If you ask most homeowners or potential homeowners if they want a fireplace in their home, most would answer a resounding, “Yes”! The thought of gathering around a crackling fireplace on a cold evening, reading, talking, or simply contemplating is very attractive. However, all fireplaces are not the same. Today, options range from real wood burning, to gas, to electric. There are all types of styles. In addition, the efficiencies and maintenance of each can be quite different. Let’s explore some of the more popular fireplace options available including the pros and cons of installing each type in your home.
As mentioned above, you have many different options when deciding on a fireplace to install in your home. The more common options include:
- Traditional wood-burning
There are also wood burning stoves as well as pellet-burning stoves to consider. Here are the pros and cons of each type of fireplace:
Traditional Wood-Burning: There are three different types of what we might consider as the traditional fireplace:
- Traditional open hearth: This is what most people think of when they think of a fireplace. Constructed from stone or brick, you can feel the heat from a traditional fireplace if you are very close to it. However, this type of fireplace is not recommended if you want to heat an entire room, as they are not very energy efficient. In addition, you will need to purchase real wood and clean the fireplace after every use. Your chimney will need to be cleaned and checked every year in order to prevent internal chimney fires. So, although the traditional fireplace is very romantic, there is a fair amount of work that goes with maintaining it so that it works safely.
- Enclosed fireplace: This type of fireplace is similar to the open-hearth version, except it is enclosed by glass. It actually provides more warmth to the room and, if you add what is known as a heat-a-lator, you can have the heat from the fire gently vented into the room.
- Fireplace inserts: Here, you take a fireplace insert designed for your type of fireplace and install it. The insert makes the traditional fireplace work more efficiently.
Gas-fed Fireplace: Many homeowners prefer the gas-fed fireplace simply for the ease of use and low maintenance. Gas-fed fireplaces are more energy efficient than your traditional wood-burning fireplace. Here, no wood is needed. You simply turn the fireplace on with an electric switch located near the fireplace.
Electric Fireplace: The electric fireplace is probably the most energy efficient fireplace available. Easy to install, like the gas-fed fireplace, turning on the electric version is as simple as flicking on a switch. With an electric fireplace, you can keep the venting on to fill a room up with heat, or turn it off so that you can continue to enjoy the fireplace itself without getting too warm.
Wood-burning stoves, although not a fireplace, do provide the warmth and ambiance that any one of the fireplaces listed above do. However, a wood-burning stove does require you to set it on a non-flammable base, such as stone or brick, as well as needing a pipe to vent the smoke to the outside. There are also pellet-burning stoves. Relatively inexpensive to install and use, pellet wood stoves are highly energy efficient, but they do require weekly cleaning and have more expensive parts than a regular wood-burning stove.
Each type of fireplace and stove is installed differently. As a result, the amount of work that needs to be done and the cost of doing the work varies greatly. Installing a traditional fireplace in new construction is fairly easy. Simply design it and have the contractor’s build it for you (or build it yourself). However, if you want to add a traditional fireplace to an existing home then you will be experiencing a lot of construction and cost. Traditional wood burning fireplaces require venting to the outside through a chimney. This is a significant renovation project that may or may not be worthwhile to pursue.
If you are not set on having a real stone or masonry built fireplace, another option is to install a pre-fabricated fireplace. Cost of installation is significantly less than the traditional method, plus you have the added advantage of installing a unit that has increased efficiency for heating, as much as 20%. This is a tremendous cost savings!
Installing an insert into either a traditional wood-burning or pre-fabricated fireplace is even more cost effective and energy efficient. Your options are to install a wood burning insert or a gas-fed insert. A wood-burning insert added to your fireplace will increase your energy efficiency up to 85% and may produce enough heat to warm your entire house. In comparison, gas-fed inserts, although energy efficient, are only about half, or less than 45% as efficient as the wood-burning version.
Any type of fireplace does pose a safety risk because you are dealing with fire. Fires spread quickly and if a fireplace is not installed or maintained correctly, it may result in structural damage and possibly loss of life.
Here are some common sense strategies that HouseLogic.com suggests that you take when you have a fireplace in your home:
- Burn firewood and only firewood. Don’t use your fireplace to burn garbage. Don’t burn wood that is wet, painted, or any items with chemicals. It is ok to use a wood starter product, but then add real wood to it.
- Burn clean, dry firewood. Some of the recommended woods to burn in a fireplace include: white oak, hickory, white ash, and sugar maple.
- Store firewood properly. It is ok to stack your firewood and cover it with a tarp. Just leave the sides of the pile open so that air can flow through it.
- Keep the damper closed. When you are not using your fireplace, keep the fireplace damper closed to prevent cold air from coming into your house.
- Bi-fold glass doors. If you have bi-fold glass doors on your fireplace, check the manufacturer’s directions on whether to keep the glass doors open or closed when you have a fire in the fireplace.
- Clean your chimney. Have a professional chimney sweep clean your chimney at least once a year, twice a year if you use your fireplace a lot.
And, regardless if you have a fireplace or wood burning or pellet burning stove in your house, install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Read the instructions on each unit to learn the best places to locate the detectors throughout your home.