From Spotlight: Warm Home, Warm Heart

The 3 Best Choices to Replace a Wood-Burning Fireplace

Compare the pros and cons of alternatives to wood-burning models.

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

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

Fireplaces may be aesthetically pleasing, but these days, they don't add to the appraised value of a home, according to appraisers. That said, if you enjoy a fireplace, you might want to indulge your personal preference anyway. You have options other than a high-maintenance, environmentally unfriendly wood-burning version.

Here's some basic info about three alternative types of fireplace:

#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
InstallationPro 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.
PollutantsFlame is behind glass, so pollutants are expelled via the vent, not into the house.
FireProduces a real fire.
Sound and ScentNo crackle or wood-burning scent.
CostExpensive. Including installation, prices range from $4,300 to $11,200. Since it uses gas, it may well increase your utility bill. But these units produce the heat loss associated with a wood-burning fireplace. To help offset the expense, turn down your thermostat while you're enjoying your fire.
MaintenanceBefore 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
InstallationSome just need to be plugged into a grounded outlet, so you’ll likely be able to install it yourself. Can be moved to other rooms.
FireIt’s faux for sure, but new models use LED lights to suggest realistic flames.
Sound and ScentNo crackle or wood-burning scent.
CostModerate. Including installation, prices can range from $200 to $10,000, with most people spending about $1,000. The fireplace will likely increase your electricity bill, but it’ll last years longer than a gas fireplace because there’s no combustible fuel.
MaintenanceBefore 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
InstallationJust place the logs inside your existing hearth.
FuelAlcohol gel (a combo of isopropyl alcohol, water, salt, and thickeners) is sold in cans, like Sterno; one can burn for up to three hours.
PollutantsEmits 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.
FireProduces real flame.
Sound and ScentCrackles like the real thing (thanks to the salt), and fuel is available in odorless and scented options.
CostInexpensive to moderate. Faux-log inserts cost about $240 for a set of three, and twelve cans of gel fuel cost about $62.
MaintenanceThe 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.