Gas or electric fireplaces: which is best?

In the process of choosing a new fireplace for your home, you may be weighing up between a gas or electric fireplace. There are several different aspects to consider when deciding which fireplace would be best, such as safety, running costs, and energy efficiency.

Updated on 08/03/24

Electric fireplaces are best in terms of safety, ease of installation and set-up, energy efficiency, and maintenance needs.

Gas fireplaces are best if you want lower running costs, a higher heat output, and a genuine burning flame. Stylistically, there are a range of options for both gas and electric fireplaces, so this factor is completely up to your personal preference.

Gas fireplaces

Where wood-burning fireplaces use firewood, gas fireplaces use gas as their fuel. This gas is typically natural gas or propane. Gas fireplaces are often seen as a superior option to traditional wood-burning fireplaces; they’re able to heat a space quickly, generating a combination of radiant heat and warm air to efficiently heat a room.

Pros of a gas fireplace

  • Gas fireplaces are a relatively cost-effective option compared to other types of fireplaces.
  • The real flame on a gas fireplace adds ambience to whatever space the fireplace is in.
  • There’s a wide range of stylistic options to choose from to match your fireplace with the aesthetics of your home.
  • Gas fireplaces are more heat efficient than both electric and wood-burning fireplaces.
  • You can control the flame on a gas fireplace easily; all you need to do is reduce the gas flow using a switch or a remote.
  • In the case of a power outage, you’ll still be able to warm your home with a gas fireplace.

Cons of gas fireplaces

  • The price of installing a gas fireplace can be high, particularly if you don’t already have an established gas line in your home.
  • The installation of a gas fireplace must be carried out by a Gas Safe registered engineer competent in gas appliance installation.
  • Gas fireplaces come with the risk of potential gas leaks from the fireplace or its piping.
  • Having a real flame, gas fireplaces pose more of a fire hazard than electric fireplaces.

Electric fireplaces

Electric fireplaces have no burning fuel at all, nor do they have a real flame. These fireplaces are completely powered by electricity to create the illusion of a real burning fire. The flame in an electric fireplace is a visual effect generated by the inner mechanism of the unit; this may either be an LED bulb and a set of mirrors, an LED bulb and water vapour, or a digital screen. Electric fireplaces may also contain a separate heating element, i.e. a fan-forced or infrared heater, to generate heat as a real fire would.

Pros of electric fireplaces

  • You can install and set up an electric fireplace yourself within minutes of taking it out of the box.
  • Electric fireplaces don’t require a gas line, chimney, flue, or any kind of ventilation system.
  • Unlike fuel-burning fireplaces, electric fireplaces carry no risk of producing harmful fumes like smoke or carbon monoxide.
  • Electric fireplaces are cleaner and easier to maintain than stoves or other traditional fuel-burning fireplaces.
  • There are many different styles of electric fireplaces to choose from, with various flame effects, inserts, and surroundings.
  • Electric fireplaces are generally the safest type of fireplace.
  • Using the ‘flame only’ setting, you can switch on the flame effect of an electric fireplace without running the heater; this will allow you to enjoy the visual effect of the fireplace all year round.

Cons of electric fireplaces

  • The heat that an electric fireplace produces is not sufficient to heat an entire home.
  • Compared to fuel-burning fireplaces, electric fireplaces are more costly to run as electricity is more expensive than gas and firewood.
  • Electric fireplaces lack a real flame; this is only an issue if you want the ambience produced by a genuine fire.
  • You won’t be able to use your electric fireplace in the case of a power outage.

Which fireplace is best, gas or electric?

1. Is it easier to install a gas or electric fireplace?

Over all other types of fireplaces, electric fireplaces are the easiest units to install and set up. With that said, gas fireplaces are still easier to install than traditional wood-burning fireplaces.

Gas fireplace installation

A gas fireplace can be installed in nearly any room in your home; this is providing the room has a gas line, source of electricity, and a fireplace vent if your model requires it. It’s best to have a professional install a gas fireplace to negate the potential risks of improper installation.

The basic steps that go into the installation of a gas fireplace are as follows:

  1. An area is cut out into which the fireplace will be installed.
  2. The fireplace is positioned in the installation area.
  3. Gas and electricity lines are connected to the fireplace.
  4. A fireplace vent is built to provide ventilation from your fireplace to the outside of your home.
  5. A mantel is installed.

Electric fireplace installation

Electric fireplaces are by far the easiest types of fireplaces to install. You can have your electric fireplace up and running within minutes of removing it from the box; all you need is an available plug socket unless you wish to hardwire the fireplace into your home electrics. You can easily set up an electric fireplace yourself without professional help.

The basic steps that go into the installation of an electric fireplace are as follows:

  1. An area is cut out for the fireplace if necessary.
  2. A dedicated outlet for the fireplace is installed if necessary.
  3. You plug in the fireplace or hardwire it into your home electrics.

2. Is a gas or electric fireplace more cost effective to run?

Gas fireplaces are typically more expensive to purchase and install than electric fireplaces. However, over time, electric fireplaces are generally more expensive to run. This ultimately depends on the amount of BTUs (British Thermal Units) that your fireplace emits; the higher the BTUs, the more the fireplace will cost to run.

Gas fireplace costs

The purchase and installation of a gas fireplace is typically a lot more expensive than that of an electric fireplace. This is due to the extra labour involved in gas fireplace installation, such as installing a gas line; also, gas fireplace installation must be carried out by a professional, whereas you can install an electric fireplace yourself. Over time, however, gas fireplaces are cheaper to run. You must consider the cost of the fireplace’s fuel, whether it runs on propane, natural gas, or ventless gas logs; these sources of fuel are usually cheaper than the equivalent electricity required to run an electric fireplace.

