From Spotlight: Warm Home, Warm Heart

The 3 Best Choices to Replace a Wood-Burning Fireplace

Gas fireplaces can even be a good source of heat.

Gas fireplace in a modern home
Image: Martin Barraud and Phototropic/Getty

There’s nothing better in fall and winter than the crackle, scent, and warmth of a wood-burning fireplace. It’s a romantic and coveted household feature. 

In fact, homebuyers will pay up to $1,400 more for a home with a fireplace, according to the “Home Features Survey” from the National Association of REALTORS®.

#1 Direct-Vent Gas Insert Fireplace

A fireplace that has been converted to gas heat
A direct-vent gas fireplace is a more efficient heat source than its wood-burning brother. Making the switch from wood to gas also helps protect your in-home air quality. Image: Regency Fireplace Products
Installation Pro install required to properly vent fumes outside through the roof or wall. Also need a pro plumber to hook up the gas line. Permanent option.
Fuel Gas
Pollutants Flame is behind glass, so pollutants are expelled via the vent, not into the house.
Fire Produces a real fire.
Sound and Scent No crackle or wood-burning scent.
Cost Expensive. Including installation, prices range from $2,000 to $5,000. Since it uses gas, it could increase your utility bill a bit, but these units don’t have the heat loss associated with a wood-burning fireplace. To help offset the expense, turn down your thermostat while you're enjoying your fire.
Maintenance Before using each season, have a pro remove the dust that collected inside the fireplace around its internal components and on its glass screen.

#2 Electric Fireplace Insert

A home fireplace that was converted from wood
Installation Some just need to be plugged in to a grounded outlet, so you’ll likely be able to install it yourself. Can be moved to other rooms.
Fuel Electricity.
Pollutants None.
Fire It’s faux for sure, but new models use LED lights to suggest realistic flames.
Sound and Scent No crackle or wood-burning scent.
Cost Moderate. Including installation, prices can range from $500 to $1,500. It can increase your electricity bill, but it’ll last years longer than a gas fireplace because there’s no combustible fuel.
Maintenance Before using each season, clean out the dust that collected inside the fireplace and on its screen (if it has one). Unplug before cleaning.

#3 Alcohol Gel Fireplace with Faux-Log Insert (Ventless)

Fireplace that has been converted from wood to gel alcohol
Image: Cathgrace
Installation Just place the logs inside your existing hearth.
Fuel Alcohol gel (a combo of isopropyl alcohol, water, salt, and thickeners) is sold in cans, like Sterno; one can burns for up to 3 hours.
Pollutants Emits heat, steam, and a minute amount of carbon dioxide. To put this in perspective: One fuel brand claims to emit levels of 16 parts per million; for most people, prolonged exposure to levels 70 ppm or higher is dangerous. Although alcohol is considered a clean fuel, if you use the fireplace more than two times a week, air out your home on a regular basis to prevent minimal pollutants from building up.
Fire Produces real flame.
Sound and Scent Crackles like the real thing (thanks to the salt), and fuel is available in odorless and scented options.
Cost Inexpensive to moderate. Faux-log inserts hover around $200 to $400, depending on how fancy you want to go on a unit; a case of 16 to 24 cans of gel fuel costs around $70.
Maintenance The log insert and fireplace can accumulate dust. Before using each season, you’ll need to remove the log insert and clean inside of the fireplace. Afterwards, wipe down the log insert and replace.

Note: For any combustible fireplace option, install a carbon monoxide detector in the same room as the fireplace. The device should meet UL 2034 safety standards.


Deirdre Sullivan bio photo
Deirdre Sullivan

Deirdre Sullivan is an NYC-based writer who's obsessed with maximizing every inch of her urban dwelling. She's a former fashionista who has worked for Lucky Magazine and InStyle. She recently traded her high heels and Fashion Week pass for a drill and bandsaw. Follow Deirdre on Twitter, and Pinterest.