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  • Jeff Russell

Gas or wood burning? Questions to ask yourself when choosing a new fireplace

From chilly still mornings to snowy winter nights, setting a fire ablaze in a wood stove or fireplace can add a coziness to your basement or family room that rivals little else. Adding natural warmth with fire has a calming effect that helps homeowners get through the most bitter of winters.

There are both pros and cons when it comes to choosing between a gas or wood burning fireplace. If you are considering a fireplace or wood stove, keep reading as we outline some of the considerations to assist in helping you make this decision.

It’s worth mentioning that sometimes the decision largely relies on the room you are looking to install a new fireplace in. Some homeowners decide to install one of each in different rooms of their home, which is also an option.

Wood burning fireplaces:

You love the look of a real fire and the ambience it brings to the room, but is it right for you? One of the main questions to consider when thinking about installing a wood burning fireplace or stove is where to access a source of wood. Although it may seem obvious, one of the biggest hurdles to using a wood burning fireplace is having a supply of wood to pull from. Another consideration to think through is where you will store the wood, and how easily you can get the wood to the fireplace. For example, if you want a fireplace installed in your basement, but don’t have a walk-out, it may prove tiring to carry wood up and down your stairs anytime you want a fire. On the other hand, if you are thinking about installing a fireplace on your main floor close to your garage or porch, you will easily be able to keep wood close by.

Splitting wood, starting and maintaining a fire, and cleaning ashes all require work. Many people enjoy the rhythm and process of a real fire, but it is not for everyone. And, if you’re looking to utilize a fireplace primarily for heating purposes, it’s important to look at the size of the room you’re heating, and to understand how much heat your envisioned fireplace will put off. Some will come with fans to help circulate the warm air, and all will be rated for BTU’s (the amount of heat) they can produce as well as recommendations on the size of room or home they can heat.

Any newly installed wood burning fireplace, or wood stove, will have an enclosed firebox. This means the fire will take in air from the outside, as opposed to taking it directly from your home, having its own dedicated supply of air. This helps prevent back drafting of other gas appliances in your home (water heater, furnace, etc.), and assures safe burning without the chance of carbon monoxide being pulled in from the other appliances. Newer models are also much more efficient. Some of the new wood burning stoves and fireplaces boast 75-80% efficiency, versus a traditional fireplace that loses 80-90% of its heat up the chimney. This means they heat rooms more effectively and efficiently. The EPA uses an HHV rating system and stoves that meet a 75% or greater HHV rating qualify for a tax credit. So, you may pay more, but save in the process.

Wood burning fireplaces bring a specific type of ambience; from the glow of the fire, to the crackling sound, to the slight smell of wood smoke they bring with them, a wood burning fireplace can be an immersive experience, but they also bring a greater commitment with them. You must be willing to replenish your wood source, start the fire, and keep up with feeding the fire and cleaning out the ashes.

Gas fireplaces:

When choosing a gas fireplace, what you see is what you get. There is a variation in the efficiency, but most gas units will be efficient, and therefore you will primarily be choosing a gas fireplace based on look. Take your time looking at models in a showroom so you can choose the exact one you want. Turn it on and off right there in the store and picture exactly what it will look like in your home.

Some gas fireplaces are installed purely for ambience. Homeowners who enjoy the look of a fire can easily flip on a switch and enjoy the view of their fire anytime they wish.

Other gas fireplaces are designed as a heating appliance and can radiate a lot of heat. Oftentimes, the heat is controlled by a switch or thermostat which is not the case with a wood burning fireplace.

In terms of installation costs, a gas fireplace is generally cheaper for the fireplace itself, but once the framing, stone, mantle, and hearth are added, the cost is very similar to a wood burning fireplace or stove.

So which to buy?

Gas fireplaces are, simply put, much more convenient than a wood burning fireplace. A simple flick of the switch will set the fire ablaze, as opposed to dealing with lighting and stoking a real fire. However, a wood burning fireplace offers an ambience and warmth that a gas fireplace simply cannot replace. And, if you have a source of wood, cheaper as well.

Consider where you’d like to install your fireplace and how often you plan to use it. Think through what your highest priorities are with a fireplace, and make your decision from there. Need some help deciding what type of fireplace you’d like? Let’s schedule an initial consultation to see how we can best help.

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