Gas, wood or electric – choosing the best fireplace for your home
Choosing a home fireplace

Living in Canada, what’s more comforting than coming in from a winter walk, fixing a mug of hot chocolate and cozying up next to a blazing fire with family and friends? If you’ve been longing to add the inviting ambiance of a fireplace to your home, first you have to choose which type of fireplace will work best for you. Gas, wood or electric, all fireplaces have their pros and cons, and different costs associated with installation and upkeep. Here’s what you need to know about the different types of fireplaces so you can make an informed decision and start warming up, fast!

Wood-burning fireplace

This traditional fireplace is a place to gather and create memories while you’re enjoying the homey, comforting crackle and delightful scent of burning wood.

The basics: No big surprise here – unless you’re building a brand new home, a wood-burning fireplace typically requires a pre-existing traditional chimney. If you live in an older home with an old masonry (or brick) fireplace that’s inefficient or unsafe to use, you might consider a new wood fireplace insert (after a full safety inspection, of course).

Did you know? A fireplace insert is a fireproof box that can be fitted into a hearth that’s already there, to make it safer and more efficient. Inserts are super versatile – even if you had a wood fireplace previously, you can switch to a gas, pellet, or electric insert. Be sure to properly research your options, since each type of insert has different costs associated with installation and proper ventilation.

How much does a wood fireplace cost? If you’re starting from scratch, wood fireplaces are by far the most expensive option since a home without an existing chimney will require fairly extensive renovation. Inserts are a lower-cost option if you want to give your current fireplace a facelift. The good news is, a wood fireplace likely won’t impact your energy bill since it doesn’t use any electricity, gas or heat, although you’ll have to pay for burnable wood.

How well does a wood fireplace heat? A wood fireplace isn’t the best choice if you’re looking to heat a large area. It’s overall the least efficient option, since it loses more heat through the chimney than a vented gas model would.

Are wood fireplaces safe? Modern high-temperature chimney and venting systems have raised the bar for wood fireplace safety. Proper installation and regular checkups by an expert will ensure your fireplace stays safe throughout the year. Wood-burning fireplaces should also be regularly inspected for creosote buildup and blockages, which can cause chimney fires. And, always follow proper procedure for building and maintaining a wood fire.

Wood-burning stove

The wood-burning stove deserves a nod here, too! It’s extremely popular as a primary source of heat, especially in more rural areas.

The basics:
A wood-burning stove is a free-standing unit that is vented via a stovepipe attached to a chimney. A chimney is necessary for a wood-burning stove, whether it’s newly installed or an old fireplace. These stoves are much easier to install than hearth fireplaces, and sleeker models are now available if your home décor is modern rather than traditional.

How much does a wood-burning stove cost?
Cost can vary depending on the model you buy and on how much work needs to be put into the installation. Cleaner and more efficient than a wood fireplace, a wood-burning stove can also be more cost effective than gas or propane depending on where you live.

How well does a wood-burning stove heat? These days, wood stoves are clean and efficient, and they’re an excellent source of heat for whichever room they’re placed in. It heats best when placed in the middle of the room (although it can be installed in other areas). 

Are wood-burning stoves safe? A properly installed wood-burning stove is quite safe, as long as you maintain it properly and clean it regularly. The stovepipe can be a burning hazard, so it must be insulated. Overfiring – or building a fire that’s too big and too hot – can also be a danger and damage your stove. Signs of overfiring include red-hot stove panels and loud, whooshing drafting noises.

TIP: If you’re using a wood-burning stove as a primary source of heat for your home, make sure to have another source of heat (like baseboard electric or furnace) as a backup to prevent frozen pipes when you’re not home in cold weather.

Gas fireplace

You might not be able to roast marshmallows over it, but a gas fireplace makes sense if you want a cleaner, more environmentally friendly, easier to maintain version of a wood fireplace.

The basics: A gas fireplace is as easy to use as pressing a button to ignite the gas or propane. It’s virtually mess free, perfect for a fast-paced lifestyle. You can choose between a new, built-in fireplace, an insert into an existing hearth, or a free-standing design. A chimney isn’t required, but in Canada, proper venting is. And if you have a natural gas connection, you can install a gas fireplace almost anywhere in your home.

