There are few things cozier than cuddling up next to a real fireplace, but is this the best choice for the environment? If you want to know what the most eco-friendly fireplace is, keep reading!
Is a fireplace eco friendly?
You may think of a wood fireplace as a very natural way to heat your home, but you’ve probably also noticed the amount of smoke that a wood fireplace produces. It’s important to examine the content of that smoke and think about the impact it may have on the environment, not to mention your health and that of your family.
Wood burners do not make for the most eco-friendly fireplace, and there are a number of environmental and health concerns associated with them that you should consider:
- Carbon monoxide production
- Toxic particulate matter
- Nitrogen oxides
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
Burning wood produces smoke that contains greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon monoxide, which cause air pollution and contribute to climate change. Additionally, if the wood used in the fireplace does not come from a sustainable source, this can lead to deforestation, a major environmental issue that is destroying habitats, threatening species, and accelerating climate change.
Of course, heating your home with a gas or electric heater also has its issues. Any heating system fuelled with gas or coal-based electricity uses non-renewable fossil fuels.
Additionally, coal electricity plants also pollute the atmosphere and produce CO2 and other greenhouse gasses.
What is the most environmentally friendly fireplace?
Although there are environmental issues with traditional wood fireplaces, the good news is there are options for eco-friendly fireplaces. Let’s take a look at the most popular types of fireplaces used today, and the environmental credentials of each.
When talking about wood-burning fireplaces, it’s important to distinguish between traditional wood-burning fireplaces and high-efficiency fireplaces. While the former is an open kind of fireplace, closed versions like wood stoves are much more efficient and can be quite eco-friendly.
High-efficiency wood fireplaces
High-efficiency wood fireplaces are actually pretty eco-friendly – sealed fireplaces like stoves burn more efficiently. Because they use less wood and produce less smoke for the amount of heat they produce, this minimizes their impact on the environment.
However, they still need plenty of wood, so using even a very efficient wood fireplace can contribute to deforestation. You can address this by using wood from sustainable sources.
The most eco-friendly option is to buy local wood that is harvested from dead trees and then replenished.
Our favorite high-efficiency wood fireplace: Drolet HT3000 Wood Stove Fireplace
Unsealed wood fireplaces
Open-fronted wood fireplaces are less efficient and release high amounts of smoke, contributing to air pollution and climate change.
They are also very inefficient, with most heat dispersing through the chimney, meaning you need to burn more wood and produce more smoke.
Furthermore, burning certain types of wood can make them even less efficient. Wet wood or coal is the worst for smoke, pollution, and carbon emissions.
Bioethanol has been gaining popularity for some time as an eco-friendly fuel for cars and trucks, and you can also use it to fuel your fireplace! Like vehicles, bioethanol fireplaces run on ethanol derived from natural sources, most commonly corn and sugarcane.
Bioethanol produces far fewer pollutants when it burns compared to wood because the alcohol burns clean. A bioethanol fireplace doesn’t give off any of the components in wood smoke that can be harmful to both your health and the environment.
As a fuel, bioethanol is more environmentally friendly than wood or fossil fuels like coal or gas. Corn and sugarcane are fast-growing and so can be regenerated quickly, making them a renewable source of energy.
However, there are concerns that bioethanol production may contribute to deforestation as old-growth forests could be cleared to make way for corn and sugarcane crops. Overall, though, this is a much more eco-friendly option than coal, oil, or even gas and wood.
Our favorite bioethanol fireplace: Brian & Dany Ventless Cube XL Tabletop Fireplace
Electric fireplaces have three big advantages:
- It doesn’t need any fuel
- They are very efficient: 100% of the energy is converted to heat, so there’s no wastage
- The fireplace itself does not produce any gases or emissions
However, an electric fireplace does need energy to run, and depending on where this energy comes from (such as coal-fired electricity), this may generate greenhouse gases. On the other hand, if you power your home with solar panels or use electricity from another renewable source, your electric fireplace will be very eco-friendly.
Our favorite electric fireplace: Yodolla 28.5” Electric Fireplace Insert
Gas fireplaces burn LP or natural gas to generate heat. Traditionally, they’ve often been designed to look like a wood fireplace, though more modern versions are more abstract in style.
