How to Choose between a Gas, Wood-burning and Electric Fireplace

Compare the advantages of different fire sources before selecting a fireplace for your home

Credit: Flickr/Dru Bloomfield

Gas fireplaces look like the real thing, but come to life at the flick of a switch

Once you’ve made the decision to install a fireplace in your home, choosing one can be as tricky as lighting a real fire without kindling. Fortunately, flaming options abound

In fact, there are so many options on the market – from gas fireplaces to modern electric fireplaces and traditional wood-burning fireplaces – that it’s critical to understand what works best with your style and budget.


Wood-burning Fireplaces

There’s no denying it, fire has an almost primal appeal, and to have a real fire at home is a luxury you may want to splurge on.

Wood-burning fireplaces combine the ruggedness of the outdoors with the conveniences of modern indoor living. But before you rush out and buy one, check your local bylaws for your area’s emissions standards, which may not permit a wood-burning unit.

If your main concern is heating your home, think about a wood-burning stove. They are much more efficient at producing heat, as they were designed for this express purpose. These are extremely heavy – made of solid cast iron or steel – so you may have to reinforce your flooring.

Regardless of the type of wood-burning model you’re interested in, always ensure the wood you use for fuel is very dry or “seasoned.” If unseasoned wood is used, not only will you produce lots of smoke and very little actual heat, you’ll run the risk of generating creosote, which will coat your chimney, potentially causing a chimney fire.

This is perfect for: Someone who enjoys the ritual of making and tending to a fire, but probably won’t be doing so every day.
A standard wood-burning fireplace will cost you approximately: $3,000 to $6,000. Installation is extra.
IMAGE / iStock: gbphotostock


  • Nothing compares to a real fire, with its rich aroma, lively crackling and warm glow.
  • It can be a source of heat and light during power outages.
  • You can have your choice of wood, which affects length of burn, aroma and even the colour of the flame.
  • You can cook with it! This is especially true for wood-burning stoves.


  • You’ll need to buy and store your own wood, which can be messy and bulky. Does your area have a sustainable source of firewood available?
  • You can’t leave it unattended until the ashes are cold. Even warm ashes can spark up and restart a fire.
  • It’s messy to clean up and requires annual maintenance to ensure the chimney is clean. Not doing so could affect home insurance.
  • It’s not the most efficient way to heat your home, since a lot of the heat goes up the chimney (except for wood stoves).
  • It’s likely you’ll experience draughts if the damper isn’t closed or sealed well.

Gas Fireplaces

Gas fireplaces are a no-fuss, hands-off solution to the traditional wood-burning model. And if you don’t want to invest in a complete overhaul of your existing wood fireplace, gas inserts are designed exactly for this purpose.

The inserts can either use an existing chimney for venting or a factory-made insulated chimney. There are even fireplace accessories for automatic shut-off timers, thermostat controls and remote controls, for the ultimate in convenience.

This is perfect for: Someone who loves instant gratification. With a flick of a switch, you can turn on the flames.
A standard direct vent gas fireplace will cost you approximately: $1,100 to $8,500. Installation is extra.
IMAGE: Flickr / Dru Bloomfield


  • They’re very easy to turn on and off, so there’s no time required to set it up or wait for it to cool down.
  • Minimal maintenance. There’s no soot or ash to clean up.
  • Efficient at heating rooms.
  • Works when power is out, so it’s great as a backup heat source.


  • Lack the ambience of a real fire. No aroma or crackling sound.
  • Can be costly to install, especially if you need to run a gas line in.

Electric Fireplaces

These are truly faux fireplaces, as they don’t produce a live flame at all. Instead, they project a digitized image of a moving flame to mimic the look of a real fire.

Electric fireplaces can also produce heat. Most have a 1,400W or 1,500W heater, which can heat up to 400 ft2. However, they’re still reliant on electricity, so it’s an expensive way of heating your home.

The simplicity of an electric fireplace can be very attractive; if you have an electrical outlet, you can turn on your fireplace. Just plug it in and go! No costly installation fees and you can move it easily from room to room. Electric fireplaces are found in many home improvement and hardware stores across Canada.

This is perfect for: A temporary location or for someone who wants a fun, cheap way to mimic the warmth and mood of a real fire.
A standard electric fireplace will cost you approximately: $300


  • This is the most inexpensive fireplace option available that produces light and heat.
  • Easy to source and bring home.
  • Since it requires no ventilation, installation is as simple as plugging it in, which also makes it highly portable.
  • Great for small spaces that wouldn’t otherwise support a fireplace.


  • It’s obviously a fake fireplace.
  • Won’t work during a power outage.
  • While it can produce heat, it’s not efficient so it’ll be costly. These fireplaces work much like a glorified space heater.
  • There aren’t as many style options as gas or wood-burning fireplaces, so it may be hard to find one that suits your décor.

Eco Fireplaces

New eco-friendly fuels are becoming increasingly available. Most consist of denatured ethanol, which can either be inserted into an existing fireplace (once all gas lines or flues have been sealed shut) or placed in a custom housing unit.

Because of this, ethanol fireplaces can be freestanding and placed nearly anywhere, including the middle of a room for dramatic, 360-degree enjoyment.

While beautiful, convenient and appealing to those looking for an alternative energy source, be mindful that the fuel is a flammable liquid and must be carefully stored, handled and decanted.

One litre of bio-ethanol costs around $2.50, which will burn (depending on intensity of fire) 1.5 to 4 hours. Also, you cannot stop the fire until the fuel has burned off. Ethanol fireplaces can be found across Canada at specialty fireplace stores.

Prefer an outdoor fire? Check out this stylish fire bowl.