Throughout history, fireplaces have had a place both inside and outside of the home to help provide hot food, heat, light, and a centralized location to gather with family and friends. In more recent years, homeowners have gotten several types of fireplaces to choose from that include different visual effects, structures, and fuel types. Some fireplaces are only to warm up one or two rooms, and others are efficient enough to heat the entire house. Finally, you have types of fireplaces that produce little to no heat, and they’re purely available for decorative purposes.
You can build your fireplace into a big stone mantle, or you can have types of fireplaces that are small enough to put on a coffee table. The variety can seem like a lot to take in at first, but finding out which type of fireplace will work best for you is relatively straightforward when you look at a few key factors.
Your final choice will depend on which fuel type you want, convenience, safety, cost, and efficiency. This quick guide will highlight the eight most popular types of fireplaces, how they work, safety features, and the average cost to give you a good idea on what is available.
Alternative Fuel-Burning Fireplaces
In the past few years, two newer fuel options have increased how many types of fireplaces you have available to install in your home. We’ll outline them for you below.
Alcohol Gel fireplaces
This is a very exciting addition to the current range of fireplaces available. They’re very lightweight and self-contained, and you can easily mount them straight to a wall or move them from room to room as you see fit. They’re contemporary, attractive, and they burn using a real flame that is less flickering and more dense than you’ll get from an ethanol-burning flame. This type of fireplace won’t throw out a huge amount of heat, and you can adjust the temperature to stay comfortable.
This is a ventless type of fireplace, so they’re easy to install and convenient. They’re also typically portable and small, and you can easily move them around. This fireplace will display a real flame that will dance like a candle’s flame, but it won’t put out a large amount of heat. It has an enclosed burner that lets you adjust your temperature, and they’re not efficient enough to heat your entire home. You can get this type of fireplace as a tabletop unit, wall-mounted unit, or as an insert.
This fireplace won’t emit a large amount of odor, smoke, or other pollutants into your home compared to other types of fireplaces. Alcohol gel fireplaces also give off zero smoke when they run. Because of the fuel type, you should never leave these fireplaces unattended when they’re on, particularly if you have pets that could knock them over and cause a fire hazard.
Alcohol gel fireplaces are easy to install and relatively inexpensive as they don’t require an electrical line, venting, or any other type of hookup to work. They come in a large range of styles and sizes, and you can buy them for as few as a hundred dollars.
Ethanol fuel canisters have to get refilled with denatured ethanol on a frequent basis, usually every five hours of use. This makes them more expensive to operate. Also, canisters of gel fuel will burn out only after a few hours, so this can increase the operating price too.
Electric fireplaces are very common in homes where it’s not possible to have a real fireplace or for people who like the look of fireplaces but don’t want the work that comes with them. Electric Fireplace by Lee Haywood / CC BY-SA 2.0
An electric type of fireplace is the most easy-to-install and cost-effective option you have when you want to add a fireplace to your home. This fireplace plugs into the wall, and you can think of it as a decorative, large space heater. It gives you an excellent flexibility that you won’t get with most models because you can easily move it from room to room. However, instead of having an actual flame, this fireplace will have LED lights to project a realistic-looking fire onto a screen. Some allow you to adjust how the flame looks, including changing the color, or you can pick visual effects to complement your room’s look.
Earlier models of this type of fireplace were much less aesthetically pleasing, but today’s versions are much more attractive. Some come designed to mimic the look of a wood-burning fireplace, and some will connect to Bluetooth speakers or to your Wi-Fi. You can adjust these fireplaces with a remote control, and some come outfitted with built-in thermostats.
You may get a model that lets you turn the heating element off but keep the fireplace-like ambiance going, and this works well for warmer climates. Most of these types of fireplaces can heat areas up to 500 square feet, and some models can heat up to 1,000 square feet if they’re hardwired. This can help you with zone heating to reduce your heating bills.
One newer type of electric fireplace on the market is the infrared model. They’re different from the standard electric fireplace because they use quartz heating technology. This is a radiant heating form that will use infrared to heat the surface of objects, just like an infrared sauna does. Just like a lot of other electric models, infrared fireplaces let you pick from a range of visual effects, and they have a thermostat that lets you run it without emitting heat or varying the heat amount.
