Curling up next to a warm fire in the fireplace on a cold day is so inviting. Some of us love the feel and aesthetics of a wood burning fireplace, while others prefer gas. In some cases, converting a wood burning fireplace to a gas fireplace is an option. 

If you do not already have a chimney and firebox in your home, the simplest solution is to add either a gas or electric fireplace. They both produce steady warmth and ambiance for the room with their cozy glow. But the way they look, and function are very different; because they look and function differently, you might have some decisions to make before you decide on one for your home.

There are differences between traditional wood burning fireplaces and either gas or electric fireplaces. Both gas and electric fireplaces come in a range of beautiful designs that can complement any home. Of the two, gas fireplaces have a more realistic, traditional look because the gas produces a flame you can see and heat you can feel. Electric fireplaces do not produce actual flames, but they still produce heat. In place of flames, they project an image of flaming logs on the back surface of the fire box. Depending on the model you purchase and its projection quality, the image can be either convincing or artificial in its appearance.

When it comes to energy-efficiency, both gas and electric fireplaces have a wide range depending on size and model. First, the BTU (British Thermal Unit) is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one-degree Fahrenheit. For our uses, it refers to how much energy a device uses to heat the air. Gas fireplaces use between 7,000 and 16,000 BTUs and are between 70 and 90% efficient at converting energy to heat, and cost around $60 a year to run. Electric fireplaces use between 5,200 and 8,900 BTUs and convert all their energy to heat. They cost around $25 a year to run. However, that while an electric fireplace is technically more efficient, it will not warm the room as well as a gas one. Therefore, you may find that you have another heat source running to warm the house, which may negate the savings.

Wood burning fireplaces are usually installed with the original construction of a home. Both gas and electric fireplaces are much easier to install than a wood-burning fireplace, especially as an addition to the home. A gas fireplace requires that a gas line be run to the area and a small vent is needed for most models. Non-venting units are available if you are unable to run a vent. The unit is then set in place and hooked up. Electric fireplaces are easier to install, since they simply plug into a nearby outlet. If you do not have an outlet in that location, it is not difficult to have one installed. Both the gas line and the electrical outlet should be installed by a licensed and experienced professional. Otherwise, electrical fires and gas leaks can occur.

Another cost associated with the fireplaces is the maintenance. Compared to wood burning fireplaces, gas fireplaces are considered low maintenance; all fireplaces require some regular maintenance. The vent must be inspected yearly and cleaned as needed. Valves should also be checked for leaks and to make sure they are functioning properly and safely. Electric fireplaces have no regular maintenance because they do not burn gas or require vents. However, they do need to be visually inspected regularly for damaged wires and overheated areas. 

One of the most important things for fireplaces is safety. While they are generally considered safe, gas fireplaces become hot very quickly. Everyone in the home needs to be aware that the glass doors that house the unit can become hot enough to burn if they are touched. Like any gas appliance, a gas leak may occur if the unit is not maintained properly. Leaking gas can cause significant health problems and is a fire hazard if not detected and repaired with quickly. Most units have an emergency gas shut off valve which you need to know how to use. Electric units have fewer safety concerns, but are essentially like any space heater. They may cause electrical fires if they become damaged. And like space heaters, new units have automatic shut-off features that shut the unit off if the unit becomes overheated, helping to prevent fires.

Like any heating unit, both electric and gas fireplaces begin producing heat immediately but take some time to warm a room. Heat from a gas fireplace may be felt more quickly within the room than an electric unit, depending on where you are. 

When you are adding new features to your home, you need to consider the environmental concerns as well. Gas fireplaces are considered efficient since they convert up to 90% of their energy into heat. However, natural gas is a non-renewable resource, burning it releases some particles into the atmosphere. Gas is considered clean-burning and does not produce harmful levels of carbon dioxide. Electric fireplaces use less energy and do not directly release particles into the air. However, the process of producing electricity to power the unit may give off harmful levels of CO gas into the atmosphere, depending on the source of your electricity. But, wind, water, and solar energy sources are becoming more common.

If you are planning on moving one day, be aware that adding a built-in fireplace to your home may increase resale value, regardless of the type of fireplace you have. Depending on where you live, it may be a featured element in your home.

An important part of owning a home is having a complete home service contractor with the right skills and experience for the job you need completed. For over a century, Wolfer’s Home Services has been the contractor of choice for quality-minded customers. We offer complete HVAC and indoor air quality services as well as complete plumbing services, and water treatment designed specifically for your home or business. Besides the fact that we have earned a reputation for being the best in the business, there are many more reasons to choose Wolfer’s for all your home service needs. Call Wolfer’s Home Services at 503-220-1901 or request your appointment online »