Fireplace inserts to convert wood burning fireplace

Energy-Efficient Alternatives to a Wood-Burning Fireplace

There is nothing better in autumn or winter when heating your home than the smell, and the crackle of a wood-burning fire. Many of us grew up enjoying this with our families. So why would you want to consider other options like fireplace inserts?

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 the fire creates and siphons off some of the heated indoor air of your house, as stated by the EPA.  Therefore, NOT an efficient method of heating your living space.

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.

3 Energy-Efficient Fireplace Inserts Alternatives

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 have a working chimney and hearth inside your home. Let’s learn more about these options.

Electric Fireplace Insert

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-burning 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 Of Fireplace Inserts

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

comparison of 3 wood burning fireplace alternatives

As a homeowner you need to decide on the features you need:

  1. Do you need a source of extra heat?
  2. Do you want to create a nice atmosphere, but do not need extra heating?
  3. consider the size of the fireplace opening to see what will fit.
  4. installation requirements, DIY or professional help needed.