Standard electric fireplaces
A standard electric type of fireplace comes with several display and mounting options. They come built to resemble traditional wood-burning fireplaces, and they offer an attractive facade with the illusion of being built right into your wall. You can use them without a vent or chimney, and other options are freestanding. You can mount some to the wall, and some get enclosed inside a piece of furniture, like an entertainment center. You can also get electric inserts for open-hearth fireplaces, but they’re less common than gas or wood-burning inserts.
There are more advantages to this type of fireplace. They create no exhaust or mess, so they don’t need to be professionally-inspected and cleaned once a year like other models. They also have zero maintenance needs. The LED lighting consumes very little energy, and they can last for 50,000 hours or more before you have to replace them.
These models are also safe because they won’t emit pollutants in your home, produce any fire-spreading embers, are cool to the touch, and come enclosed. This makes them safe to use around children or small pets. They do plug into a standard outlet, but this should be an outlet on a dedicated circuit breaker or fuse instead of adding it to an outlet with other things already plugged in. Never plug it into an extension cord.
Compared to other types of fireplaces, electric models are affordable. Most products will come in at under $1,000, and you can get them below $300. Installation is something you can do yourself, so it’s free. The operating costs are also usually low, depending on what your local electricity rates are. An infrared fireplace is very efficient, and they usually come in at under $200 while being just as easy to maintain and install.
Enclosed Zero Clearance Fireplace
An indoor wood-burning enclosed fireplace is also referred to as a zero clearance manufactured fireplace. This is a fully-enclosed metal firebox just like a wood stove, and it gets built right into a wall in your home like an open-hearth type of fireplace. A lot come with glass fronts like an insert, but they can have much bigger inserts than you would normally get because they get framed directly into the house. You can get this type of fireplace that burns gas, wood pellets, or wood.
Zero clearance fireplaces have the same efficiency advantages and safety that you’d get with a traditional wood stove.
Just like the open-hearth type of fireplace, it’s very impractical or cost-prohibitive to add this fireplace unless it’s during new construction like an extension. They can range between $1,000 to $5,000 for the unit itself, not including installation. How much you spend to keep it operational depends on the fuel type, and they should be professionally serviced once a year.
Gas fireplaces may be less aesthetically pleasing and natural than a wood-burning option, but they are very popular in new construction projects because of their safety, efficiency, and lower costs to install them. They can run on propane or natural gas, just like fireplace inserts. You can use them with a vent-free or direct vent exhaust system, and some use a B-vent.
B-Vent Gas Fireplace
This type of fireplace looks very similar to a wood-burning fireplace, and it operates like one too. They’re open to the room, but they use a gas burner and valve system to create the heat when you switch them on. The B-vent term refers to the natural vent piping you’ll get on this model instead of a chimney. They won’t produce a huge amount of heat, so they’re a good option for warmer climates where you valve the decorative aspect of this fireplace over the actual ability to heat.
Direct Vent Gas Fireplace
A direct vent system draws the air and lets the exhaust go directly outside of the house using a stove pipe. Since they don’t draw the air from inside of the home, they’re best to install in very high-efficiency, weather-sealed homes.
Vent-Free Gas Fireplace
A ventless or vent-free type of fireplace is usually open to the room, and they have a very easy installation process that makes them immensely popular. They’re very efficient as well, but they do have output limitations, and this makes them unsuitable for use as the primary heating source in your home. This type of fireplace works best in a high-ceilinged, large room that offers a lot of space for the humidity and carbon dioxide they put up to evaporate. You’ll get a blue flame instead of the traditional yellow one that a direct vent fireplace offers.
If your gas fireplace isn’t working correctly, it increases the risk of having dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the house, so you do want to install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor to be safe. Also, it’s a good idea to install an oxygen-depletion sensor. This is also called a safety pilot, and it’ll switch the gas off automatically if too much carbon monoxide builds up or if the fireplace gets too cold. You can use these items in any gas fireplace, but they’re essential in vent-free fireplace models.