Although these fireplaces use non-renewable fossil fuels, they produce less emissions than a traditional wood-burning fireplace. They are also more efficient, producing more heat for the same amount of fuel, though not as efficient as some of the other fireplaces on this list.
Pellet fireplaces are one of the most eco-friendly types of fireplaces around, two main reasons:
- They use special biomass pellets made from sustainable and recycled materials such as tree bark, agricultural waste, and compressed sawdust.
- They are very efficient, producing a lot of heat with very little waste and pollution.
In this way, pellet fireplaces address the two major environmental concerns associated with wood-burning fireplaces.
Using biomass fuels that are often reused and recycled, means that pellet fireplaces do not contribute to deforestation. Furthermore, because they are so efficient, they need very little of that fuel to produce heat.
On the other hand, you can only burn specific types of fuel in a pellet fireplace, requiring a degree of planning and coordination.
Our favorite pellet fireplace: Castle Serenity Wood Pellet Stove.
FAQs about eco friendly fireplaces
It can be tricky to weigh up the pros and cons of the different types of eco-friendly fireplaces to decide which is right for you. We’ve pulled together answers to the most common FAQs to help you understand everything you need to know about this topic.
Is having a fireplace bad for the environment?
This really depends on the type of fireplace you choose.
Pellet and bioethanol fireplaces are great eco-friendly options. They are highly efficient, use fuel from sustainable sources, and bioethanol fireplaces in particular don’t generate any emissions.
High-efficiency wood fireplaces are also a good option, particularly if you use wood from sustainable sources. Gas fireplaces also have a relatively low impact on the environment, although they are not very efficient and run on non-renewable fossil fuels.
However, if you run your electric fireplace on coal-based electricity, every time you turn it on, you’ll be creating greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention air pollution. Equally, traditional wood-burning fireplaces are highly inefficient, cause air pollution, and contribute to global warming and deforestation, so should be avoided.
Are wood-burning fireplaces bad for your health?
When wood burns, it produces smoke which is a combination of gas and fine particles. The fine particles in smoke can irritate and even damage our eyes, nose, and throat, causing a burning sensation in the eyes as well as issues like bronchitis.
This is a significant problem with open, wood-burning fireplaces. However, this problem is minimized in good high-efficiency wood fireplaces when they are well sealed, and most of the smoke is removed via a flue or chimney.
It’s also important to consider the impact of other types of fireplaces on your health. For example, gas fireplaces may produce propane fumes that can accumulate in your home and cause headaches, and more severe reactions in people who are sensitive to gas.
Bioethanol is a good choice health-wise because it burns clean, meaning that bioethanol fireplaces do not create smoke, and most don’t need a chimney or even a vent.
What is the cleanest fuel to burn in a fireplace?
Bioethanol is arguably the cleanest fuel you can burn in a fireplace – it burns without producing any harmful gases, and very few that are damaging to the environment.
In terms of environmental impacts, pellets from sustainable sources are also a “clean” option.
Wood from sustainable sources, as long as it’s burned in a high-efficiency fireplace, also has a comparatively low impact on the environment. If using a wood-burning fireplace, a closed one, (such as a stove) is best for your health and the environment!
What is the worst fuel to burn in a fireplace?
On the other hand, burning wood from non-sustainable sources is detrimental to the environment, both in terms of deforestation and emissions. In particular, wet wood not only burns less efficiently, but also produces more smoke that can be harmful to your health.
The negative impacts of wood smoke on both health and the environment are amplified when using an inefficient open wood fireplace. Another type of fireplace that has a highly negative impact on the environment are electric fireplaces that run on coal-based electricity.
An eco friendly fireplace doesn’t just provide some cozy ambiance in the home, it’s also important for the environmnet. If you love sitting next to a warm fire on a cold winter evening but don’t want your lifestyle to impact the environment negatively, there are plenty of good options around.
The most eco-friendly fireplaces are:
- Bioethanol fireplaces
Other good options are:
- Gas fireplaces also use fossil fuels and are less efficient
- High-efficiency wood-burning fireplaces
- Electric fireplaces that use renewable energy
It’s best to avoid:
- Traditional wood fireplaces
- Electric fireplaces run on coal-based electricity
If you’ve found this article useful, please go ahead and share it on social media. Don’t forget to check out our other guides to creating an eco-friendly home, including the best solar water heaters , the best greywater systems and the most energy efficient stoves.