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Nothing beats sitting next to a fireplace on a cold day. If you do not already have a chimney and firebox 1 in your home, the simplest solution is to add either a gas or electric fireplace. Both produce steady warmth and ambiance for the room, but the way they look and function are very different. We outline these differences below so that you can make a more informed decision about which one will work better in your home.
While you are not going to mistake either gas or electric fireplaces for a traditional wood-burning model, both come in a range of beautiful designs that can complement many rooms. Of the two, gas fireplaces have the more realistic look because the gas produces a flame you can see and heat you can feel.
An electric fireplace does not produce flames in the same way but still produces heat. Instead of flames, they project an image of a burning log. Depending on the model you purchase and its quality, this image can be either convincing or artificial in its appearance. Some models have features such as LED lighting, videos of burning wood, or even hologram imaging. They may also have sound effects that can make the unit sound like a crackling fire, and you have options for installation such as wall mounting, which can also make the fireplace look more authentic.
When it comes to energy-efficiency, you may find a wide range depending on size and model. Gas fireplaces use between 7,000 and 16,000 BTUs, are between 70 and 90% efficient at converting energy to heat, and cost around $60 a year to run.
Electric fireplaces have an output that is based on the electric current. The average 120v outlet will produce just over 5000 BTUs, which can warm up about 500 square feet. They do convert all their energy into heat, however, They cost around $25 a year to run.
Keep in mind, however, that while an electric heater is more efficient on the surface, it will not warm the room as well as a gas fireplace. Therefore, you may find that with a gas fireplace, you can turn down your thermostat 2 and still stay warm. With an electric fireplace, you will likely have another heat source running, which may negate the savings.
Both gas and electric fireplaces are much easier to install than a wood-burning fireplace. A gas fireplace requires that the gas line be run to the area, and a small vent is needed for most models. Non-venting units are available if you are unable to run a vent. The unit is then set in place and hooked up. Keep in mind that if you do not have a gas line, or are in an area where gas does not run, you will need to use propane. If your home heating system already runs off propane, you may be able to run a line directly to the area. Otherwise, you may need to incorporate a smaller propane tank into the design. This will add costs to the project, and the tank itself will take up space, so in order to hide it within the fireplace’s design, you may need to change the scope of the project.
Electric fireplaces simply plug into where they will be used. If you do not have an outlet there, it is a simple process to have one installed, and then the unit can be placed. Electric fireplaces can be portable, meaning you can move them around with you as you need them, or they can be wall mounted, for a better appearance. Wall mounted units are usually designed to recess into the wall, so you may need a carpenter or a handyman to help move some studs in the wall to accommodate the box. Installing the box once the wall is ready is usually a fast process and takes just a few minutes.
Ideally, both should be installed by a trained professional if an outlet or gas line needs to be installed first. Otherwise, most homeowners can set up an electric unit by themselves, while a gas fireplace will need professional assistance every time.
A pre-built gas fireplace can range from $900 to $3,000 for the unit itself. A small gas exhaust pipe for running and venting the unit can range from $200 and $500, including installation. Additional installation of the gas-burning fireplace components cost between $1,500 and $3,000. The price of a gas line hookup if you have an existing gas line runs between $150 and $300. For a new line, the cost will range between $300 and $800. This makes the total cost for a gas fireplace between $2,750 and $7,300.
Electric fireplaces do not need vents or special plumbing. You simply need an outlet where you want it to go. The cost of a built-in unit ranges from $300 to $1,000. If you need a new outlet, there is an additional cost of around $200 to $750 depending on location, and if you are opening a wall for a recessed unit, you should expect to pay another $200 to $500 in installation fees. This makes the total for an electric fireplace between $700 and $2,250.
Gas fireplaces are considered low maintenance when compared to wood-burning fireplaces, but they do require some yearly maintenance. The vent must be inspected yearly and cleaned as needed. Valves should also be checked for leaks and to make sure they are operating properly.
Electric fireplaces have no regular maintenance because they do not burn gas or require vents.
