Gas vs Wood Fireplaces: Price, Aesthetics, and Maintenance

Gas vs Wood Fireplaces: Price, Aesthetics, and Maintenance

Are you looking to install a fireplace in your home?  Better late than never! But the question isn’t if you should invest in one, it’s what kind is right for you?  Well, many fireplaces are powered by one of two types of energy: gas or wood.  These heating units vary slightly in features and benefits, so let’s get the inside scoop and figure out which is best for you.

Fireplace Price

So many buying decisions rely on purchase price.  Luckily, both wood and gas fireplaces are generally affordable.  Gas fireplaces come as built-ins and inserts (as well as freestanding and log sets, but we’ll save those for another time), all with different price tags. Built-in gas units may run up to $8,000 after installation, and most closely mirror a traditional wood-burning unit because they are installed into the structure of your home. Gas inserts are similar to traditional fireplaces too, however one is simply installed into a pre-existing firebox.  Expect to pay up to $4,000 for a gas insert after installation.  One perk of each is that gas built-ins and inserts may bypass the need for a chimney, as many built-ins can be direct-vented and inserts operate from the home’s main gas lines.

wood burning fireplaceWood fireplaces are a different matter.  When shopping around, you’ll find inserts, freestanding wood stoves and built-in wood fireplaces (we’ll focus on the latter two).  These are unique as you will need a working chimney for ventilation.  Expect to invest up to $5000 (including installation of the unit, venting system and/or fire resistant flooring) for a freestanding stove, which can be placed anywhere in the room. You may instead opt to spend up to $10,000 for a built-in wood fireplace.  Remember that built-ins are constructed from scratch, so this price tag includes the hardware of the unit, labor involved for installation—constructing a chimney if your home doesn’t have one, gutting an old fireplace if you’re replacing one, etc.—and surround accents like bricks/tiling and the mantel.

At the outset, gas and wood units are comparable by sticker price.  However, think about usage costs.  Gas fireplaces will require the installation of and/or tapping into a home gas line, and incur extra expenses to your monthly gas bill, an already sizable sum. Conversely, wood fireplaces are cheaper throughout the life of the unit because wood is a cheap and sometimes free fuel source.  Our verdict: wood!

Fireplace Design

built in fireplace

Built-In Fireplace

When it comes to looks, gas and wood fireplaces are on level footing.  The fireplace options for each are virtually the same and the appearance is nearly indistinguishable.  Built-in fireplaces give you a homey, rustic feeling and add decoration to a room.  Dancing flames engulf the interiors of both gas and wood fireplaces, and although gas units use ceramic logs, you couldn’t really tell to look at them.

On the other hand, gas and wood insert units and freestanding stoves perhaps lack that quality that makes them blend seamlessly into your home, but each has a firm presence in its own right.  Freestanding stoves especially have an advantage over insert units, as they can come in more shapes and decorative styles.  You can choose a smooth-lined, classical-looking stove or even go with something that looks older and/or more industrial.

The only aspects that differ significantly between gas and wood fireplaces aesthetically involve two things: sounds and smells.  After all, aesthetics encompass more than just the visual.  With wood, no matter the fireplace style, comes the smells of the outdoors—natural wood and the aroma produced by the flames licking it.  The same is true with sound, such as the soft crackling of logs breaking down and the hiss of sparks being thrown around.  Gas fireplaces don’t give you these experiences, presenting only the quiet glow of the fire.  Perhaps this alone would have a hand in your decision!  The verdict: wood fireplaces all the way!

Fireplace Maintenance

An essential aspect of fireplace ownership and use is unit maintenance.  Wood-burning fireplaces, be they stoves or built-ins, require diligent attention each year.

This includes the annual chimney & fireplace inspection.  A chimney sweep should assess the structure, ensuring that your chimney and fireplace are each free from cracks, leaks and buildup like soot and creosote, and making sure the flue is in good shape.

Wood Fireplace: If you’ve opted for a wood stove, its catalytic combustor must be checked 3 times annually to ensure that it is breaking down fuel safely and efficiently.  Depending on the outcome of the inspection, you may need fireplace and chimney repair and/or cleaning.  This might range from fixing a cracked chimney cap to a chimney cleaning by a sweep using proper tools.

Gas Fireplace: Maintaining gas fireplaces, be they built-ins or inserts, often requires only small, do-it-yourself steps.  Direct-vented gas units don’t need a chimney, so inspections and cleaning are out.  One step to take, however, is to have the venting system checked out to ensure safety and maximum efficiency.  You’ll want to be sure that venting pipes are not clogged with dust or debris or are leaking gas.  Additionally, be mindful of the condition of the ceramic logs.  Logs can accumulate dirt or even break from time to time, and you can check this and use appropriate cleaning agents to resolve issues.  Also, if your model has a fan to spread heat, keep an eye on it.  This might be an exception to the DIY nature of gas fireplace maintenance, and if the fan malfunctions, it’s time to call in an expert.

The special touch of a professional is always awesome to have because of expertise and thoroughness.  But if you can maintain your fireplace alone, that’s a definite perk.  The verdict: gas fireplaces for the win!

So which do you choose in the battle of gas vs. wood fireplaces?  A gas unit, free from the need for wood fuel?  What about a wood fireplace, which is big on ambiance?  Maybe you already had an existing fireplace structure, so all you need is an insert.  Perhaps even a freestanding stove is an ideal solution.  Even if you’re opting for a newly-constructed fireplace, High’s Chimney has you covered there, too.  Give us a call to discuss your fireplace needs today!

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