real fireplace vs other fireplace options

newhouse123March 2, 2013

Builing up in central Fl on acreage, the DH really wants a real wood burning fireplace in the living room, I however do not and prefer the other options out there. We are on a tight budget, which one would be less costly in the build and less maintenance? Thanks ..

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Simulated fireplaces that use a gas flame and fake logs can be nice but they are a poor substitute for a real fireplace. Perhaps a wood burning stove with doors would be a good compromise.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 5:36PM
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Gas logs are expensive to operate, provide less heat if vented, or leave a film on your furniture if unvented. Plus, they're fake.

Put in the real thing.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 5:57PM
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Sophie Wheeler

A real masonry fireplace like a site built Rumford is expensive to add to a build. Do you really want to spend 20K for ambiance? You can do a gas insert with masonry around it for less than half price.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 6:38PM
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We have a vented gas log (with a blower) and it heats up the basement really well and IMO doesn't look bad at all. Our home however is in the $200k range and that can mean a lot as far as finishes, etc. Our TV is down there and we use it quite a bit fall through spring. I think with the stone it was $3,500 (but we are DIYer's so no labor for the stone install)?

We live in MI so it's more than just for show. We will be putting one in our new build on the main floor.

Here is a pic (it's kind of washed out-not much natural light down there). 8 foot ceilings.

Sidebar: Just got back from central FL on vacation and it was sooo nice! DH and I started dreaming of retirement and becoming snow birds, lol! Seriously we left a foot of snow and the weather was absolutely perfect. It was very hard to return.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 7:21PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Real wood burning fireplaces are terribly energy inefficient. In central FL, you do get some chilly days, but don't expect the fireplace to heat you will suck in more cool air and you will only be warm if you sit by the fire. A gas fp will actually heat the space, esp if you use the blower on it. A wood burning stove will be very energy efficient and with a glass front, you will be able to view the fire nicely. They are less expensive to build. Some of them can be burned with the doors open or even removed so you do have a real fire that won't overheat your space.

Wood burning is also very messy....lugging logs in that drip bark and such, the puff of ash that goes everywhere whenever you build a fire or poke it, and when you remove the ash. I also have no idea how much wood costs in central FL...we scrounge ours for free so it's very cost effective....

And if you're looking for a real wood fire, please don't expect it out of a duralog...those things look worse to me than a gas fp.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 10:36PM
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"you will only be warm if you sit by the fire."

That's actually the point of a fireplace; it's a pleasant gathering point in your house of which there are few left.

As for energy efficiency, it is always proportional to the difference between the interior and exterior temperatures and that would probably be very small when the fireplace is likely to be used.

At any rate, a wood burning stove/fireplace is a good compromise if it fits into the design and decor of the house.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 9:33AM
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Wood burning fireplaces require less maintenance than wood burning stoves. Wood burning stoves have more parts and are designed to burn wood very efficiently and to give greater control over how hot the fire burns, so there's more to using them and caring for them compared to a fireplace. What needs to be done isn't overwhelming but there are various pieces that need to be cleaned/replaced/adjusted over time.

Specifically what maintenance are you concerned about? All I can think of is cleaning up the ash and periodically getting the chimney swept.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 11:18AM
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Wood burning fireplaces require more maintainence. Plus, there is debris from wood and ashes to clean out of the bottom. I found that of the outdoor fireplaces, the Portofo, one of the FMI products linked below has a tray to remove the ashes.

Make a deal with dh that he does the clean up when wood is hauled in and keep the ashes cleaned out too.

These are pre-fab units. A frame is built, the unit is installed along with outside venting ( up to code) and then you can decorate the exterior however you want, making sure you meet local code for non-combustibles being a certain distance from the firebox. Our estimate installed is around $3500, not including framing or decorating. Estimate for gas-burning vented was about the same, but you need to have a gas line and electric run to the site.

We were able to see them at a fireplace store.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wood burning fireplaces

    Bookmark   March 3, 2013 at 7:44PM
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In central FL, you'll need to take pains to protect your firewood, or you'll have a termite farm.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 7:00AM
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Sophie Wheeler

Oh yes, the snap, crackle, and pop of burning insects. I remember it well. The only form of heat that my grandmother's house had was a fireplace. And the only warm spot in the whole place was right in front of it. I loved the smell of the woodsmoke, but my sister can't stand it to this day as it gets in everything. Wood burning fireplaces are being regulated out of existence as they are prime polluters. Check with your local building authority to see if they are even allowed. If they are, they are usually the insert type with the blower using direct combustion air from the exterior rather than the old fashioned open fire and masonry chimney (which are ungodly expensive as well). If the insert is the only allowable form, then you might as get the gas insert and be thousands cheaper and a heck of a lot less messy.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 7:35AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

"That's actually the point of a fireplace; it's a pleasant gathering point in your house of which there are few left."

We have a number of gathering places in our house including around the gas fireplace. IMO, burning wood is simply too big a PITA to make it worthwhile unless you are getting something useful out of it, like heat. (We burn about 2 cord a year in our woodstove.) Otherwise, you can't beat that remote control to start or stop a fire or the cleanliness. Wood is messy.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 8:19AM
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What patsies we have become these days.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 10:00AM
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dBrad-don't really consider myself a patsie. I don't think choosing a gas fireplace makes one a pansie. It's practical and still provides warmth, period. We don't have access to our own firewood so we would have to purchase and store it which also adds to cost. If you need to just get the chill out it's easy to do. Not sure it would be worth starting a fire for that sort of thing so you'd likely use it LESS.