How much does a gas fireplace cost?
The cost of installing a gas fireplace can be high if you need to add a gas line. However, year over year, natural gas is known to be more cost effective than wood to fuel a fireplace.

How well does a gas fireplace heat?
You have complete control over a gas fireplace’s heat output, and it can warm up a room quickly thanks to instant ignition. Some even have a built-in thermostat that adjusts the heat to keep the room at a steady temperature.

Are gas fireplaces safe?
You’ll still have open flames with a gas fireplace, so you have to follow the same general rules as you would with wood. But unlike wood, with gas you won’t end up with dangerous creosote buildup (or messy ashes to clean up!). As with any gas appliance, if you ever smell gas, turn the supply off immediately and call a professional.

Electric fireplace

The electric fireplace has come a long way. Once considered “tacky,” new designs have made them just as attractive as gas fireplaces. The newest models even have 3D flames and crackling sounds to mimic a real fire.

The basics: Electric fireplaces use heated coils and internal fans to distribute heat. They’re also easy to install since they don’t need venting. You can opt for a standalone or portable model, or go for a wall-mounted unit for that “real” fireplace look. Some urban areas don’t allow gas or wood fireplaces in smaller spaces, so an electric fireplace is a great option for condos and apartments.

How much does an electric fireplace cost? Because there’s no flue or chimney, an electric fireplace is the cheapest to install and use. It also doesn’t require regular maintenance. You’re probably wondering how it’s going to affect your electric bill – after all, electric baseboard heating is one of the most expensive ways to heat your home. If you use an electric heater to zone heat (see below), you can afford to turn down the heat for the rest of your home and save on total home heating costs.

How well does an electric fireplace heat? Electric fireplaces are highly efficient, but think of them more as “zone heaters.” A zone heater puts heat right where you need it, like in your bedroom if it’s on the chillier side. An electric fireplace warms a room quickly, and stays consistently warm until you turn it off.

Are electric fireplaces safe? Since they don’t actually use fire and have a cool surface to prevent burns, electric is your safest bet if you have kids or pets. And, many come with an automatic shut-off timer so you can choose when you want it to stop. They also don’t release any smoke or fumes, so you might want to go for electric if you’ve got allergies or breathing issues.

Ethanol fireplace

We thought we’d add this fireplace to our list, since it’s one of the newer options available on the market.

The basics: This style burns renewable, clean-burning bioethanol (pure alcohol) and produces playful, bright orange flames. You just fill up the burner insert, light it, and adjust the fire to your liking. While wall units need to be mounted (like a flat screen tv), free standing ethanol fireplaces can take as little as 10 minutes to put together. Smaller tabletop models usually come preassembled.

How much does an ethanol fireplace cost? The fireplace itself will vary in cost, since size can range from a small tabletop burner to a bigger, mountable model. But, an ethanol fireplace can be expensive to operate. Typically, 1 litre of fuel burns for about 4 hours and runs in the $25-$35 price range, but you might find a better deal if you buy it in a “value pack.” Fuel is available online and at most hardware stores.

How well does an ethanol fireplace heat? Ethanol fireplaces definitely give off heat, but usually not enough to make any real difference in the room unless you’re sitting close to it. This type of fireplace is really more for looks than warmth.

Are ethanol fireplaces safe? It’s important to buy only fuel made specifically for fireplaces. When burned, ethanol is non-toxic, smokeless, odourless and environmentally friendly. As an added security feature, bitterant (which makes it taste extremely bitter) is added to the ethanol for child safety to help prevent them from swallowing it accidentally.

Did you know? These days, a fireplace is one of the top selling points for homeowners looking to buy a new house. Adding a fireplace may increase your resale value if you think you might someday sell your home.

Does having a fireplace affect my insurance?

Yes, having a fireplace could impact your premium. The fact is, having open flames in your home increases the risk of smoke damage and loose sparks causing fire - especially if you have a wood-burning stove. This increases the likelihood of having to file a claim, which could increase your premium.

If you plan on installing a fireplace, connect with your insurer to ask if it’s something they’ll cover and to understand how it could affect your premium.

Getting a fireplace is a pretty big decision, so no matter what type of fireplace you choose for your home make sure you’re aware of all the costs and risks associated before lighting up.

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