The operating costs of this type of fireplace includes maintaining your carbon monoxide detectors, gas, and routinely having it cleaned and inspected. It won’t produce soot or ash, and it will release less creosote than you’d get with a wood-burning unit. This makes the maintenance process much easier. However, you want them cleaned and inspected once a year. The cost to install this type of fireplace has a broad range too, based on the vent type, fireplace style, and whether you need to run a new gas line or connect it to an existing source of propane or natural gas.
Almost all of the B-vent models use a traditional style with glass or screen doors, a rectangular opening, and fake logs. However, a lot of the vent-free or direct-vent gas fireplaces have more linear models with a wide, low opening and a shallow but wider burner that gives you a flame ribbon. Some also allow you to display art or glass, and you can get hybrid types too.
Open Hearth Fireplaces
An indoor open wood-burning type of fireplace is what most people envision when you see a fireplace. They’re also called masonry fireplaces, and it features an open-faced fireproof box that gets built right into the wall of your home. It’s usually made out of stone or brick, and the chimney works to vent out the wood smoke. The appeal of this type of fireplace is that the fire takes center stage, and the fire’s sound, light, heat, and aroma enter whatever room it’s in when you use it.
The hearth is the bottom wall of your firebox, and it has a protective brick or stone foundation in front of them to protect your flooring from any embers that may escape. This fireplace type usually comes with a decorative shelf on the top, and the mantel can feature stone, brick, concrete, adobe, wood, or another material in the design. Your best bet is to use this fireplace to burn seasoned hardwood because it burns hotter, longer, and has less tar buildup. You can also use manufactured options like wood bricks made out of sawdust and compressed wood chips.
These fireplaces are very aesthetically-pleasing and rustic, but they’re very inefficient. Also, they can be dangerous if you leave them unattended, especially around kids or pets. The biggest safety concerns with this type of fireplace are the emissions, embers, and creosote. It’s easy for embers to fall out from a crackling log and start fires if they land on your wood floor or carpet. To prevent this, this fireplace usually has movable glass panel doors or a metal mesh screen that stretches over the open face of the hearth.
Also, burning wood allows it to release creosote, and this will build up inside your chimney. Excessive deposits can easily catch on fire, and the fire can then spread to your home. This is why you should have it professionally cleaned once a year. Creosote can also accumulate on the fireplace’s glass doors, so you want to clean them regularly.
Finally, this type of fireplace will also release pollutants into your house. You may like how wood smoke smells, but it will contaminate your home’s indoor air. Some common emissions to worry about include carbon monoxide, particulates, and other pollutants. For most people, this won’t be a problem. However, it’ll present an issue to anyone who has pre-existing lung conditions.
Additionally, rarely is it practical to add this type of fireplace to an existing home if you don’t already have a hearth in place because it’s a very labor-intensive, time-consuming, and expensive process. The annual maintenance can also quickly drive up the price, depending on how much you use it throughout the year.
Outdoor Fireplaces And Fire Pits
Although most people have indoor fireplaces, it’s possible to have an outdoor fireplace or fire pit. This creates a very nice focal point for outdoor gatherings, and it makes a great way to entertain more guests than you comfortably fit into your home. If you want to add a wood-burning fireplace to your home, doing so outside is a great option. Building it outside is much less expensive than building one inside, and it is legal in some areas where it’s not legal to have an indoor type of fireplace. You do want to double-check with local ordinances before you start building.
There is a huge amount of choices for outdoor wood burning. Getting a built-in outdoor fireplace involves a large construction project, and they’re meant to stay in one place permanently, just like an indoor open hearth. You can create them using a kit or from scratch.
A fire pit is a much more cost-effective and simpler option. It can be a literal pit, or you can get a platform on the ground to build on open fire or get a freestanding metal container that sits off the ground. A portable outdoor fireplace is another option you have available, and it’s a portable, enclosed container. A chimenea is another choice that is a round-bellied terracotta fireplace with narrow chimneys and an opening on one side. They’re popular for cooking. You can also use some fireplace inserts outdoors.
There are several uses for this type of fireplace over providing ambiance, warmth, and giving you a chance to roast marshmallows. You can create them to help you cook, and you could integrate a wood-fired pizza oven. You could also burn wood to help heat a zero-electricity hot tub or sauna.
