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Electric Vs. Wood-Burning Fireplace: How They Match Up

By on Feb 4, 2016
Electric Vs. Wood-Burning Fireplace: How They Match Up

Heat costs are rising and a terrific way to stick it to the gas companies is by using heat from your brand new wood-burning or electric fireplace. Whether it’s the smell of the wood burning as you finish the last Malcolm Gladwell book or the warmth you get from the electric version as you watch American Idol, fireplaces serve many purposes and can greatly increase the value of your home. Like many other home improvement projects, there are a few fireplace types homeowners much research before making the purchase. Fortunately, we are breaking down all the advantages and disadvantages of a wood-burning and an electric fireplace.

Wood-Burning

Most homeowners who search for a new fireplace will begin with traditional wood-burning models. They allow for the enjoyment of seasonal sounds and the smell of burning wood. Fireplaces that burn wood are typically constructed of brick or stone and usually require the work of a mason.

Wood-Burning Fireplace Advantages 

The greatest advantage of a wood-burning fireplace is the scent and romance it can bring to any living room in America. Given that this fireplace is completely independent of the energy sources in your home, it can greatly decrease your utility bills. As far as ongoing expenses related to a wood-burning fireplace, you are in complete control. Depending on your location, you may not even have to purchase wood. Just walk outside. Wood is also a renewable resource, whereas gas and electricity may not be one day. If you are thinking green for the long-term, both in terms of nature and money, wood is the long-term way to go.

If that is enough convincing, see what you can expect to pay for a wood-burning fireplace by checking out our chimney and fireplace cost estimators.

Wood-Burning Fireplace Disadvantages

Wood-burning fireplaces are the most expensive among fireplace additions/installations. If your local contractor has to put in a chimney or make sure your new fireplace complies with local laws and codes, a new fireplace installation could cost more than $10,000. Furthermore, even looking back at one of the advantages, the heating source could be a problem depending on where you call home. Buying wood can get expensive if you are depending on this fireplace for your heat source or if you don’t have easy access to available wood.

Another key disadvantage of wood-burning fireplaces is their inefficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency reports "…most traditional open fireplaces lose over 90 percent of the heat out of the chimney along with much of the heated air in the room." Homeowners generally install wood-burning fireplace inserts to prevent hot air from leaving or cold air from entering the home.

Also, compared to an electric fireplace, wood-burning devices can get dirty, requiring more maintenance on your end. Extra maintenance, both in terms of cleaning the chimney and finding a heating source, is another great disadvantage wood-burning fireplaces present.

Electric

Electric fireplace units are portable and can be moved from room to room. They are available in a variety of finishes to give the appearance of wood, brick or even stone. They look great in almost any of our 6 Hot Fireplace Design Ideas.

Electric Fireplace Advantages 

Electric fireplaces are easy and cheap to install and do not require home renovation, which allows renters to enjoy the benefits of installing a fireplace without making alterations to the property. As the cheapest among all the fireplaces, electric units may only cost a few hundred dollars. Given their size, electric fireplaces are ideal for small apartments, condos or any other home where a chimney is out of the question.

Many electrical units also offer the ability to enjoy the appearance of the flickering flame and glowing logs without producing heat. This feature is useful for creating a cozy ambiance in a room when the weather is too warm for a fire (not something we have to worry about in Chicago). To enjoy the look of having a fireplace without the need to purchase wood or fuel, an electric fireplace can be a great option.

Electrical units are much more convenient than wood-burning fireplaces. They are much easier to start, as you just have to turn a switch. After the flame is lit, electric fireplaces give you much more control over the level of heat compared to a wood-burning unit. An additional convenience is the energy source. There is no need to go out back and chop wood.

Finally, if you have children, electric fireplaces are a safer bet. Parents don’t have to worry about large flames or ashes flying from the fireplace near their children or pets.

Electric Fireplace Disadvantages

If you care about the natural feel and smell of a fireplace, then electrical units are not for you. Especially in rustic homes, many want that smell and crackle you get from wood-burning fireplaces. That won’t be evident with an electrical fireplace. 

Additionally, while the upfront costs should be much cheaper than wood-burning fireplaces, it can be more expensive to maintain, especially since it is tied to your electric bill. Utility bills are already on the rise and an electric fireplace will not help.

Finally, given that you are dealing with electricity, electric fireplaces are not ideal for the outdoors because they can’t get wet. You can build a cover for your fireplace, but that would drive up your initial costs.

If you enjoyed reading this article, then you will want to see our chimney and fireplace cost estimators.


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