Inlaws have a wood burner and I LOVE it when my FIL heats it up like the 4th of July but it is so dry that it's almost uncomfortable to sleep/feel like you are getting sick and they do have a humidifier. I know I would not do well with that. It makes a huge mess of their house in terms of serious dust it's pretty much impossible to keep up with.

All valid reasons to choose alternatives - but then again I am no Laura Engels Wilder.........

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 12:18PM
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I have to say, I am surprised by how much I love our gas fireplace in our new build. I kind of got talked into it and was sure it was going to be a major regret, but it's not.

I'm home during the day with my youngest and the two of us have had a fire just about every day this winter because it's so easy to flip the switch! It gives off good heat and I think it's pretty. I do miss the smell and sound of a wood burning, but not the mess and hassle. We rarely used ours in our last house because it was such a pain. If I ever build again, I'll make the same choice without any hesitation.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 1:21PM
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We have both, masonry wood burning in the family room with vinyl floor and direct access to outside (BTW, it has make up air and does NOT pull the heat from the house), and gas burning in the great room with nice wood floors. Use the wood burning much more despite the amount of energy required to build, maintain and clear out the fireplace. In the winter we sometimes tuck oysters in the front near the coals to have them roasted! Can't do that with the gas...

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 2:42PM
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suggest a fire pit in the backyard - you can use that all year versus a few days in winter for an indoor FP.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2013 at 3:26PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

Aside to nyce farm, please be aware that there have been issues with backdrafting in outside air vents where the hot ashes end up in a combustible air intake and lead to fire...

Here is a link that might be useful: Outdoor air

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 8:10AM
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FYI, many people disagree with the "Myth of Outside Air" column.

Here is a link that might be useful: Opinions about outside air at

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 9:22AM
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The make up air is a small round hole on the side of firebox, ashes do not get in it... There is a small metal flange that closes it entirely or can be slightly or completely open when there is a fire.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 4:53PM
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Yes, while the coyotes howl in the distance, every family I know gathers round the cracklin' fireplace these cold dark nights and tells tales of long ago, quaffs warm ale and sucks on their cornpipes wiling away the time here in the far north till spring comes.

Get real!

Wood burning fireplaces are virtually unheard of here in new high end houses. I used to put three to four of those monstrosities per house. Now, it's natural gas all the way. Face it, the only reason fancy fireplaces still dominate every formal living room and rec room is to demonstrate the "good taste" and $$$$ the owners are willing to spend on "tradition." And the ones with the most to spend even build massive old style chimneys--except they're made of plywood and one layer of brick veneer.

Make mine natural gas!
Photo: Heather Joy Investments Ltd.

I can always tell when the "real" fireplaces are going in our neighbourhood: that wonderful smell of burning garbage and wet wood. Polluting, useless, archaic, inefficient.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 6:19PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

nycefarm, just be aware of the's when you get a back draft...reverses down the chimney into the stove and the air goes out the inlet where it picks up hot embers and blows them into a non fireproofed intake. The odds may be low, but it was enough for Canada to withdraw the requirement that woodstoves have OAK, and it was enough for us to choose not to get one even though we have a tight house. Our woodstove burns just fine without it. As zone4 said, it is an area of controversy which made our decision making more difficult, but we are happy with our choice. YMMV.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 8:42AM
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"Face it, the only reason fancy fireplaces still dominate every formal living room and rec room is to demonstrate the "good taste" and $$$$ the owners are willing to spend on "tradition."

That's very true here in Dallas, where we use he AC during the day and the remote controlled fireplace in the evening. My fireplace is purely decorative. Would be good to have a real burning fire that is cold.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 11:38AM
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Has your DH lived with a wood burning unit before? I think it's important to know the efforts required to burn wood.

We burn a lot of wood. We have a wood stove as our only source of heat in our current house. Our new house, on the same property, has a fireplace insert. We also have a wood boiler set-up where DH lights a massive fire every morning and it heats our hot water (and our new house).

So, we buy our firewood by the logging truck load. DH LOVES chopping wood, but also uses a wood splitter because there's so much of it to cut. And a chainsaw, of course. We live in British Columbia were good firewood is plentiful.

I would imagine that in Florida, your wood would have more moisture which would mean a smoky fire?

The comments about wood burning being messy are very true. I vacuum around our wood stove daily (sweeping stirs up more dust). Almost every log to go on the fire drops a trail of crumbs. You are not supposed to store firewood in your house for more than a day, so there needs to be appropriate outdoor storage for it, as well as a method of getting it to the house. Slivers, bugs on the wood (I got stung by a bee last week because it was stuck on a log).

There are pros as well, but I honestly wouldn't go through the trouble if it weren't for my DH. I do love the heat and the ambiance though.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 11:41AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

As they say, wood warms you thrice....once when you cut, again when you split it and again when you burn it. I hate splitting wood, but I love it when the house gets toasty from the wood fire...

If I lived in FL, the last thing I'd want to mess with is wood....

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 6:16PM
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Annie, it is a real fireplace, not a wood stove or insert. Thanks for your concern anyway.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 1:24PM
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We have two fireplaces, a wood burning one outside on the porch, and a wood burning one in our family room that we finally decided to install gas logs in! Both of our fire places were built with natural gas starters (talk about patsies!) but once I saw how filthy the outside fireplace got after the first fire...I told dh over my dead body would we burn wood on my marble hearth! The gas line was already in place so we bought a wonderful set of logs. They are very realistic and put out a ton of heat. I am very cold natured and turn them on all the time. Couldn't be happier...and dh still gets to split lgs for the outside FP!

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 2:44PM
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