Electric fireplace costs

Electric fireplaces are relatively inexpensive to purchase and install. Unless you choose a high-end unit, you can purchase an electric fireplace for as little as £100. You won’t need to spend any more money on installation if you already have an available socket; all you need to do is plug your fireplace in and switch it on. The costs of an electric fireplace come with the running of your unit, as electricity is the most costly fuel source.

3. Are gas or electric fireplaces more energy efficient?

Electric fireplaces are the most energy-efficient type of fireplace. With that said, both gas and electric fireplaces are more energy efficient than wood-burning fireplaces. They both use a cleaner source of energy, meaning they produce fewer harmful emissions.

Gas fireplace energy efficiency

Gas fireplaces are highly energy-efficient and clean-burning. For example, ventless gas fireplaces minimise the production of carbon monoxide and moisture production by burning at an optimum temperature. In general, gas fireplaces work at about 70% to 90% efficiency when converting energy to heat; the energy efficiency of a gas fireplace will ultimately depend on the unit and the insulation of your home.

Electric fireplace energy efficiency

Electric fireplaces are even more energy efficient than gas fireplaces. An electric fireplace will use less energy than a gas unit and typically has no energy wastage whatsoever. Also, because an electric fireplace has no real burning fuel, it won’t release harmful particles into the air during operation. However, take note that you wouldn’t be able to use an electric fireplace as a primary heat source for your home; it’s likely you’ll have to run a secondary heat source alongside your electric fireplace in the colder months.

4. Which is safer, gas or electric fireplaces?

Electric fireplaces have the edge over gas fireplaces in their safety, as the former type lacks a real burning flame. Even so, both types of fireplaces pose a potential fire hazard as they both produce heat; gas fireplaces are slightly more hazardous as they can also cause burns or leak noxious fumes.

Gas fireplace safety

As a fire hazard, gas fireplaces may pose more of a safety risk due to having a real flame. The flame in a gas fireplace is hotter than the heater in an electric fireplace; this makes the unit hot to the touch, potentially causing a burn to a person or pet in your household. Gas fireplaces also produce harmful fumes like carbon monoxide. A faulty unit, or a unit that is improperly installed or maintained, has the potential to leak these fumes into your home.

Electric fireplace safety

Electric fireplaces are generally the safest type of fireplace you can have in your home. They have no burning fuel, produce no harmful emissions, and therefore do not require any kind of ventilation or chimney. That isn’t to say they aren’t without their safety concerns; if the electric fireplace has a heater, there’s still a fire risk in case the unit malfunctions. There is also a potential risk of an electrical fire if damage occurs to the fireplace’s wiring.

5. Are gas or electric fireplaces easier to maintain?

Electric fireplaces are generally easier to maintain than gas fireplaces. If you want a fireplace that requires little to no maintenance, both types will suit; a gas fireplace will require a little more maintenance to keep it in safe working order.

Gas fireplace maintenance

Although they require higher maintenance than electric fireplaces, gas fireplaces require less maintenance than those that burn wood. Regular gas fireplace maintenance involves inspecting and cleaning the vent or flue and checking the gas valves for damage or leaks. These activities are essential to keep the fireplace operating properly and safely.

Electric fireplace maintenance

Electric fireplaces are very low maintenance. The wiring of these fireplaces should be inspected every so often, and it may become necessary to change a burnt-out bulb. Aside from these circumstances, the only other regular maintenance activity would be cleaning the electric fireplace.

6. Which heats the quickest, a gas or electric fireplace?

Gas fireplaces tend to heat a room more quickly than electric fireplaces. Both types of fireplaces will begin to produce heat as soon as you switch them on; gas fireplaces will work quicker to heat a room as they have a higher heat output. As we’ve mentioned, this is measured in British Thermal Units or BTUs.

Gas fireplace heating ability

A gas fireplace has a much higher heat output than an electric fireplace. Gas fireplaces can generate anywhere from 7,000 up to 40,000 BTUs depending on the unit’s size and model. You will also feel the heat from a gas fireplace more quickly than you would an electric unit when standing further away.

Electric fireplace heating ability

An electric fireplace has a lower heat output, generating roughly between 4,000 and 5,000 BTUs. The fireplace’s heating ability will depend on the unit’s heating element, which could either be a fan-forced or infrared heater. Fan-forced heaters are suitable to efficiently heat a small room of up to 400 square feet; infrared units have a higher heat output, being able to heat a larger room to 1,000 square feet.

7. Which fireplace looks the best?

Whether a gas or electric fireplace looks best in your home will completely be up to your personal preference. For both gas and electric fireplaces, there is a huge range of stylistic options for you to choose from. The only major aesthetic difference is that a gas fireplace has a real flame, while an electric fireplace does not.

Gas fireplaces

Gas fireplaces more closely replicate the look and feel of a real wood-burning fireplace. They produce a real flame and give off an intense heat, more akin to a real fire than an electric fireplace. If you want a truly authentic feel to your fireplace, a gas fireplace will be the preferable choice.

Electric fireplaces

Electric fireplaces lack a real flame, instead creating the illusion of a real flame using visual trickery. The flame effect could either be an LED light shining onto mirrors, water vapour, or a digital screen. Some electric fireplaces even play a sound effect of a crackling fire to further the authentic feel of the unit. Although the flame isn’t real, electric fireplaces are highly realistic and will add an ambience to a room like a real burning fireplace.

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