Best Gas Fireplaces
No need to ignite a heated debate! We give you the scoop on selecting the best fireplace for your home
By Alia Akkam
Invasively cold temperatures, bundling in endless layers, and driving on slippery ice are all legitimate winter gripes. But lending the season a romantic sheen is an alluring contrast: the cozy fireplace. Who can find fault with dark, windy nights when you’re sipping wine and being soothed by leaping, animated flames? Installing this timeless symbol of warmth and conviviality (including less fussy renditions that don’t require a chimney) is easier than ever. Paul Ackert, general manager of Poughkeepsie-based Fairview Hearthside, weighs in on five different fireplace options, from the idyllic and old-fashioned wood-burning version to portable electric ones.
Stoking a wood-burning fireplace on a regular basis is challenging, notes Ackert, but some homeowners just can’t shake the starry-eyed notion of owning one. “They want the open-faced one you see on Christmas cards, ” he says. And who can blame them? The flames, the occasional shooting sparks, the dwindling logs — all these sensory images create an appealing aura of comfort and rusticity. But Dutchess County native Jane Whitman, who had two wood-burning fireplaces in her old Hyde Park home, says their picture book looks weren’t worth the maintenance efforts. “They were a lot of work and often didn’t burn right, ” she points out. Playing woodsman night after night — forced to kindle a constant supply of logs — is certainly a commitment, but in the end, the heat these dreamy fireplaces emit isn’t very efficient. What heat is generated just gets sucked back up the chimney “like a vacuum, ” Ackert points out.
- Wood-burning fireplaces are easy on the eyes, creating a warm, magical feel that hearkens back to simpler, old-fashioned times.
- It’s hard to compete with the authenticity of red flames shooting from logs.
- A chimney is necessary. If chimneys aren’t inspected regularly, however, the build-up of soot and other substances can be flammable.
- Wood-burning fireplaces don’t efficiently heat homes. The majority of heat they produce travels right back up that mandatory chimney.
- For every beautiful, roaring fire comes the required — and pesky — post-burn cleanup of ash.
Opting for a wood-burning fireplace with cast-iron doors strengthens the impact of the heat. This feature also doubles as a safety measure to protect from flying embers.
Most fireplaces are of the masonry variety, crafted from bricks with a brick chimney above to match, creating a well-worn, intimate feel. Those that are pre-fab, containing a metal firebox with refractory bricks, look decidedly industrial. To add a sense of drama, incorporate a peek-a-boo glass screen. Heighten rustic appeal with touches such as a wood-framed surround or stone veneer.
This type of stove is reminiscent of an old-fashioned fireplace. Through the glass, flames flicker strong. But there is a big difference because the pellets, in dried form, are a renewable energy source. “It’s a good alternative, ” says Ackert. “The stove is much lower maintenance than a wood-burning fireplace. You can pack them with 50 pounds of pellets and let it run for 24 or 48 hours.”