Top 10 Home Remodeling Don'ts -
from our friends at Houzz
December 17, 2017
A Wood-burning or Gas-fueled Fireplace - which is best for you?
January 10, 2015
Dancing flames and crackling wood are warming to the body and soul. But looks can be deceiving. Wood-burning fireplaces can actually lose more heat than they generate. Then there are air-quality concerns and maintenance issues to consider. Purists moan about the antiseptic nature of gas fireplaces. Are they truly soulless? Or is it time to consider making a switch?
J&M Construction can help you decide which type of fireplace is best for you and your home. Here are 6 issues to consider.
1. The Sensory Experience
Wood-burning fireplaces win in the character category: they offer the snap, crackle, and pop (and the possibility of roasting a marshmallow over the flames) that gas-fueled fires can't match.
That said, advances in gas fireplaces are putting their characterless reputation to rest. Flames have become more realistic (some even offer variable height adjustment), and ceramic logs better resemble the real thing. All that's missing is the sound and smell (wait long enough and there may be an app for that).
Made of ceramic or refractory cement, gas logs come in a variety of lifelike wood styles, complete with glowing embers. Here are two examples in ceramics:
2. Heating Efficiency
Great at creating ambiance, traditional wood-burning fireplaces are poor performers: When it comes to heating, they get only about a 15 percent efficiency rating. Wood fires do get very hot—upwards of 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit—but most of that heat disappears up the chimney. To make matters worse, as the hot air rises, it creates a draft that pulls warm air from other parts of the house up the chimney with it.
With energy-efficiency ratings between 75 and 99 percent, depending on the type of appliance used, gas fireplaces are the winner in the heating category. They come in three types: log sets that sit in existing open fireplaces, inserts that can be installed in most masonry fireplaces, and complete new built-in fireplaces. Inserts and built-in gas fireplaces are the best heat producers, filling rooms with a mix of warm air and radiant heat.
Air quality is another consideration. Wood-burning fireplaces create particle pollution indoors and out. That woodsy smell can actually be a health and environmental hazard.
Above: According to the EPA, traditional wood-burning fireplaces emit 28 pounds of particulants per MMBTU (one million BTUs) of heat output as opposed to natural gas, which produces up to 99 percent less (about 0.28 pounds per MMBTU). Simple math suggests that wood-burning fireplaces are 100 times more polluting than gas. Diagram courtesy of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
4. Cleaning and Maintenance
The soot and ash that are by-products of wood-burning fireplaces require frequent cleaning.
Above: Rooms with open wood-burning fireplaces are susceptible to soot being blown inside when air gusts come down the chimney. Also air flow to the wood, necessary for good burning, is restricted by soot buildup at the base of the fireplace (photograph via The Greenwich Hotel).
Wood-burning fireplaces bring the burden of chimney maintenance that gas fireplaces don't have. Burning wood creates creosote, which accumulates on the lining of the chimney and becomes a fire hazard. Chimneys should be checked annually and will need to be cleaned periodically to prevent this buildup. The EPA also recommends checking chimneys inside and out for cracks that can allow smoke to enter a house or expose the chimney’s components to high temperatures that may cause a fire.
Gas fireplaces require little more than a dusting, a boon for the neatnik. They're not, however, maintenance free: It's recommended that gas fireplaces be cleaned and adjusted annually by a professional to ensure safe and efficient operation.
Gas fireplaces trump wood-burning fireplaces in ease of operation, starting with the fuel source: Wood has to be stored and is bulky and dirty; a cord is four-feet tall, four-feet deep, and eight-feet wide. Gas is fed through a pipe and no storage is required. That said, if you don't have natural gas in your area, propane is the alternative gas and it requires a bulky tank for storage.
Fire-start with push-button ease if you have a gas fireplace—some even come with remotes (though, we admit, that seems a bit sterile). And they roar on until you turn them off. Wood-burning fireplaces, on the other hand, require wood stacking, lighting, and tending. A ritual that's part of the whole experience or a nuisance? Only you can decide.
The cost of operating wood-burning and gas fireplaces is relatively low. A cord of wood is anywhere between $200 and $400, depending on your location and the type and condition of wood. Natural gas runs from $0.20 to $0.40 per hour for an average gas fireplace. Variations depend on the BTU rating of your burner.
Gas fireplaces can have a positive effect on overall heating costs by enabling you to turn down the central heating down and use the gas fireplace to heat a frequently used room. Zone heating also reduces the amount of money spent heating rooms that sit unused. Conversely, using central heat while burning wood in a fireplace can make your heater to work harder to maintain temperatures throughout
Wood-Burning Vs. Gas Fireplace Recap
Benefits of a wood-burning fireplace:
Wood is a renewable fuel source
Offers character to a room
Ritual of making and tending a fire
Creates an unmatchable ambiance
Benefits of a gas fireplace:
Requires virtually no cleaning and little maintenance