Gas-Burning and Wood-Burning Fireplaces
Now that colder weather is bearing down, many people are turning to their fireplaces for warmth and comfort, as they have done for centuries. But while building a fire was once a necessary skill to achieve the glowing warmth of a blaze in the fireplace, modern technology has now made creating a roaring fire as easy as flipping a switch. Homeowners now have the choice between gas-burning and wood-burning fireplaces in their homes, but what are the differences between the two and is there a clear advantage of one over the other?
The essential difference between the two is obvious: the material used to build the fire. Wood-burning fireplaces rely on cured fire logs and kindling, whereas gas fireplaces are filled with fake logs and rely on a connection to a gas line for burning fuel.
Because of the difference between the burning materials, the construction of wood-burning and gas-burning fireplaces is quite different. Because of the combustible gases and smoke created by burning wood, wood-burning fireplaces require direct venting through a vertical chimney constructed of strong, thick, and sealed fireproof material. For that reason, wood burning fireplaces are often a major piece of construction, and are general included in the instruction of the building itself. Gas-burning fireplaces, on the other hand, do not produce nearly as much combustible by-products. Though they still need some ventilation, more options are available for gas-burning fireplaces, including horizontal vents and even ventless construction (Fireplace FAQs). For this reason, it is often easier to retrofit an existing building with a gas fireplace rather than a wood-burning one.
Another key difference is the process involved in lighting the fire in each of these fireplaces. Wood-burning fireplaces require a bit of skill and effort to successfully start a fire. One must have the proper logs and kindling on hand, as well as some means of ignition like a match or lighter. One must also know how to assemble the kindling and logs so as to achieve the proper balance of fuel and oxygen circulation. The process of building a wood-burning fire can often take quite a while, and success is not always guaranteed. A gas-fireplace, on the other hand, takes very little effort to light. The gas line is connected to a pilot light, which is often regulated by a lever or a switch. Lighting the fire can be as easy a flipping this switch.
It is also much easier to regulate the strength of the fire in a gas fireplace as opposed to a wood-burning fireplace. Controlling a wood-burning fire involves either adding wood or manipulating the airflow around the fire. In order to extinguish a wood fire, one must either wait for it to die out or dampen it with sand, ash, or water. Gas fires, however, are regulated by a dial which controls the flow of gas into the fireplace. Getting a bigger or smaller fire involves merely turning a dial, and extinguishing the fire can be a simple as turning off the ignition switch or turning the gas-flow dial to “off.”
It seems clear that gas fireplaces offer a convenience and ease, both in construction and in use, that wood-burning fireplaces do not. But there are other factors to consider when determining what type of fireplace to use. Consumers must also consider efficiency, expense, and environmental impact when choosing fireplaces.
Wood-burning fireplaces are notoriously inefficient as heat producers. While the fire may feel toasty when you are sitting in front of it, in reality the fire may be making your house colder rather than warmer. The tremendous consumption of oxygen created by a wood fire and the need to ventilate the harmful gases and ash that is produced means that the chimney flues must be open not only while the fire is burning but also for 12 hours after it has started to die (Guttman, para.3). As a result, the cold air let in by the open chimney after the fire dies more than eradicates any heat benefit from the fire itself. Gas fireplaces, on the other hand, do not require as much ventilation while burning, and they need none once the flame is extinguished, therefore eliminating the loss of heat created by an open flue.
Gas is the clear winner when it comes to expense as well. Though it may be contrary to initial assumptions, studies have shown that gas costs about 35 cents to produce 30,000 btus/hour, whereas wood costs 61 cents to produce the same amount of heat in the same time period (Hearth.com). In addition to the energy loss created by the ventilation in wood-burning fireplaces, the price differential can become significant quickly.
In addition, gas burning fireplaces are much more environmentally friendly than wood-burning fireplaces. They usually use natural gas, which puts out very little pollution. The gases and smoke produced by wood-burning fireplace, however, are quite harmful to the atmosphere, even if they look pretty billowing out of a chimney on a cold winter day. (Guttman, para.7).
In the end, aesthetics is the one advantage that wood-burning fireplaces have over gas fireplaces, and it can be a powerful advantage for some people. No one ever sat around listening the pop and crackle of a gas fireplace, or watched the flames shoot up as they poked the logs. Many people associate winter with the smell of wood smoke in the cold air, and the sight of chimney smoking against the sky. Gas fireplaces offer none of these things. So choosing between a gas-burning and wood-burning fireplace comes down in the end to what you value most about a fire — the warmth of the flame or the warmth of the atmosphere created by the flame.
“Burning Wood Is More Expensive Than Gas?! ” Hearth.com. Retrieved from http://www.hearth.com/econtent/index.php/forums/viewthread/62420/
Guttman, George. “Wood vs. Gas Fireplaces.” Sound Home Resource Center. Retrieved from http://www.soundhome.com/article/wood-vs.-gas-fireplaces-and-stoves
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