Weighing the pros and cons of wood vs. gas vs. electric fireplaces
Once upon a time, fireplaces were often the primary source of heat in a home. Today, most fireplaces are used more for ambiance than for sustaining life. When it comes to choosing a decorative fireplace, there are three main types: wood-burning, gas, and electric, and there are pros and cons to each.
For millennia, humans have gathered around wood-burning fires. Frankly, nothing beats the crackle, pop, and hissing of a wood fire for ambiance, and who doesn’t find themselves mesmerized by the flickering flames?
But wood-burning fireplaces do require some legwork. For one, firewood needs to be seasoned—i.e. allowed to dry after it’s cut—for at least six months before you burn it. Otherwise, there will be too much moisture in the wood and you’ll end up with a smoky fire. You can buy seasoned wood from suppliers, but you’ll need to store it in a dry, sheltered area to ensure it doesn’t get wet before you use it.
Then you have to dispose of the ash when your fire has burnt out, which can be a messy chore.
A bigger concern, though, is the risk of fire spreading beyond the fireplace. According to fire marshals’ data, chimney fires account for about five per cent of the home fires in Canada. That’s why it’s recommended that you have your chimney inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary.
On the upside, a fireplace or wood-stove in the home ensures you have a source of heat even when the power is out.
IT’S A GAS
Today, gas inserts are a far-more common choice than wood-burning fireplaces. The reason is simple: with the push of a button you have instant heat, without having to store firewood or clean up the ashes afterwards.
Most modern units can also be vented directly out an exterior wall instead of up a chimney, meaning they can be placed almost anywhere you’d like on the inside. (There are zoning restrictions that require the exterior vent to be a minimum distance from the property line, and that can be an issue on narrow city lots.)
Design-wise, you can choose from models that try to mimic the look of a natural fire—complete with “glowing” logs—or opt for a modern design, with polished glass beads or other items to reflect the light.
Obviously, you’ll need to have natural gas service at your home to install a gas fireplace, but if you already have multiple fixtures drawing from the supply (furnace, water heater, stove, etc.), you may need to upgrade your meter. If you do vent a gas-fireplace up an existing chimney, you may also need to install a liner.
ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA
Electric fireplaces have come a long way from the tacky faux-log units people bought in the 1970s. They’re also a versatile option with plug-and-play models that you can move from room to room, or built-ins that can be hardwired and installed on any wall in any room of the house.
As with gas fireplaces, you can choose units that do a decent job of mimicking a real fire, including scorch-marked logs, or pick an ultra-modern design with coloured light shows.
Some of the most realistic-looking ones I’ve seen are made by Dimplex. Their Opti-Myst units use water vapour to add a smoke-like effect to the faux-flickering flames. Since they can be operated without the heat, they’re great for families with small children.