Although in general, all fireplaces have the same basic functions (producing flames, heat and light), specific applications can vary significantly from one situation to the next. Choosing a type of fireplace and deciding where to place it in your home is a process that requires consideration of design aesthetics, installation and fuel costs, efficiency, convenience and safety features. Use these criteria to help you analyze each of the major types of fireplace introduced in this article and decide which is best for your space.
You may be surprised to know that classic wood-burning fireplaces are also big energy hogs that can suck more heat out of your home than they put into it. If you want to use your fireplace for heating, you’ll need to design it with efficiency and heat conservation in mind. This can easily be done by using a prefabricated energy-efficient model (which can have a fuel efficiency of 75 percent, making it a fairly effective heater) or with the addition of aspects such as:
- A chimney balloon to keep warm air from leaking through the damper when you’re not using the fireplace
- Glass doors to limit the amount of room air that can fly out the chimney
- A circulation system to pull heat from the fire out into the room
Classic wood-burning fireplaces are also great at other things, such as lending your home character, off-grid heating potential and a cozy atmosphere. They do, however, require skilled labor and considerable quantities of brick or stone, making them the most expensive fireplace to install. Other considerations to keep in mind when choosing this fireplace are the amount of wood you’ll have to provide to keep it running and the required maintenance (such as sweeping out the ashes).
Here you can choose between natural-gas-fueled and propane-gas-fueled fireplaces. These both use an outside source of efficient, clean-burning fuel. Natural gas is more common, and the main reason to choose propane is because you’re in an area without access to natural gas pipelines. Both types are great at producing heat and avoiding wasted energy — meaning they can reduce your heating bills. You can also get gas fireplace “inserts,” which are installed directly into an existing masonry fireplace and can be between 80-99 percent efficient.
Whereas a wood fireplace is usually placed in the main room, gas fireplaces can be placed in just about any room (although they do require professional installation). Kitchens, bedrooms and even opulent bathrooms can benefit from the fascinating visual element and supplemental heat they lend. Another way gas fireplaces are more versatile is that they can be installed higher on the wall than wood-burning fireplaces, allowing you to enjoy them at eye level while also keeping them out of the reach of children.
Electric models are similar to gas and propane fireplaces in many ways. They’re efficient, eco-friendly and safer than wood-burning fireplaces. However, they do have some differences and extra features, such as:
- They don’t require professional installation
- You don’t need another energy source; just use your electrical outlets
- They’re less expensive to purchase and run than gas models
- They’re so portable you can move them between rooms or apartments, or even use one in an RV
- They have a longer life expectancy than gas-burning models
- They can produce “flames” without the heat function
- The flames aren’t actually hot, so they’re much safer for small children
A few of these features have downsides (for example, it’s great that electric fireplaces can just plug into the wall, but that also means they won’t work in a power outage). It’s still an extremely convenient and cost-effective type of fireplace, though, making it ideal if you prioritize these qualities over the old-fashioned fireplace experience.
Lighting up your home with year-round cheer, a fire feature is a great focal point for any room. Gathering your family around the fire can be a relaxing bonding experience — no matter what type of fireplace you choose. Ultimately, your budget, design aesthetic and primary goals in installing the fireplace will dictate which variety is able to do the job best.