The Key Differences Between Decorative and Warming Fireplaces

Posted by on Jan 29, 2023

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Pexels / Maria Orlova


A fireplace changes the feel of an entire room. Perhaps seeing the open flame triggers a primal instinct, making us feeling safer from the elements. In colonial times, a hearth was necessary for cooking as well as warmth. Two hundred years later, in mid-century layouts, fireplaces transformed from a necessary tool to a design accent. 

Today, the options for convenient fireplaces range from highly efficient home heating sources to decorative elements with little warmth. Which is best for you? 

There are a lot of variables to consider. While everyone’s default image for a fireplace may be a wood-burning, brick-lined box topped with a chimney, these aren’t necessary the best choice today. For starters, there are inherent dangers with a fireplace. Any time children are around open flames there are potential dangers. 

Over time, creosote residue builds up on the interior walls of a chimney, which can create carbon monoxide when the fireplace is used. These fireplaces must be inspected annually to check for properly working ventilation and buildup in the chimney that can cause dangerous fumes to fill the house. A chimney sweep will clean out the creosote and also make sure the lining is intact. While holding ones fingers in front of a wood fire and breathing in the toasty bouquet can be soothing, they’re surprisingly inefficient heat sources. 

On average, only 15 percent of the heat from a fire radiates into the room. Part of the problem is the open flue is letting in outside air and allowing heat to escape. If you already have a wood-burning fireplace built in your home, a glass door in front of the fire can help a little. You may also want to consider adjusting the ventilation system. 

Here are some of the key considerations for a decorative or home heating fireplace.

Wood Burning Stove

A more efficient alternative to an open wood fire can be a wood-burning stove. These need an open space on a non-combustible floor (such as tile, brick or some hardwoods). Given that they’re enclosed, you don’t get the visual look of an open flame, but you certainly get the toasty aroma and more of the heat. 

Stoves can be between 70 and 80 percent efficient. You’ll also need to install a flue ventilation system for the stove, which may go up and out of the house, or directly back, depending on the stove design. That said, no chimney or mantlepiece needs to be in place for these units. 

Pellet Burning Stove
A type of stove burns pellets, typically made out of compressed sawdust. These require an electrical connection to feed in the wood pebbles, keep the pilot light lit and power the fan that blows out the hot air. The advantage of these is that you don’t have buy or feed in firewood (the pellets come in bags) and you can adjust the level of heat with the amount of pellets fed into the unit. These are also notably efficient with heat, about 70 to 75 percent. Also, many of these stoves also have a window, so you can watch the flame through glass. It’s not quite the same ambiance as an open fire, but more interesting than a stove with a metal door.

Gas Burning Stove

A gas-burning stove has pros and cons when compared with a wood- or pellet-burning stove. Given that it needs gas to fuel it, you’ll either need to place the stove near an existing gas line or modify the lines in your home to make it work. The price of a gas stove can be slightly cheaper than a pellet-burning one, but that also depends on the look at efficiency of the unit. 

Ventilation for a gas-burning system is a little more flexible than a wood- or pellet-burning one. If you don’t have a chimney, you’ll need to create holes for intake and exhaust valves. But the size and placement of this piping varies on the unit. So if you’re concerned about tubing ruining the look of your interior, you can plan to have options. 

Fitting a Stove in a Fireplace
If you have an existing fireplace, some of the pellet, gas and word-burning stoves are designed to fit them, or contractors can build up the framing in the fireplace to support the stove.

Gas Fire Pits and Fireplaces 
Gas has become a popular alternative to the wood-burning hearths. These come in a range of styles, designs and efficiencies. Outside, a gas fire pit on your porch or pool deck adds to the earthy decor, but does little to heat the environment. Indoors, smaller units can be installed into walls as decorative accents

Gas fireplaces are also designed to mimic the look of a wood-burning one. The burner is on the bottom, a grate and ceramic logs on top. The fire is lit by hand and is open to the room, so there are still may be concerns about safety with an open flame. These gas inserts are also designed with glass doors, making the unit safer and more heat efficient. One of the nice pluses about gas units is that they can be turned on and off with the touch of a button.

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