Burning wood outside removes a lot of the safety considerations that you’d get with indoor types of fireplaces like fire-starting escaped embers or airborne particulates. However, you do want to keep an eye on it, and you have to abide by burn bans in the summer months.
How much you pay to install an outdoor fire pit or fireplace can easily range upwards to several thousand dollars for a masonry fireplace to less than a hundred dollars for a simple fire pit. You could also build one yourself to make it free.
Pellet Burning Options
If you’re not someone who likes electric or gas types of fireplaces and you don’t have a good source of firewood, you could consider using wood pellets as a fuel source. Pellet-burning choices include enclosed zero-clearance fireplaces, pellet stoves, and fireplace inserts. A pellet-burning system will need a special venting system, and this increases your installation costs. However, it’s not as difficult to install as a chimney or stovepipe would be. You have to plug them into a standard socket to run the ignition, adjustment, and ventilation systems. There are also some stoves that require manual loading, but some have automated systems. If you load them once or twice a day, they can run constantly.
Depending on the type of fireplace you choose in this category, it could have a thermostat on it, and some allow you to program them. You could get a remote control with it, and you can control some using a mobile app on your cell phone. Wood pellets tend to burn much more efficiently than gas or wood, and only 10% of the heat escapes through the vent on the most efficient models compared to the 40 to 50% of heat that escapes an open hearth fireplace.
This is an eco-friendly choice as the pellets are usually made out of wood byproducts and things like soybeans, corns, grains, utshells, vegetable pulp, fruit pits, sunflowers, or other natural products that typically get thrown out. It also burns much cleaner than burning logs, but it emits more particulate pollution than you’d get with electric or gas types of fireplaces.
You will also have much more maintenance with this option. You should make a point to vacuum out the ignition chamber once a week, and you should schedule a professional inspection and clean each year. There is very minimal fire hazard with the proper maintenance.
If you take the need to have proper venting installed with this option, a pellet stove will usually be bought and installed for $3,000 to $5,000. If you buy the pellets in bulk, they’re usually relatively inexpensive.
Wood Burning Fireplace
Some people believe that there is no good substitute for a wood burning fireplace, particularly if they grew up with one. A lot of people prefer to have this type of fireplace because of the aesthetics like the crackling sound, aroma, and the visual appearance of the flames. Other people like splitting wood and have a lot of free firewood at their disposal. However, there are several drawbacks to this type of fireplace that you should consider, including efficiency, safety, installation costs, and government regulations.
Wood Burning Stoves
This is a cast-iron or solid steel box that is free-standing, and it comes with a metal stove pipe to help vent the smoke out. This is much more efficient than an open-hearth type of fireplace, and they get labeled and regulated for efficiency by the EPA. Even though this isn’t technically a fireplace, it’s an alternative that gives you many advantages over an open-hearth model.
First, this type of fireplace is much more efficient and requires less firewood to produce more heat than an open-hearth model. Wood stoves are a way to meet your daily heating needs if your home is up to several thousand square feet without having any cold areas, even in the coldest climates.
Also, most of these stoves are non-catalytic with some upscale models being catalytic. This means that the latter has a honeycomb-like element on the inside called a catalyst. It is made out of a coated ceramic material. When the stove is on, gasses, smoke, and particles go into the honeycomb and burn. This increases how efficient the stove is while allowing it to keep a consistent heat output ratio.
This option is much safer than an open fireplace. The embers get contained, and the firebox will latch closed to keep it safe from pets or kids that get too close. Also, because they emit a lot less smoke and due to the fully enclosed design, they release a lot less pollution into your home.
Just like the open-hearth type of fireplace, this one has to get cleaned and inspected at least once a year. If it has a catalyst, you’ll have to have it replaced every few years. Catalytic-style wood stoves are much more challenging to maintain than non-catalytic options are.
The installation costs can start at a few hundred dollars and easily go up to a few thousand dollars, depending on the type and size you pick out. If you need to remodel to have space for the stovepipe flue, this will increase your costs. However, if you have access to firewood, it can be a cost-effective way to heat your home.
We’ve outlined eight different types of fireplaces that you can consider adding to your home. You can look through the list and decide which one will suit your wants and needs the best, and have it installed so you can enjoy the cozy atmosphere whenever you like.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.