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 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.
Three Energy-Efficient 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.
1. Direct-Vent Gas Insert Hearth
2. Electric Fireplace Insert
3. Alcohol Gel Fireplace with Faux-Log Insert (Ventless)
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.
Here’s a comparison of wood-burning fireplaces vs. the other three choices:
As a homeowner you need to decide on the features you need:
- Do you need a source of extra heat?
- Do you want to create a nice atmosphere, but do not need extra heating?
- consider the size of the fireplace opening to see what will fit.
- installation requirements, DIY or professional help needed.