Fireplace surround

Fireplace: How to Choose Gas, Wood, or Electric

Posted on Posted in Home Improvement

There were a couple of different reasons why we wanted a fireplace.  1.)  Our first floor was cold.  That’s a pretty good reason, huh?  Our house is three stories tall (all with one furnace/AC), so the third floor tends to get uncomfortably hot while the first floor is freezing.  The fireplace in the living room on the first place helped dramatically with that.  2.)  It added wonderful ambience, and it fit right in with our plan of fireplace/hearth/built in shelves combo.  This fireplace was the second direct vent fireplace I’ve installed, and I am 100% confident it won’t be the last.  While it was an easy decision this time what fireplace option to install, it took a lot of time to research all the fireplace options in our last house.

When we looking to purchase our current house in July 2014, we were excited about using the wood burning fireplace.  We had a fireplace inspection prior to buying the house and totally burst that bubble.  The inspector cleaned the fireplace and took some pictures down the chimney while standing on the roof.  He showed me some very grainy and dark photos on his digital camera and told me that the venting needed to be replaced.  Of course, that’s what the chimney cleaner and salesman would say…  But, we didn’t want to take a chance with it considering it was installed in the mid 80’s.  Thus, we had a blank slate on what type of fireplace to install.

Fast forward to the direct vent installation… I took out all the stainless venting from the first floor all the way to the roof, and it was in impressively good condition.  The inside of the inner pipe was dark in color from combustion but really not much build up of creosote.  I can’t say I was surprised, and it really wouldn’t have changed our mind on what type of fireplace to buy.  But, I still wasn’t pleased with that fireplace cleaner guy.  Looking back, he was just being a bit sleezy.

ANYWAY, this is how we chose our type of fireplace after sifting through all the options.

 

Electric Fireplace

The only fireplace option I was willing to cross off the list at the onset was electric.  I know that they are much more aesthetically pleasing these days than they were in the past, but I still wanted something a little more “real”.  I was only momentarily tempted by electric each time I walked by them at Lowes.  They can drop into place and only need an outlet to pump out the heat.  Tempting, but I just wasn’t willing to sacrifice the aesthetics.

Electric Fireplace
Electric fireplace style we were considering. This is so cheap at $300 from Home Depot!

Wood Burning Fireplace

I grew up with a wood burning stove and love the smell and sound of a real fire.  I really wanted to find a way to have a wood burning fireplace, but the chimney was too expensive considering the three stories.  The double walled stainless venting is about $40/ft.  We would need about 35 ft of it, so we’d be spending $1,400 just in venting not including any of the fittings or fireplace.  It just wasn’t cost effective.

I love wood burning fireplaces, however, I do remember falling asleep by the fire and waking up freezing because cold air would be pouring back into the house after the fire was out.  There are inserts that can significantly reduce this, but we also didn’t really want to deal with having to go bring firewood inside during the winter.  We also don’t have any space to store any logs that would be on deck.

Wood Burning Fireplace
My dream house will have a wood burning fireplace AND a direct vent fireplace. This wood burner is $585 from eFireplacestore.com.

Ethanol Fireplace

I crossed off the ethanol fireplace option by purchasing a relatively inexpensive one to see how we liked it.  The pic below is the one that we bought off of Amazon for $60.  It turns out that the fireplace is cheap, but to run it is about $5/hr.  The pic below is from Amazon.com, but the flame does look like that in person, too.  I think it looks nice, but it’s just too expensive to operator.  Additionally, you have to refill it about once an hour.  Also, I wasn’t very confident in the safety of storing and using a highly flammable liquid.  There’s a big warning on the unit that says to make sure to let it completely cool before adding more ethanol.  Overall, the fireplace was just too expensive to run, too much work to keep refilled and too much of a safety risk.

Options: Moda Ethanol Fireplace Option

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pellet Burning Fireplace

A pellet burning fireplace was very tempting at first because of its efficiency.  They burn at very high temperatures so there is very little ash left over and little creosote and emissions.  It’s dramatically more efficient than a fireplace where you have a wide open path for inside air to flow up the chimney and outside.  The good news about pellet burners is that you can vent them horizontally right out the wall, which is what we needed.  I ended up nixing this option to avoid having to go buy pellets.  Also, the purchase price was a little higher than what we were hoping to pay (spoiler alert: we bought a direct vent for about $1,100 including venting).

pellet burning fireplace insert
I was very tempted by the efficiency of a pellet burning fireplace. This insert from Home Depot is $2,000.

Unvented Gas Fireplace

I looked long and hard at unvented gas fireplaces.  The internet fed me a constant stream extremely negative reviews on the internet on “lung filtered” fireplaces, but I was extremely enticed by the 100% efficiency.  All of the heat as a product of combustion stays in the room (but unfortunately so does the combustion gases).  We have 10′ ceilings which would help disperse the gases.  Also, we have 2 stories above the first floor for the heat and gases to rise up through and disperse.  In the end, I was willing to accept about 30% less efficiency to avoid any health issues for my wife, who is asthmatic, and our two young kids.  It just wasn’t worth it.

In our last house which was 2,600 sq ft, all brick and impossible to keep warm in winter it might have made sense.  There was probably enough fresh air leaking in through doors and windows to keep the air ventilated.  But, again, I made the decision that it just wasn’t worth the health risks even if they aren’t as bad as people like to rant about.  And, trust me, internet folk love to rant about their “lung filtered” fireplaces.

Unvented would have been a little cheaper than direct vent and so incredibly much easier to install.  But, it wasn’t for us.

ventless or vent free fireplace.
This vent free fireplace is $1,100 from Homeclick, which is where we purchased from.

Direct Vent Gas

The direct vent fireplace option had good compromises for us.

  • It turns on with literally a switch.  It comes with a paddle switch to turn it off and on.  That is literally the easiest way to light a fire.  Unless you consider a smart home system to turn on the fire with voice command… but I’m not that sophisticated.
  • It is fairly economical to purchase.  We bought one of the cheapest versions at about $1,100 including everything needed for installation.  We bought exactly the same model for both houses off of Homeclick and had it shipped.  It has 18,000 BTU/hr with no bells or whistles.  You can purchase a remote control for about $200 or a blower for also about $200.  With both fireplaces, we did not get any bells or whistles, and I have zero regrets about that.
  • It is very economical to run.  18,000 BTU/hour is equal to .18004 therms/hr.  Laclede sells us natural gas at $.564/therm.  That comes out to $.102/hr.  We actually end up leaving it on all day during most of the winter.  If it’s on for 12 hr/day 30 days a month, that’s about $37.  I am quite happy with that math.
  • There is no negative impact on the indoor air quality.  All combustion gases are vented outside.  All air used for combustion is taken from outside.  The venting is double walled: combustion gases exit the fireplace through the inner tubing and incoming air flows between the inner tubing and outer tubing.
  • It looks great!  I like having a real flickering fire.  When the lights are dimmed, the dancing flame is very relaxing.
homeclick direct vent fireplace
Here’s the pic on Homeclick of the direct vent fireplace we’ve installed in two different houses.

For both houses that we installed this in, we purchased on Homeclick.com.  I wasn’t sure about them at first considering they only have an online presence.  But, some google searching with the word “scam” and “homeclick” didn’t seem to show that there were any major issues with them.  Plus, they are a Google trusted company.  I had never heard of that certification before this search process, but it did help ease my mind a bit.  We saved $100-$200 by watching the website for a week or two for any sales.  They have a new type of sale every couple of days, and some are better than others.

There’s no one right answer for which fireplace option is right for you, but hopefully this gives you some ideas to think about.

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