ArticlesWhat’s the best choice? Wood vs. Electric Fireplaces

What’s the best choice? Wood vs. Electric Fireplaces

Crackling flames, a warm cozy feeling: the fireplace ambiance hasn’t gone out of style.  The way we enjoy that fireplace ambiance has changed, however.

As the price of wood increases and more homeowners become aware of the safety hazards wood fires pose, people are looking for another option.  Electric fireplaces, developed originally for film sets, have been growing in popularity.  A couple decades ago, electric fireplaces provided almost no fireplace feeling.

Their cheap “flame effects” were essentially a weak red and yellow light display.  The log sets were tiny, and the flames “danced” behind the logs.

Fireplace manufacturers have been working hard to develop new technology.  Flames effects are far more realistic, and electric fireboxes come equipped with crackling noises and heaters.

Log sets are larger and more realistic, and now many models come with crystals or stones instead of logs.  The flames dance around, on, and even through the logs or other media.

Essentially, electric fireplaces are not what they used to be.  They hold their own against real wood fires.

Let’s look at some of the key differences between wood and electric fireplaces.  If you want to check out this information as an infographic, click here.

Safety

Electric fireplaces pose no fire hazard.  Many will automatically shut off should they overheat, though this is unlikely to happen.

Wood burning fires are unsafe by nature.  While there are ways to make your fire safer, they rack up the overall cost of burning wood fire.  This leads to the second difference:

Cost

Traditional wood burning fires are expensive all-around.  If you don’t already have one in your home, they are expensive to buy, and you have to have a professional install it.

Wood is going up in price, and you have to have storage in a dry place.  Wood piles attract bugs and rodents as well.

Wood fires require venting that needs to be regularly cleaned by a professional.  A set of fireplace doors and a screen is a low-cost investment you can make to increase safety slightly.  A wood insert has a better effect on safety and efficiency, but a poor effect on your budget.

Electric fireplaces, however, require little to no maintenance.  They don’t have venting that needs to be cleaned, and their fuel costs pennies.

The electric fireplaces themselves come in a variety of models, sizes, and price points.  They are easy to install; you can usually do it yourself.  Even wall mounting is something you can do at home.

Efficiency

Electric fireplaces are 99.9% efficient and don’t produce any smoke or toxins.  Wood burning fires, however, produce both smoke and toxins.

A masonry fireplace is only 15% efficient.  While you can add a wood burning insert to increase efficiency to over 70%, an insert can cost thousands of dollars.

Heat

Electric fireplaces often come with heaters and adjustable thermostats.  The heaters can be turned off so you can keep the fire’s ambiance without any heat output.

Wood burning fires produce far more heat than electric fireplaces.  However, depending on your efficiency, you may lose most of that heat.  In addition, it’s difficult to control the temperature of wood burning fires.

Ambiance

Electric flame technology has come a long way. The flames have more depth, and the media ranges from gorgeous log sets to modern crystals.

Electric fireplaces often come with sound boxes that make crackling noises, and certain models fit right into your original wood-burning fireplace.

Wood burning fireplaces, however, have the same charm they’ve had for decades.  A wood burning fire has its issues, but it’s a classic that’s hard to truly replicate.

Which type of fireplace is better for me?

Obviously electric fireplaces have come a long way, but neither wood nor electric is necessarily better than the other.

Consider what is most important to you: easy start-up and cleanup? lots of heat output? price?

An electric fireplace is a great option for:

(1)A home where there’s no space for wood or time to light a real fire.  If your current firebox is constantly full of ashes, an electric fireplace could be a big improvement.

(2)A modern home.  The newer electric fireplace designs are a stunning focal point in a modern home.

A wood burning fireplace is a great option for a rustic living room or cabin space.  If you value the traditional feel of a wood burning fire, consider investing in some ways to make your current fireplace safer.

Whatever you choose, be sure to adhere to fire safety guidelines in your area!  Thanks to fireplaces.net for their infographic on this topic.

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