
Electric fireplaces are the least efficient and will put out the least heat. You will be paying a premium to run an electric fireplace. Though they are good for occasional moments, electric fireplaces are simply not good at keeping a sizable space warm.
For those looking for effective heating methods, consider a wood/log stove that more efficiently traps the heat from wood-burning, or consider a gas fireplace.
Wood stoves are standard for heating a living space and minimize many of the drawbacks of a traditional wood fireplace. As for efficiency and reliability in heating, gas does a great job. A steady stream of natural gas is all a gas fireplace needs to keep a room warm.
Which Is Easier to Install?
Not every fireplace is easy to install. A full chimney can require weeks of professional work. Electric and gas fireplaces can be quite simple to install, though.
The easiest fireplace to install is an electric one. It will require minimal work to install in a room and requires nothing more than an electricity hookup. Some advanced skills are required to wire a unit into a switch safely, but detailed gas or mason work can be avoided.
Gas and wood fireplaces will likely require professional and considerably more work to install brand new units. A gas fireplace will require new ventilation, new gas lines, and certain wiring work. Altogether, it is a detailed project best left to the pros. Gas is dangerous and shouldn’t be part of a DIY project.
A wood fireplace can be the most difficult or easy to install, depending on what already exists. If an existing chimney and fireplace just need some work, the installation will be easier. A cleaning, relining, and updating of hardware will be relatively simple.
If you need to install a brand new chimney, though, all bets are off for ease. Rigorous and time-consuming masonry is required to construct a safe fireplace.
Which Is Better for Outdoors?
Having a fireplace outdoors can provide a great gathering spot for a home. Wood and gas fireplaces can be permanently installed outdoors to improve property value, too.
If you plan on burning a fireplace outdoors, then the best option may overall be wood. Outdoor wood-burning fireplaces require only a place to burn the wood. No infrastructure to abate smoke is required. This will make it more cost-efficient and easier to use. The only required resources will be some solid firewood and the skills to start it up.
More heavy-duty outdoor wood fireplaces can be built outside for more money, but these are more permanent. If you truly feel up to it, a solid DIY project could get an outdoor wood fireplace running. Permanent outdoor wood fireplaces can be covered and given a chimney to make them resistant to almost any weather. Further, this can provide a new unique place to cook pizzas and other food.
Routing a gas fireplace outdoors is possible but less versatile. Professional work is required to put in gas lines, but these can be an efficient, easy-to-use outdoor option. Builders can use outdoor-rated supplies to make the gas fireplace weather-resistant. An outdoor fireplace is less versatile than a wood one but better if little effort is wanted for an instant outdoor gathering spot.
Electric fireplaces are, unfortunately, not well suited for the outdoors at all. Because of the sensitive electronics on board, they would not hold up to any inclement weather. Further, they are not efficient enough to maintain a steady stream of the heat outside.
What Is the Environmental Rating of Each?
All combustion will release unwanted gasses into the environment. Even electric fireplaces will produce greenhouse gases unless wholly sourced from renewables. Of these types of fireplaces, though, the most efficient ones will be highest-rated for the environment.
Natural gas burns relatively cleanly and will not contribute to nano-particle pollutants like wood burning. Both gas and wood release greenhouse gases into the environment. Electric fireplaces likely release emissions, too. Unless on a fully renewable grid, any electricity used to power an electric fireplace will be sourced from a fossil fuel source.
If all one wants to do is occasionally use a fireplace, the environmental impacts will be minimal. Other behaviors such as flying and travel emit many more pollutants. For frequent use, though, gas may be the best.
Natural Gas Wins the Environmental Rating
Because gas burns so efficiently, less of it is needed to heat a space. This provides the most tremendous heat potential for the least amount of pollutants. Wood fires are less efficient and consume more natural resources to keep going at length.
For large spaces, look to gas fireplaces for efficiency. For small areas without gas lines, a wood-burning stove is more efficient to heat a room. Electric fireplaces are only best for already heated homes that don’t need a new steady stream of warmth.
What’s the Average Lifespan of Each?
The lifespan of a wood or gas fireplace will be longer than an electric one. Electric fireplaces can be reliable but are prone to burning out. This is more likely because the instrumentation is more delicate and fine-tuned in an electric fireplace.
A gas fireplace or wood fireplace can last virtually forever, though. Regular maintenance will keep a chimney and fireplace in working order for years down the line for wood fireplaces. As long as the chimney liner is safe and the flue works properly, a wood fireplace will require little intervention.
Wood-burning fireplaces are about as reliable as they come to get going and have almost no moving parts that can wear down with stress, such as electronics.
Gas fireplaces can also last a long time, but they are more sensitive than a wood fireplace. Gas lines must be inspected to ensure they are in working order, and ignition devices must be maintained and replaced.
As long as regular easy maintenance is kept up with for gas and wood fireplaces, there is no doubt that they will last as long as the home itself. In contrast, electric fireplaces will only last as long as their components do. While less expensive to maintain and install, they will break down more often and need to be replaced in their entirety.
Which Has a Better Resale Value?
Installing a new fireplace in any home can dramatically increase resale value. If a new chimney was established for a fireplace, that value could be put right back into your home. Sale prices down the road could immediately reflect that investment.
If this chimney is then maintained and shown to be effective, that can further improve the resale values of a home. Keeping a wood-fire chimney in safe working order will not only keep it safe but will make it more appealing to home buyers down the road.
Ornate masonry can also bump up a sale value. A unique fixture in the hearth of a home is a comforting amenity, especially if it is working. Fireplaces can be works of art as much as utilities.
If your new fireplace is gas or electric, resale values are not as high. A new ventilation unit for a gas fireplace and new gas lines will be the next best investment in a home’s future price. These new utilities can be worth a lot when kept in working order and are highly appealing to a prospective buyer.
Including a fireplace option in a home is a versatile way to increase home value. Proper maintained chimneys and fireplaces are a direct investment in home value.
Electric, however, does not have as much resale value. Because it is simply a standalone unit that does not require new ventilation and has no options to upgrade down the road, only the unit’s price could be accounted for that. Brand new wood chimneys and gas lines will have the most significant impact on a home’s price.
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