3 Options for Converting From a Wood Burning Fireplace

January 12, 2015


A traditional wood burning fireplace with a masonry chimney and the sound of crackling wood is undoubtedly appealing. If you don’t have a fireplace and visit friends who do, you probably wish you could just grab it and take it home with you. But that’s until you become a homeowner and realize what an energy hog your fireplace is. Our Maryland fireplace experts at Fireside help many customers who come to us looking for options to cut down their heating bill. Thankfully, there are several ways you can convert your inefficient wood burning fireplace.

What’s Wrong With a Traditional Fireplace

Don’t get us wrong, traditional wood burning fireplaces are beautiful and magical. But that’s about all the benefit they can deliver. Yes, the fireplace keeps you warm, but only if you stand right in front of it. All this wood you feed it generates a lot of heat, but 90% of it goes right up the chimney with the smoke. Not only does a traditional fireplace do very little to heat your home, but it can cause your furnace to work harder.

The chimney is essentially a hole in your house. The only thing standing between the indoors and the outdoors is a thin metal damper. Subject to high heat, the damper may eventually warp and lose its tight seal, causing heat loss even when the fireplace is not in use. If you are noticing that your heating bills keep climbing up, it might be time to consider making your fireplace more efficient.

Gas Fireplace Inserts

You can convert your wood burning fireplace to a gas fireplace. To do this, you would need to carry a gas line to your existing fireplace. There are several versions of gas fireplaces you could choose from:

  • A gas fireplace insert uses your chimney for venting, but the flames are behind the closed glass doors.
  • A gas log allows for open flames, but outputs less heat than wood, so it’s not as efficient as the insert.
  • Ventless gas units are designed to produce low emissions, so they are considered safe to vent inside your home. You won’t experience any heat loss with these, but keep in mind that they suck in oxygen from your living space and replace it with combustion byproducts. 
  • Gas fireplaces are also convenient due to the fact that you can turn them on with a flip of a switch. No lighters, kindling or burns from getting too close to the fire.

Electric Fireplace Inserts

Electric fireplace inserts are essentially electric heaters that are made to fit inside your fireplace. They are probably the least realistic when it comes to the imitation of burning wood, but some modern models do a good job in this department. A big advantage of an electric fireplace insert is that it doesn’t need to vent. This means it’s perfect if you have a broken chimney you can’t use. They are also a lot less costly than other inserts and the installation is rather simple. All you need is an electrical outlet installed in the back of your fireplace and you are good to go. Keep in mind, however, that this insert will use electricity, which is more expensive than wood or gas.

Wood Burning Fireplace Inserts

Wait a second! It’s already a wood burning fireplace—why would you need an additional insert? An insert can help you burn wood in a more efficient way. What you are installing is essentially a stove that will use your chimney to house its insulated exhaust vent. The damper will be gone and the flames will be contained behind a closed glass door. There is a vent on the bottom of the unit that will provide a continuous flow of warm air. An electrical outlet will need to be installed to operate the exhaust fan, and if you want to ditch kindling, you can even have a gas line installed for easy ignition. Instead of using wooden logs, you could purchase a stove that operates on pellets instead.

Would you like to learn more about different fireplace inserts or maybe even see a few in action? Stop by the Fireside fireplace showroom in Ellicott City, MD and get a better idea of your fireplace conversion options.