Energy-Efficient Fireplace Options

EPA-qualified wood-burning fireplace in home
Image: Industrial Chimney Company

Energy-efficient fireplaces, both wood-burning and gas, let you enjoy the glow of a fire without letting your home heating energy go up in smoke.

A traditional wood-burning fireplace adds warmth and romantic ambiance to a home’s interior. But most are energy hogs, converting only 15% of wood’s energy into useful heat.

Fortunately, new energy-efficient fireplace designs are helping wood-burning fireplaces achieve efficiency ratings of 75% or more. Fireplace inserts and gas fireplaces are even more efficient.

Energy-Efficient Wood-Burning Fireplaces

If you’re adding a wood-burning fireplace, avoid the standard design, which sends too much of your home’s heated air up the chimney. Consider these energy-efficient wood-burning fireplaces:

Rumford fireplacesFeature a shallow box design that reflects more heat into the room.
EPA-qualified fireplacesGood performance and high energy-efficiency ratings. Designed to pull in outdoor air for combustion, and circulate room air around the firebox to extract as much useable heat as possible. Produce much less air pollution than standard fireplaces.
Fireplace inserts

Sealed metal boxes designed to fit inside masonry fireplace openings. Use outside air for combustion, and are designed to circulate and warm inside air. Inserts burn a variety of biomass fuels, including wood and pellets. Some units are rated at 80% efficiency.

If you already own a standard wood-burning fireplace, make it more energy efficient by installing glass doors. Glass doors limit the amount of room air that is sucked into the fireplace during combustion.

Glass doors work particularly well when a fire is burning down for the night and you must leave the damper open. Otherwise, glass doors block radiant heat; keep them open when your fire is blazing. Expect to pay $300 to $500 for glass doors, installed.

In California, glass or solid metal doors are required on all fireplace openings.

Related: Save Energy with a Wood-Burning Fireplace Insert Installation

Energy-Efficient Gas Fireplaces

If you want the convenience and low maintenance of an energy-efficient gas fireplace, you have two good options:

Direct-vent gas fireplacesUse two-way vents that supply outside air for combustion. Energy-efficiency ratings as high as 77%, which is better than top gas fireplaces connected to a chimney.
Vent-free gas fireplacesEven more energy-efficient because they don’t send exhaust outside. But release a lot of moisture into inside indoor air.


Rich Binsacca
Rich Binsacca

Rich Binsacca has been writing about home improvement since 1987. He is the author of 12 books on home-related topics, is a contributing editor for Builder and EcoHome magazines, and has written for Remodeling, Home, and Architectural Record.