Have you always wanted a fireplace but the idea of installing a chimney scared you off? Maybe there’s no place to store the wood, or you dread the mess from the ashes and logs. Now you can have the warmth and atmosphere in your very own living room, without the fuss and muss!

NATURAL GAS AND PROPANE FIREPLACES
The ever-popular gas fireplace comes in three main types: the insert, the built-in, and the freestanding fireplace. The insert is used when converting a wood fireplace to gas. Its gas burners and simulated logs are housed in a metal firebox that’s inserted into your existing fireplace. The built-in fireplace is constructed at the same time a house is built or during renovation where there was none previously. It can be built into an interior or exterior wall. The free-standing fireplace looks like a woodstove. It gives off more heat than the first two, since it’s exposed on all sides. While the gas fireplace does not need a chimney, a stovepipe is required to extract combustion gases and release them outdoors. It can be hooked up to the same natural gas supply that feeds other household appliances that use it, or to an external tank if burning propane.

PROS
Easy to use, the fire is ignited and extinguished using a remote control or a thermostat. It can also be programmed to go on at a precise time or when the ambient temperature reaches a certain point, and to regulate the heat to maintain a comfortable temperature. In the event of a power failure, the electronic igniting system can be powered by a backup battery or the gas may be lit with a match. With a gas fireplace, you never have to worry about the embers when you leave the house: all you have to do is cut the gas feed, which extinguishes the flame immediately. Gas also eliminates soot-stained walls and ceilings, debris from logs, smoke and other residue produced by burning wood. Plus, no more wood to transport, split or store, nor do you need to have the chimney swept as often. Finally, as opposed to the traditional wood fireplace, a constant burn means consistent heat.

CONS
You don’t get the smoky smell nor the crackling sound of burning logs with a gas fireplace. Natural gas and propane both cost more than wood. The burners must be cleaned from time to time. (Darkening glass doors is a sign that it’s time to do so.) Before making your purchase, see how you like the composition of the flames, as not all are attractive.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The EnerGuide Energy Efficiency (EF) Rating System is a guide to a gas fireplace’s energy efficiency: the higher the rating, the more efficient the fireplace, which means lower energy use. And just because a fireplace puts out a lot of heat does not necessarily make it the best. Such a fireplace, when used in a small room, may overheat the room, making it uncomfortable. It also consumes more gas than needed to heat the room. It’s important then to determine exactly what you need before buying.

ELECTRIC FIREPLACES
Most electric fireplaces produce 1,500 watts, or 5,000 BTU. The amount of heat generated is a lot less than that created by a wood or gas fireplace – which can produce over 30,000 BTU. However, that may be all that’s needed to heat a 9 m2 room (10 x 10 ft.). A clever play of lights and mirrored surfaces creates the red and dancing “electric flames.” Several models come with an integrated thermostat, remote control, a control for adjusting the intensity of the lights and flames, as well as a start/stop function.

PROS
It doesn’t burn any fuel, it’s clean, emits no harmful particles and does not need a chimney or a stovepipe. It’s a good compromise if you live in building where heating with wood or gas is prohibited. In addition to providing some heat, it lends atmosphere. It’s also the easiest to install. You buy it, you set it up where you like, plug it into a regular electrical outlet, and poof – instant fireplace! You can even move it from room to room, depending on your whims, as well as take it with you when you move. An added bonus is that you can enjoy its charms all year round, since it can operate with or without heat. It’s safe, and requires limited maintenance, such as replacing the odd light bulb.

CONS
The electric fireplaces does not produce much heat, so it’s really best suited for small rooms. In case of a power outage, obviously it won’t work as a backup heating system come winter. Tip: Before purchasing, check to see if you find the arrangement and intensity of the simulated flames appealing.

PELLET FIREPLACES
This fireplace uses compressed wood waste that, because it’s so dry, burns well. All you have to do is load the pellets into a hopper where they are fed into the firebox by a worm gear. It has no door, fuel is not wasted, and combustion is constant. If it runs out of pellets, it shuts down by itself. Most pellet fireplaces are equipped with a thermostat for regulating the degree of heat. It requires a stovepipe, and because this needs a good updraft to function properly – otherwise the smoke could go into the room during a power failure – the stovepipe must rise approximately 1.2 m (4 ft.) above the exterior wall.

PROS
A hopper-full of pellets can last between 12 and 24 hours all by itself, since the fuel is automatically fed and the heat is steady and constant. The pellets burn completely. It also operates at a good energy efficiency, as it transforms approximately 80% of the fuel into heat. This makes it less polluting than the traditional EPA-certified (US Environmental Protection Agency) fireplace, which is rated at around 70%. Furthermore, the pellets are easier to store than wood, as they are sold in bags.

CONS
It needs electricity to circulate the air, extract combustion gases and feed the hearth with fuel. When the power goes out, so does it, which means the pellet fireplace cannot be used as a backup system unless it’s connected to a generator or battery. It costs more than other types of fireplaces. It also needs regular maintenance: the pipes need to be cleaned and ashes emptied from the combustion chamber – after 30 to 40 bags of pellets – and ideally the motors and fans need complete maintenance every year. If the reason for having a fireplace is atmosphere, then this is not the best choice. It needs to be heated at its maximum to get a nice flame, which can cause the room to become overheated. The higher the flame, the more pellets it takes, which adds up in cost. Also, the window can get quickly become soot covered. Whichever type of fireplace you choose, make sure it bears the seal of the Underwriters’ Laboratories of Canada (ULC) or of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Gas fireplaces must be approved by the Canadian Gas Association (CGA). And for the sake of efficiency and saving fuel, as well as for the environment, look for a fireplace certified by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This shows that the device was designed to keep particle emissions to a minimum inside as well as outside.

Thanks to Robert Le Blanc of Foyer ProService, as well as to Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the Agence de la Santé et des Services Sociaux de Montréal for their assistance.