Many buyers love the traditional ‘authentic’ effect of having a wood-burning furnace. And with contemporary tech, many of its downsides have been eliminated. Today’s wood fireplaces have insulated glass doors for radiant heating, closed venting for smoke control, and GreenStart features for instant, stress-free ignition. This works by introducing extremely hot air into the heat box. The intense temperature and pressure sets the wood alight in less than a minute – sometimes as little as twenty seconds.
Another past worry for wood-oven owners was the need to constantly seek firewood. Nowadays though, you can order firewood as easily as pizza. Lumberyards have seasoned wood carefully stacked in their compounds, and they can supply you with dry, high-quality firewood baskets on a weekly or monthly schedule, delivered to your door. Some of these companies even have stacking services to ensure your wood doesn’t get moist or pest-infested before their next delivery. So, why do you want gas again?
Well, gas offers easier temperature control. With a wood-burning heater, you can only really adjust your heat by adding less or more firewood, and that can be cumbersome, especially once the furnace is alight. This becomes especially important if your heater doubles as a cooking appliance. That manual heat adjustment makes food preparation so much more laborious. So if your heater is an oven or has a cooktop, gas may be better. Wood fires are hotter, but gas flames can be dialled up or down with a simple twitch of the wrist. Also, a gas BBQ is more likely to have its own in-built thermostat than a furnace designed for wood.
This doesn’t refer to the aesthetic design, because today’s flame-bearing heaters look remarkably similar. They all have realistic burning media with convincing plumes, crackles, and pops. So at first glance, you may not know which driftwood logs are organic and which ones are faux options which don’t turn to ash. But the point where gas burners beat their wood-fuelled cousins is in mood setting. With many gas heaters, the fire and lighting effects run independently. So you can turn in the dancing flames without emitting actual heat.
This is a nice touch when you have a hot date or a relaxing night in, but it’s too warm for home heating. It’s also nice if you want that mesmerising fire to lull you to sleep but are unsure about burning gas the whole night. You can leave the flame effect on till morning but there’ll be no actual burning involved, so you won’t waste fuel or risk potential harm from gas fumes. (This is rarely an issue though, because modern gas heaters use closed venting as a standard safety feature.) These types of decorative fires sometimes come in multiple hues.
Which brings us to the point of maintenance. No matter how modern your wood fireplace is, it will need cleaning three or four times a week. It accumulates soot and ash that needs to be periodically brushed out. It’s advisable to leave about an inch of ash in place, because it makes it easier to ignite during your next use. But even this essential ash can blow around when you open the furnace door (for glass furnaces). In open hearths, there’s an even bigger likelihood of the ash spreading to the rest of the room. Gas heaters don’t have this problem.
No ash, no soot, no sparks. And once you connect it to your gas line or gas bottle, it doesn’t need any attention beyond switching it off and on. Two or three times a year, you can invite a licensed gas plumber to inspect it. They’ll test for gas leakage, ensure all the pipes are unclogged, and might dismantle and clean your burners – something you can’t do on your own (and don’t need to). Also, many of today’s gas heaters can be operated by remote. When the power is out, you can still light them manually, though electric features like light displays and fans might be inaccessible until power resumes. Regarding affordability, the jury is out.
Gas fireplaces and wood fireplaces have the same price ranges, especially if you’re shopping within a single brand. They have similar aesthetics too. As for fuel usage, most suppliers agree that wood fireplaces cost more to run, but some sources disagree, because you’re likely to run your gas furnace longer. At the other end of the argument, loaded wood has to burn until it turns to ash whereas gas can be switched on and off, so you can’t exactly freeze your gas usage at will. For buyers concerned about clutter and potentially breeding pests, a gas heater eliminates the need to store wood inside the house, creating spaces where insects can hide. Wood heaters often need a log cubby, which takes up extra room.