Are Fireplaces Environmentally Friendly?


Fireplaces are a popular fixture in living rooms in houses around the world. Not only are they an effective way to generate heat, they also produce captivating visuals and the cozy crackling of flame for your guests. However, if you’re concerned about the environment, and you’re trying to make your home as efficient as possible, you may wonder whether fireplaces are an environmentally friendly choice for installation. 

Types of Fireplaces

First, you should know that there are a variety of different types of fireplaces available to consumers, including: 

  • Wood burning fireplaces. Wood burning fireplaces are the conventional type of fireplace most people think of initially. It remains one of the most common types of fireplaces, since it produces the most immersive experience. As the name suggests, these fireplaces require the use of wood logs as a fuel source, and they feature a chimney or similar release point for smoke; they also tend to pose a fire hazard if they aren’t maintained properly. Accordingly, they’re not legal in all areas, and may be heavily restricted in some areas. 
  • Electric fireplaces. Electric fireplaces are increasingly common, since consumers want fireplaces but may not want a traditional wood burning model. The requirements for installation are much more flexible than they are for wood burning fireplaces. Additionally, you’ll have more controls and options, playing with the lighting, the placement, and more. These models rely on conventional electricity to produce flames (or the image of flames) and heat. 
  • Gas fireplaces. Gas fireplaces rely on some form of gas as their fuel source. They’re similar to electric fireplaces in that they have more flexible installation requirements, but they use a different type of fuel. Depending on your local availability and the model of fireplace you choose, you may be able to operate a fireplace with natural gas or propane

Within these categories, there are many subtypes of fireplaces you can choose from. Accordingly, it’s hard to identify a singular, generic “fireplace” as being environmentally friendly. 

Let’s look at more details. 

On the Subject of Heat Generation 

First, we have to consider the nature of heat generation. To generate heat for your home, you’re going to expend energy. Almost every form of energy expenditure (and therefore generation) leads to some kind of environmental consequence. Therefore, an environmentally friendly heating method is one that produces as much heat as possible, while using as little energy as possible. 

For fireplaces, this concept poses a key challenge; almost all fireplaces are less efficient at heating a home than a traditional furnace. This is partially due to how the fireplace generates heat, and partially due to the fact that fireplaces aren’t built to distribute heat throughout the house; instead, they radiate heat in one area. 

If you’re looking to use a fireplace as a supplementary form of heat, this is no issue, but compared to a furnace, they’re inherently less environmentally friendly for long-term use. 

Fireplace Structure 

It’s worth noting that the structure of your fireplace will play a role in its environmental friendliness as well. If your fireplace has a conventional chimney leading outside, your home will likely suffer from heat loss—whether you’re using it or not. This can be prevented with the right combination of strategies, but it’s still something you’ll need to take into account. 

Wood Burning and Smoke

Wood burning fireplaces may seem like they’re inherently worse for the environment than other models, because they produce smoke, but this isn’t necessarily the case. There are good arguments to suggest that burning wood is a carbon neutral activity, meaning it doesn’t increase the amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Electric and gas fireplaces, by contrast, must generate heat using fuel sources that are non-renewable, and they are not considered carbon neutral. It’s hard to gauge whether wood burning is an environmentally superior choice, because there are many variables to consider. 

Electric vs. Gas

Electric and gas burning fireplaces have a few advantages over wood burning, despite relying on non-renewable energy sources (directly or indirectly). For example, they burn clean and are typically more efficient forms of heating. But how do they compare to each other? Generally speaking, gas is a more efficient fuel source than electricity, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the better choice for the environment. 

The Bottom Line

The bottom line here is that while fireplaces aren’t the most efficient way to generate heat for your entire home, and there are some weaknesses to be aware of, fireplaces are mostly environmentally neutral. Wood burning is, in some ways, environmentally friendlier than using electricity or natural gas, but both gas and electric fireplaces burn cleaner at their origin point. Do your research and think carefully to choose the right fireplace for your lifestyle and needs.