When you hear the word fireplace, most thoughts turn to a traditional wood-burning fireplace surrounded by stone. However, this is just one of several types of fireplaces. There are four main types, distinguished by the kind of fuel they use or burn. Each has its pros and cons, making some more popular than others, while also making them useful in several scenarios.
What Is An Indoor Fireplace?
An indoor fireplace is a place where fires can safely burn inside a home or business. Historically, a wood-burning fireplace was the only way to heat a home. It was also used as an oven as it was often the single source of heat. A fire would burn on a stone or brick hearth, heating the room, as smoke billowed upwards through the chimney.
As time and technology have advanced, homes and food no longer need to be heated in this primitive way. Electric or gas stoves and ovens now occupy most kitchens and residences are comfortably heated throughout by furnaces.
However, the indoor fireplace has not lost its appeal. Most would agree there is just something about a warm fire burning that brings a cozy and romantic feeling to any room. A fireplace creates a homier atmosphere and adds significantly to the value of a home. And depending on your fuel source and type of fireplace, it can also be a cost-efficient way to supplement heat in your home for the winter months.
Of all the types of fireplaces, this is the most traditional. In fact, most homes over 80 years old are pretty much guaranteed to have had at least one of these, as central heating was not popularly used until the 1950s. This type of fireplace, as its name implies, burns wood and creates a crackling and roaring fire with a smoky scent that many love. Traditionally, these fires took place on an open brick or stone hearth with access to the smell, sound, and heat it gives off.
While it gives the most authentic feel, this type of heat source is not the most effective, allowing much of the heat to escape through the chimney. Wood-burning fireplaces also require more maintenance than most, as well as regular cleanings to work correctly and be safe. In addition, wood costs add up and for some may not be worth the benefits. They are also expensive to install as they require a chimney for ventilation.
What Is A Wood Burning Fireplace?
Today, there are several types of fireplaces that are wood burning but allow for more efficient heating of a room.
An enclosed wood-burning fireplace is one. This design typically looks similar to an open hearth except that it has a large panel of glass that separates you from the fire. This doesn’t allow as much heat to travel up the chimney and lets more escape into the room to heat its occupants. Some can even be designed to be fitted into an existing open-hearth fireplace for a seamless look. Many homeowners love the efficiency of this while still getting to enjoy the ambiance of a real wood fire.
A wood-burning stove is another excellent option that many people also choose, as it takes up less space and does not have an open flame. This is typically chosen by homeowners who are looking to heat their home, as it is more heat effective than their open-hearth cousins. Many of these also offer options of having stoves or burners built in for cooking or warming purposes. However, even though these are not considered fireplaces in the traditional sense, they do still require ventilation through a pipe that leads to a chimney, making them potentially costly to install.
The second most popular type of fireplace is the gas-burning fireplace. Instead of burning wood, it is fueled by natural gas, which burns more cleanly and provides more heat with less fuel. In fact, many gas fireplace owners find their overall heating and utility bills decrease when their fireplace is in use.
Gas-burning fireplaces require much less in the way of construction or reconstruction to install, which makes them cost-efficient and a great alternative to wood-burning fireplaces. However, some do not prefer the smell of a gas fireplace or the feel and look compared to wood-burning options. Keep in mind that gas fireplaces do require regular inspection or maintenance of gas lines.
Two main types of fireplaces burn gas: direct-vented or ventless. Like a wood-burning fireplace, this type needs to be vented, typically using an existing or newly constructed chimney. However, they can also be vented using a pipe. This allows them to be added to just about any room regardless of the home’s structure. Ventilation allows the fire to burn yellow or orange and, therefore, gives off a more authentic look.
A ventless gas fireplace doesn’t require ventilation at all. No chimney or pipes are necessary. The lack of structure needed lets them be placed practically anywhere in a home. However, many do not prefer this type as it does not burn as clean, and the color of the flames is blue, giving off a much different feel.
One of the most popular types of fireplaces is electric. These fireplaces work by heating coils with electricity and then distributing that heat with an internal fan. This means no real fire or flame is being produced. Therefore, most electric fireplaces use a fake flame and log to give a more realistic look and feel. Many also give off a crackling sound as well.
These fireplaces are popular in part because they can easily be turned off and on, often by remote control. The remote can also adjust the amount of heat put off by the fireplace or turn it off entirely while still giving off the effect of a roaring fire, complete with yellow flames and crackling pops.
These are incredibly cost effective compared to most of the other types of fireplaces, as they run off of the electricity that already runs through your home. There is no need for wood, gas, or different fuel types to be kept on hand. Routine maintenance, such as chimney cleaning or gas line repairs, isn’t required either. And installation is usually quick and easy since they don’t require venting.
Many parents and pet owners choose these types of fireplaces more than any other. Because they do not have an actual fire or flame, they do not present as great a risk for burns and heat safety issues. This makes them the safest for pets and children alike.
However, many people who want a fireplace in their home treasure an actual fire complete with flames, sounds, and scent. Thus, it comes down to personal preferences when considering an electric fireplace.
Ethanol fireplaces are a much more modern invention and are quite trendy for several reasons. First, they burn ethanol, which burns clear and odorless. They also emit no contaminants the way gas-burning fireplaces do, making them the most environmentally friendly. Most designs consist of a burner filled with bioethanol fuel that can be refilled when needed. These burners also allow you to adjust the temperature and turn them on or off quickly.
There are also numerous designs for them because they do not need to weigh as much. Installation is minimal if required at all. They are often fitted to be inserted into existing fireplaces for a more traditional look or can be wall mounted or even fit into tabletops for portability.
While they may look trendy and unique, they are not nearly as efficient at heating a room as gas or wood-burning fireplaces. These are chosen for homes mainly for their appearance and ambiance. They are also an option for outdoor fireplaces in many back yards, as they require little maintenance and will not contaminate foods like hot dogs or s’mores.
If you are looking to install a new fireplace in your home, you will have plenty of options to choose from. From the traditional open-hearth fireplace to the much more modern ethanol-burning ones, they all can provide an appealing atmosphere. Some make bold statements, while others add just the right touch to a room or home.
When you begin your search for the perfect fireplace to put in your home, make sure you know the differences between each of these types of fireplaces. Don’t be one of the many that get a fireplace just to have one and then decide it’s too much work or not worth it. It will serve you well to know as much as you can about them, both their benefits and their disadvantages.
Think about what will work best for you in your space, not only in appearance but also in functionality. Think about your home’s structure and any limitations it may have. Be mindful of your primary purpose for a fireplace, whether that’s heating or to be a decorative piece. Consider what it will take to keep it up and running correctly, such as fuel or maintenance. These thoughts will guide you towards the most appropriate fireplace for you and your home’s needs.