Types of Fireplaces: What to Know When Searching for your Ideal Fireplace

Types of Fireplaces: What to Know When Searching for your Ideal Fireplace


Just a couple of decades ago, most homeowners across the country probably did not have a whole lot of options regarding the type of fireplace they wanted to install in their home. The traditional wood burning fireplace was not only a cultural icon, but was also the “go-to” option that most home builders suggested and ended up installing. Recent research has shown, however, that the traditional brick and mortar wood burning fireplace is one of the most inefficient ways of heating your home. In most cases, upwards of 90 percent of the heat generated by the fire escapes directly out the chimney. Even worse is the fact that improper combustion methods and poor chimney design may be flooding your home with a whole slew of contaminants from that wood fire, including particulate matter and soot. 

Today, fortunately, there are dozens of different fireplace options for homeowners to choose from. As you browse through your local home improvement store (or on Google), you will probably come across such diverse options such as wood burning fireplaces, fire place inserts, gas fireplaces, ethanol fireplaces, and electric fireplaces. So how do you know which option is right for you? For starters, you need to know what each type of fireplace entails and how it works. Below, we offer a quick overview of the types of fireplaces available on the market today so that you make the best choice regarding which option is best for your home.  

Wood Burning Fireplace Options 

The vast majority of our grandparents probably had a traditional wood burning hearth at the center of their home. The warmth and romantic nostalgia that this memory brings to many people is why wood burning fireplaces continue to be a popular option for people around the country. Today, however, there are several different types of wood burning fireplaces to choose from, and many of the most popular options drastically improve the heating efficiency while helping to protect your home´s indoor air quality. 

  1. Traditional Open Hearth: Most hearths are made from stone or brick. This is the most traditional type of fireplace (think Cracker Barrel dining room), and can give off a decent amount of heat to people seated near to the fire. Though this option does offer a genuine fireplace feel, they are notably inefficient at adding a supplemental heat of your home. For homeowners who want a fireplace option that not only looks great but also helps lower your energy bills, a traditional open hearth might not be the best option. If you´re looking to simply add a bit of ambiance and nostalgic feel to a living room, then an open hearth might be what you´re looking for. 
  2. Enclosed Fireplaces: The main difference between this option and the prior one is that the fire is enclosed within a metal box. Most of these types of fireplaces have a large glass panel so that you can enjoy the aesthetic view of a fire burning. These options are significantly more heat efficient than the open hearth option. 
  3. Fireplace Inserts: A fireplace insert is similar to an enclosed fireplace. The main difference is that the insert is made to fit into an existing open hearth. It is also self-enclosed so that more heat radiates into the room instead of escaping out the chimney. Fireplace inserts are a great option for homeowners who have an existing open hearth, but want a more efficient fireplace option. Fireplace inserts also come as a gas fireplace option, which leads us into our next group of fireplace alternatives. 

Gas Burning Fireplace Options

The main complaint against gas burning fireplaces is that they don´t offer the same authentic “feel” as a more traditional wood burning unit. However, modern day gas fireplaces are made to resemble the natural flames of its wood burning alternative. Gas fireplaces also burn much more cleanly and are able to produce more heat at a lower cost for the homeowner. For homes without an existing fireplace, they also are less “invasive” in their construction, meaning that they can be installed much less expensively than a wood burning fireplace. 

  1. Direct-Vented Built-in Fireplaces: Some homeowners may be worried about the threat of carbon monoxide buildup in the home that has been associated with gas fireplaces. With a direct-vented gas fireplace, however, any un-combusted gas will be safely exhausted out the home either through the chimney or the flue. Most direct-vented gas fireplaces have yellow and orange flames that look like a more natural wood burning fireplace.
  2. Ventless Built-in Fireplaces: These options are by far the cheapest to install as they don’t require any sort of chimney or flue to be vented through the roof. With ventless gas fireplaces, the flame will be a blue color, which may be a turn off for some people. These types of gas fireplaces are extremely heat efficient, and burn very cleanly. However, any potential malfunction or improper burning could lead to a small amount of contaminants negatively affecting your home´s indoor air quality. 

Electric Fireplace Options 

Lastly, homeowners today can also choose from a wide range of electric fireplace options. Electric fireplaces might cost a little bit more to operate than a gas or wood fireplace. However, they are extremely cheap to install, do not negatively affect your home´s indoor air quality, and look extremely like a traditional fireplace´s flames. Many electric fireplace options allow you to either remotely control the device, or even connect it to your smart home hub.

  1. Wall Mounted Fireplaces: This style of electric fireplace is a great addition for a modernist home or apartment that doesn’t have a lot of room for a larger fireplace option. The wall-mounted fireplace can heat a small room while also offering a unique decoration to an important part of your home. 
  2. Built-In Electric Fireplaces: This electric fireplace option is built into your wall, so that it is flush with the wall (instead of mounted on to the wall. With this installation option, the electric fireplace more closely resembles a traditional fireplace and doesn't “protrude” from the wall. Also known as a recessed electric fireplace, one of the easiest ways to install this type of fireplace in an existing home is to build a simple frame that extends your wall outwards a few inches. Following the dimensions of the electric fireplace, simply build the frame from 2x4s leaving space for the electric fireplace unit, anchor the frame to the ceiling and floor studs, and then finish the wall extension any way you´d like. If you want the “look” of a traditional fireplace mantle, there are several faux stone or brick finishes that can be added to offer the more customary look of a fireplace mantle. 
  3. Mantel Electric Fireplaces: If you want the ease, comfort, safety, and clean indoor that comes with an electric fireplace, but prefer that it looks like a more traditional wood fireplace, a mantel electric option might be for you. These types of fireplaces can be built into a traditional stone or brick hearth, giving you the authentic elegance of a traditional woo fireplace for a fraction of the cost, improved heating efficiency, and less worries about indoor air contaminants. 

Conclusion: How to Determine which Type of Fireplace is Best for You? 

Given all that we have discussed above, which type of fireplace might be best for you? As always, the answer depends on several different factors, including your budget, the size of your house, whether your home already has an existing fireplace and/or chimney, and your own aesthetic preferences. For whatever type of fireplace you eventually settle on, however, finding the most efficient makes and models can play a major difference in ensuring the proper and most efficient functioning of your fireplace. 

Back to blog