Thinking of getting a fireplace? Here’s everything you need to know to make up your mind.
Before you explore the world of modern fireplaces, there are a few things to consider:
Do you need a heating source? Traditional wood-burning and gas fireplaces can create an authentic atmosphere, but they’re inefficient in terms of heating. Electric fireplaces fall in the middle of the heating capacity, acting as elegant space heaters. Stoves and fireplace inserts are incredibly efficient in terms of heating.
Does your house/apartment have a chimney? If it doesn’t, skip to vent-free fireplaces, fireplace stoves or electric fireplaces.
Are you willing/allowed to tinker with the house? Gas fireplaces will require installing additional pipes within the walls. Vent-free fireplaces will require you to build a pipe that leads to an exterior wall of the house. For apartment renters, stoves and electric fireplaces are the most practical, non-commital solutions.
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Electric Fireplaces: Costs, Efficiency, Installation
Electric fireplaces don’t require venting, which means you can plug it into an existing outlet without having to connect it to the venting or chimney system. Due to their plug and play nature, electric fireplace inserts are becoming a big category among town home, condo and apartment owners. Since they don’t require you to build a venting pipe towards the exterior of the house, most anyone can get one.
Almost all electric fireplaces have some sort of heating element built into them, so they’re not purely decorative. Essentially, electric fireplace inserts are space heaters that come with a nice display of fire, even if it doesn’t quite match up to the show a traditional fireplace can put on.
As a piece of furniture, electric fireplaces make for a terrific addition. The fire display comes in a variety of shades—from surface-of-the-sun red to mystical blue. You can insert an electric fireplace into a masonry fireplace opening, put it on a cupboard or even mount it on a wall.
An electric fireplace costs $700 to $800 on average. Electric fireplaces burn through $1.84 worth of electricity every 8 hours, or $5.52 per 24 hours. As electric fireplaces can be installed in pretty much every way imaginable, the installation costs can vary from $0 to thousands of dollars.
Traditional Wood-Burning Fireplaces: Costs, Efficiency
As a heating source, traditional wood-burning fireplaces are only about 15% efficient. This means that most of the heat generated by traditional fireplaces is wasted, making heating slow and costly. Old boilers and furnaces are about 56% to 70% efficient, while modern conventional heating systems can achieve up to 98% efficiency. Compared to that, wood-burning fireplaces are very inefficient.
Nothing quite like a real fire in the living room, though. To light a fire, you have to bring the wood in. When the night is over, leftovers of ash will fill your room with an authentic aroma. You’ll have to clean the ash, too. These little manual tasks can feel pleasantly refreshing in our rapidly digitizing world.
Open-hearth traditional fireplaces often cost over $10,000 to build. Since wood-burning fireplaces are not used as primary heating sources, the only ongoing costs will be the logs you’ll burn.
Gas Fireplaces: Costs, Efficiency
Gas fireplaces look and feel similar to their traditional wood-burning counterparts. The only difference is that they burn gas, not wood. There’s a gas burner installed below the fireplace which generates the fire. A ceramic log inside the fireplace helps create an authentic feeling. Gas fireplaces are up to 77% heat efficient, which makes them much more practical than wood-burning alternatives.
Most gas fireplaces are much less efficient than that on average. The advantage gas fireplaces have over traditional fireplaces is that you don’t have to clean them after each fire.
A real-life gas fireplace experiment has shown that these fireplaces are relatively cheap to run. Combining both gas and electricity costs, it costs about $0.12 per hour to run a gas fireplace. If you’re going to use this as the main heating source, the gas fireplace would cost you about $2.85 on medium fan and heat setting.
On average, the full installation of a gas fireplace costs $6,550. With no extra finish and an existing gas pipeline, the installation can cost as low as $3,650, whereas extra finish and installing a gas line will boost the costs to $7,800.
Gas and Wood Fireplace Inserts: Costs, Efficiency, How They Work
Fireplace inserts combine the efficiency of a furnace with the authentic feeling of a fireplace. Inserts are essentially small rectangle fireplace that’s built into an existing opening in your house. Unlike a traditional furnace, a fireplace insert has a ceramic glass door that lets you observe the fire. Other than that, the fireplace is completely sealed off from the room.
Two tubes connect a fireplace insert with the chimney. One brings in the outside air for combustion, while the second liner drains the non-efficient hot air (or smoke, depending on the type of the insert) back outside.
Both wood-burning and gas inserts cost around $3,000 to $4,000, installation and other setup costs included. Gas fireplace inserts are usually 70-82% heat efficient. You can expect to pay 10% to 40% less for heating, compared to their respective traditional fireplace counterparts.
Wood and Pellet Stoves: Costs, Efficiency, Installation
Freestanding stoves are a good alternative for those who don’t have a wall where they could insert a fireplace. They can easily be set up in a few hours, and don’t require you to build anything.
Stoves are compact and can be moved around. The large ones are the size of a bedside cupboard. Much like fireplace inserts, they have a glass door. Stoves come with tubes that can be connected to the nearest ventilating system. A sealed fireplace unit, a stove is about 70% to 80% efficient.
An interesting thing about free-standing stoves is that they’re gravity-fed. Unlike fireplace inserts—which depend on electricity to pump air in and out—fireplace stoves will work in a power outage. In terms of its heating power, a stove won’t heat up the whole house, but it will heat up the room you sit in nicely.
Free-standing stoves are either fueled by wood logs or wood pellets. The latter are small granulas composed of sawdust or small wood chips. By rationing the pellet intake, this type of free-standing stove will emit heat consistently over many hours—much like a furnace would. A wood-burning stove will emit excessive heat in a short time period before quickly cooling off, unless you keep burning wood.
A real-world experiment showed pellet stoves to cost around $0.29 per hour or $6.72 per 24 hours to run. Wood-burning counterparts should cost approximately the same, but it really depends on how much you burn. If you fire up your wood burner every evening, 3-4 cubic meters should last you through the winter. A cubic meter of logs costs $120 to $150, depending on the quality of the logs.
High-quality wood stoves cost $3,000 to $4,000. Installation costs can vary, but homeowners report they spent an average of $1,650 on stove installation. This includes the chimney/stovepipe installation. It costs about $250 a year to clean out your ventilation pipes to avoid fire hazard or spread of toxic materials.
Vent-free (No Chimney) Fireplaces: Costs, Efficiency
If you don’t have a fireplace or a chimney going through the house, a vent-free fireplace is what you want. They can either be built into the room or on the outside of the existing exterior wall. It doesn’t require masonry chimney or anything of the sort. The direct vent system runs through a vent pipe horizontally towards a metal “mini chimney” installed on the exterior wall of the house. Smoke and hot air leaves out the back, not through the roof.
Ventless fireplaces cost as much as their chimney-connected counterparts. A traditional wood-burning ventless fireplace can cost over $10,000 to build, while the gas equivalent costs $6,550 on average. Both ventless wood-burning and gas fireplaces cost $3,000 to $4,000, plus the installation.
Don’t know which one to choose? Share this article with your spouse or housemate and let them help you decide!