Fireplace choices: gas vs. wood

Ask The Builder

November 04, 2007|By Tim Carter | Tim Carter,Tribune Media Services

Is it better to have a gas fireplace or a traditional wood-burning fireplace? I am interested in gas fireplaces, possibly ventless, to turn my fuel dollars into heat instead of sending them up the chimney.

First of all, will the fireplace be purely decorative, or will it function as a heating source for your home? If it's only intended to be decorative, the decision is easier.

But let me tell you a story that might influence your choice. Just after I moved into my current home, we had an unusual midfall snowstorm. Thousands of power lines around the city were pulled to the ground. The power at my home was not restored for 3 1/2 days. Fortunately, I had two fireplaces and plenty of wood to temper the inside air and keep the water pipes from freezing.

A portable generator would have allowed me to run my natural-gas furnace. But I didn't have one. I did have a fireplace that burned wood, so I was able to survive. That storm taught me several valuable lessons.

Since then, I have remodeled one of the fireplaces. I kept it as a wood-burning fireplace, but if for some reason I lose my natural-gas supply, I can remove the log set, cap the natural-gas line and be burning wood in a matter of minutes. This flexibility gives me peace of mind. If you can find a gas fireplace that allows you to do a similar approved fuel-source switchover, give it serious consideration.

As for fuel efficiency, you should be able to obtain information from the gas fireplace manufacturers about rated fuel efficiencies. If you buy a quality gas fireplace that has the highest efficiency rating, you will be doing your pocketbook and the planet a big favor. Be sure you get the efficiency rating in writing.

Expert home builder and remodeling contractor Tim Carter has 20 years of hands-on experience in the home industry. He is a licensed master plumber, master carpenter, master roof cutter and real estate broker. If you have a question, go to and click on "Ask Tim."

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