As the seasons start to change and the outside temperatures begin to cool, it’s normal for most of us to spend more time in the comfort of our homes. Because the winter months can mean that your home is sealed the majority of the time, maintaining good air quality becomes especially important…and tricky. For those who want the comfort provided by a fireplace, it can sometimes mean giving up a certain level of air quality.
So what are your options if you want to cozy up to a fire and still keep your home air fresh and breathable?
First, let’s take a look at the old-fashioned wood burning fireplaces that we’re all used to. The pros of a traditional fireplace like this include the ambiance they produce – who doesn’t like the crackling sounds and smells produced by burning logs? The major selling point for wood-burning fireplaces is that they look fantastic, and do provide a substantial amount of heat.
But the downsides of a wood-burning fireplace are considerable. Foremost, they’re not particularly efficient, as a lot of the heat they produce escapes through the chimney. They definitely cause considerable home air pollution problems, thanks to the soot and chemical by-products created while burning wood. They also pose a considerable safety hazard to children and pets – supervision is required at all times while an open fire is burning in the home. And if a wood-burning fireplace wasn’t part of your initial home construction, it can be very expensive to add a new fireplace after the face.
Wood-burning fireplaces also require annual cleaning and maintenance, to ensure that home fire hazards are reduced and that the chimney itself is completely clear and properly venting smoke.
More common in northern part of the United States, pellet stoves are another option for providing the coziness of a fireplace without some of the downfalls of a traditional wood-burning system. They’re more efficient than wood-burning fireplaces – the stove itself is a bit more complex, but the result is that more heat ends up in your home. They are also better when it comes to indoor air pollution, although they still aren’t the cleanest option on the list. Plus, the stove remains relatively cool while the pellets are burning, making it a safer option for homes with children and pets.
Pellet stoves aren’t without their downfalls. They can be expensive to install and also require more routine maintenance, including weekly cleanings during seasons when they’re in use. They can also be noisy – pellet stoves produce a low-level wooshing sound while in use, so if constant sound isn’t something you can live with, this heating option isn’t for you.
Gas fireplaces have become more and more common over the past decade, as they allow homeowners more control over the level of efficiently produced heat without the hassle of wood as a fuel source. These fireplaces are easier to install than the traditional wood-burning option and keep home air quality at a reasonably high level thanks to a cleaner burning fuel.
These fireplaces come in vented and unvented models. We highly recommend using vented gas stoves to reduce safety risks caused by carbon monoxide. The costs of installing a new gas stove can be variable, and depends completely on the type of gas stove you opt for. There is also the cost associated with purchasing and storing gas fuel.
A gas fireplace still requires some maintenance, although it is considerably less than wood-burning fireplaces or pellet stoves. They should be cleaned on a regular basis to decrease the fire hazards posed by soot and carbon buildup.
Possibly the safest and most inexpensive fireplace option you can install, electric fireplaces are also becoming more and more popular. They are very easy to install, providing an array of installation options, as the only fuel source required is an outlet. There is also very little risk to your home’s air quality, as no fumes are produced as part of a burning process. Maintenance is minimal, and there is no safety hazard posed by open flames.
The main downfall of electric fireplaces is that they don’t actually provide a lot of heat. These are meant to be more of a decorative item, although many electric fireplaces provide the same level of heating as a space heater.
Ethanol fireplaces are a relatively new addition to the marketplace, offering an inexpensive option for homes that cannot add a vent source. These fireplaces offer a range of options for where they can be installed in your home, although the room where they are placed should have adequate airflow. The flames produced by ethanol are clean, odorless, and have little effect on home air quality.
Much like electric fireplaces, ethanol fireplaces produce very little heat, so they are not a good option for those seeking a primary heating source.