Gas fireplaces become hot very quickly. While they are generally considered safe, the glass doors that house the unit can become hot enough to burn if they are touched. Like any gas appliance, a gas leak may occur if the unit is not maintained properly, which can cause significant health problems and a fire hazard if not detected and dealt with quickly. Most units have a gas shut off valve in this event.
Electric units have fewer safety concerns, but like any space heater, they may cause electrical fires if they become damaged. Most new units have automatic shut-off features that kick in if the unit becomes overheated, helping to prevent fires.
Both electric and gas fireplaces begin producing heat immediately. The heat from a gas fireplace may be felt more quickly within the room than an electric unit, depending on how far away you are.
Gas fireplaces are considered efficient because they convert up to 90% of their energy into heat. However, gas is a non-renewable resource, and burning it releases some particles into the atmosphere. Gas is considered clean-burning and while it does not produce harmful levels of carbon dioxide within the home, it does produce some CO2, which is released into the atmosphere.
Electric fireplaces use less energy and do not directly release particles into the air, but the process of producing electricity to power the unit may produce CO2 gas as well. This depends on the energy mix and how it is produced. Electricity may be a non-renewable resource depending on where you are located and your power utility.
Adding a built-in fireplace to a home that does not already have one can increase resale value. This is regardless of the type of fireplace you have, so adding a built-in gas or electric fireplace to your home could help increase its value.
There are a lot of options on the market for both types of fireplace. Below you’ll find our top picks for both, including the best units overall as well as units for those on a budget.
BEST OVERALL: Touchstone 80004 Sideline Electric Fireplace
This is a very ultra modern electric fireplace designed to be installed inside the wall for a sleek, custom design. It has 5 flame settings, and the flames have a three-color realistic appearance along with different log and hearth options as well. It has both high and low settings, with strategically placed heat vents for comfort. It has a built in timer for automatic shut off, and can heat a room up to 400 sq.ft.
BEST VALUE: R.W. Flame Electric Recessed Fireplace
This is a really sleek, contemporary looking fireplace that also recesses into the wall. It can be built between the studs of two different wall types for an easier installation. It has multiple operating modes and can be accessed either through a touch screen or through a remote control. LED light makes the flames look realistic, and it has two settings for energy savings and comfort. It can also heat a room up to 400 sq.ft. easily. It includes an auto-shut off for safety and to avoid overheating the room or the unit.
ALSO CONSIDER: PuraFlame
If you want a more traditional appearance for your electric fireplace, check out this unit from PuraFlame. It’s a recessable insert that gives you the look of a standard firebox. It contains a life-like resin log and three flame settings to give you a realistic looking fire. It’s designed to be easy to install and has an adjustable thermostat for ease of use. It can heat a room up to 400 sq.ft. in size and uses LED lights for better energy usage and performance.
BEST OVERALL: Empire Boulevard Vent Free Natural Gas Fireplace
This is a super contemporary and attractive vent-free gas fireplace. It uses an intermittent pilot system and has an adjustable thermostat for the ultimate in control and heat performance. It’s designed to be installed in-wall, so you can get a really sleek look without taking up space in the room. It operates on remote control for ease of use and can produce up to 32,000 BTUs, so it will heat even large rooms evenly and consistently. It comes with a wire mesh barrier included.
If you want to get a really traditional looking built in fireplace, check out this system from Pleasant Hearth. It includes a real wood mantel for a built-in, traditional appearance that can complement a lot of homes. It comes with both a programmable thermostat and a hand-held remote for better control of the temperature and the flame. It produces up to 32,000 BTUs, so you’ll heat even large areas up to 1,100 sq.ft. It also has a dual burner so you get two sets of flames for a better looking fire as well.
ALSO CONSIDER: Napoleon Grandville VF Series Gas Fireplace
If what you’re looking for is a very safe, good looking fireplace with good output, this is the ideal unit for you. This unit has a transitional appearance that can be built into the wall or given a wooden mantle for a range of styles. It has an oxygen depletion sensor that will shut the unit off if too much CO2 is detected in the area. It also has a variable heat setting, so you can get better control over the output. With 30,000 BTUs, you can heat a space up to 1,000 sq.ft. with ease, and with a remote control and on/off switch you can operate it in the manner that best suits your needs.
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