Fireplace

Energy-Efficient Alternatives to a Wood-Burning Fireplace

There is nothing better in winter and autumn in relation to heat, smell, and the crackle of a wood-burning fire in your home. It is an ancient, enviable and intimate family ritual for many.

The Problem With Burning Wood

Unfortunately, while wood-burning fireplaces are charming, they’re not all that great on the budget, your lungs or the environment! They can also be dangerous.

Conventional hearth chimneys waste about 90% of the heat a fire creates and siphons off some of the heated atmosphere of your house, as stated by the EPA. Not efficient.

Inhaling burning wood smoke is also as dangerous as smoking cigarettes; wood smoke is loaded with carcinogens like benzene.

Burning wood fuels global warming, too. Worse, the leftover soot is a heat-trapping pollutant.

Wood-burning hearths need a lot of maintenance, including a professional cleaning every other year along with regular ash clean-ups.

Three Energy-Efficient Alternatives

Electric Fireplace Insert

There are three popular alternatives to burning wood: gas fireplace inserts, alcohol fireplace inserts and electric fireplace inserts. All are great alternatives whether or not you are in possession of a working chimney and hearth.

1. Direct-Vent Gas Insert Hearth

gas insert fireplace

2. Electric Fireplace Insert

electric fireplace insert

3. Alcohol Gel Fireplace with Faux-Log Insert (Ventless)

alcohol gel fireplace insert

Note: if you are using any form of ventless heater, make sure you install a carbon monoxide detector in the same room. The device must satisfy UL 2034 security standards.

A Caution About Using Ventless and Alcohol Inserts

Ventless ethanol hearths use ethanol, which is frequently touted as a clean-burning alternative to wood and gasoline.

However, Ethanol emits nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide; some alcohol fuel gels also spew formaldehyde and benzene. They are also considered a fire hazard because they are highly flammable.

With any ventless fireplace (except for electric fireplace inserts which use no fluids to simulate fire), exercise caution if your house is tightly sealed. Since they are duct- and chimney-free, carbon monoxide and other nasties go airborne inside the house while sucking up oxygen. Some alcohol inserts also create water vapor, which can cause mold to develop. Ventless fireplaces are outlawed in Massachusetts and California and in a few municipalities.

Side-By-Side Comparison

Here’s a comparison of wood-burning fireplaces vs. the other three choices:

comparison of 3 wood burning fireplace alternatives