Pros and Cons of Different Types of Fireplaces

Jacqueline Zenn
Written by Jacqueline Zenn
Updated December 21, 2021
modern living room with fireplace
Photo: bmak / Adobe Stock

Deciding what type of fireplace to add or upgrade to isn’t a simple decision—but knowing these pros and cons can make the decision easier

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Once you decide to add a fireplace to your home or upgrade an existing fireplace, the plethora of choices might surprise you. Also, the number of decisions you must make regarding fuel options, the amount of light and warmth, and the aesthetics of this new primary feature or focal point all factor into your decision. Therefore, weighing the pros and cons of the different fireplaces before installing a new one is essential to the project’s success.

Types of Fireplaces

Fireplaces are the heart of the home and tend to be one of the key places people gather, so making sure yours is a welcoming spot is important. You also want it to ensure it’s safe and hazard-free, of course.

Wood-Burning Fireplaces

 wood burning in fireplace
Photo: DigitalVision / Getty Images

These are the most traditional types of fireplaces and have remained popular for a good reason. There is nothing like the crackle of a wood-burning fireplace, but this type of fireplace requires more upkeep than other options.

Pros of a Wood-Burning Fireplace

The appearance, scent, and sound of a wood-burning fireplace are a classic combination. When you think of a fireplace, you probably think of everyone gathered around the hearth in the winter while smoke rises from the chimney outside—there’s a definite “Hygge” or comfort and conviviality aspect to the draw of a wood-burning fireplace. Plus, depending on your climate, your home might accommodate one easily.

Cons of a Wood-Burning Fireplace

Wood-burning fireplaces require chimneys and the associated upkeep and the constant supply of fresh firewood and wood storage. Furthermore, they spit ash and embers into the room and require screens and other cleaning and maintenance, allowing warmth to escape the chimney; the heat a wood-burning fireplace provides tends to be minimal without adding elements to the flue to keep the warm air inside. And, if you don’t have one already, it can be extremely expensive to retrofit your house with a chimney.

Gas Fireplaces

burning logs gas fireplace
Photo: Вячеслав Косько / Adobe Stock

Gas fireplaces burn natural gas and are a popular alternative to wood-burning ones. It is relatively easy to convert wood fireplaces to gas if you already have a gas starter in place by adding gas logs. There are two primary gas fireplaces: vented gas fireplaces and ventless or direct vent gas fireplaces. 

Vented gas fireplaces function much like wood-burning or traditional fireplaces with a firebox vented through a chimney. With these fireplaces, you can use faux logs made of ceramic or other materials that mimic the appearance of natural wood or more modern options like glass beads. 

Ventless gas fireplaces have no venting, so they can sit directly against internal walls as long as they remain connected to a gas line. Since gas burns very cleanly and doesn’t produce carbon monoxide, ventless gas fireplaces can combust interior air, keeping all the heat they emit inside the home. Direct vent fireplaces work similarly, but they draw in air from the outside to combust.

Pros of a Gas Fireplace

One of the main reasons people prefer gas fireplaces is their clean, natural heat and relative ease of use; some gas fireplaces power on with the touch of a button and have an always-burning pilot light. They are also easy to fuel since gas fireplaces usually connect to the house’s natural gas line, and ventless gas or direct vent fireplaces do not require a chimney or flue.

Cons of a Gas Fireplace

They lack wood fireplaces’ romantic appeal and may make a home overly warm since all the heat from a gas fireplace stays inside. Also, some types of gas fireplaces may produce an unpleasant burning gas odor.

Electric Fireplaces

woman controlling electric fireplace
Photo: Pixel-Shot / Adobe Stock

There’s something to be said for the ease of having a roaring fire at the flick of a switch, and electric fireplaces are an increasingly affordable way to add ambiance to your home.

Pros of an Electric Fireplace

You can generally install these fireplaces in condos, apartments, or other dwellings where chimneys and vents are impossible to install. They’re simple to keep clean, easy to incorporate into your place, and a cinch to power since all you have to do is plug your electric fireplace into the wall outlet. 

Electric fireplaces come in a range of styles and price points, so there is sure to be something that fits your style and budget.

Cons of an Electric Fireplace

Electric fireplaces are more of an aesthetic choice than a practical one in many regards. 

They can get pricey for more elaborate versions and don’t offer the crackle or pleasant aroma of a wood-burning fireplace or provide the same amount of heat as a gas fireplace.

Ethanol Fireplaces

These modern, clean-burning fireplaces are relatively new on the market but are quickly becoming a modern option for homeowners.

Pros of an Ethanol Fireplace

Ethanol fireplaces don’t require any kind of venting; you can place them almost anywhere in a house. They usually have a bold blue flame and come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, so there is likely an ethanol fireplace that will work with any interior design style. 

Ethanol fireplaces provide less heat than most gas-powered options. Still, they can produce around 13,000 BTUs, which is generally enough to provide a little toastiness to most spaces, particularly if they are fairly small and cozy already.

Cons of an Ethanol Fireplace

Ethanol fireplaces require routine top-offs—and ethanol is highly flammable. So, while these fireplaces are perfectly safe, you must exercise caution when refilling an ethanol fireplace.

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