Gas or Wood Burning Fireplaces Gas or Wood Burning Fireplaces

You plan to build your dream home. You've pored through home plan books, picked out the perfect design, found a beautiful lot in a great neighborhood and worked out a deal with a well-regarded builder.

After years of rental apartments and settling for less, you've earned this home. You've promised yourself some of the amenities you've always wanted and, not surprisingly, a few well-placed fireplaces top that list. Your new home will include a fireplace in the family room so that, after a day of sledding, the kids can warm chilled fingers and toes and hang soggy mittens and mufflers up to dry.

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The unmatched crackling and musky scent of a woodburning fireplace serves as a homey focal point in any room. Photo courtesy of Heat-N-Glo Fireplace Products

A second fireplace in the living room adds an elegant touch to formal gatherings, and in the master suite, yet another fireplace serves as a romantic backdrop. Perhaps even more important than adding some old-time charm and comfort to your new home, a fireplace also answers that nagging question, "Where will we hang the Christmas stockings?"

Before you settle down in front of a warm blaze with a comforting beverage and your favorite novel, you need to make an important decision about whether you want a gas or a wood-burning unit. Today's marketplace offers new-home builders plenty of choices when it comes to fireplaces, and consumers need to study up before making a choice.

During intimate formal affairs, an elegant masonry fireplace like this one adds a touch of tradition. Photo by Mark Englund/HomeStyles

To choose which type of fireplace works best for you, learn the differences between the two and define your priorities.

A wood-burning fireplace will appease the die-hard traditionalist in any group. After all, who doesn't love the rustic scent and the popping sound of a home-brewed blaze? The smell and sound of a true fire evoke images - real or imagined - of cozying up in front of a crackling blaze after a particularly challenging snowball fight or a day of building snowmen.

Even today's "old-fashioned" wood-burning fireplaces present more choices than those of the past. High-energy models from a number of manufacturers often include insulated fireboxes that keep cold outside air outside and trap warm air that would otherwise escape up the chimney or out the sides.

Many of these models also feature blower systems that redirect heated air from the chimney out into the room.

Because traditional wood-burning fireplaces can emit gases and particles that harm the environment into the air, some communities regulate or even prohibit them.

Fireplaces aren't just for living rooms anymore. This gorgeous fireplace and a stunning marble surround lend understated dignity to this home office. Photo by Mark Englund/HomeStyles

Heatilator offers an outside air kit system that reduces lost energy by using outside air for combustion.

Another option available with some wood-burning fireplaces is a filter that helps eliminate dust and smoke from inside air.

A gas fireplace, which combines ease of use with the heating ability of a furnace, will appeal to those people who cringe at the idea of prying themselves off the sofa every couple of hours to fetch another round of wood.

At the flick of a switch, you'll enjoy the warmth of a realistic blaze. A couple more flicks of the switch adjust the flame height and heat output.

In recent years, gas fireplace manufacturers have worked hard to create a blaze that resembles a real fire. Ceramic logs, tall, dancing flames and burning "embers" underneath imitate traditional fires.

Because gas units do not include a chimney, they also allow the homeowner some versatility when choosing a spot for the new fireplace.

In 1987 Heat-N-Glo introduced and patented their direct-vent gas fireplaces. These units vent out the back or the top. According to Heat-N-Glo, those that vent out the back maintain a higher level of energy efficiency than those that vent out the top. A top-venting unit, however, allows for installation in a basement or other room that cannot accommodate a back-venting fireplace.

Because direct-vent gas fireplaces use only outside air for combustion, the warm air inside the home stays there. Optional fans installed inside gas fireplaces, like those in their wood-burning counterparts, push hot air that collects at the back of the units out into the living areas.

Temco Products manufactures a vent-free fireplace line that operates at a higher level of energy efficiency than the direct-vent models.

For safety, vent-free units include an Oxygen Depletion Sensor (ODS) that measures a room's oxygen level. The ODS shuts off the gas if the oxygen level drops dangerously low.

A number of organizations-including the U.S. Department of Energy, the American Gas Association and Gas Technologies, Inc.-rate the efficiency of gas fireplaces. Contact the manufacturer or a distributor to get a good idea of a specific unit's energy efficiency.

Once you understand the technicalities, the fun begins. A fireplace serves as the focal point of any room and adds enormous appeal.

Figure out the look and feel you want. Then settle back in front of a toasty, heart-warming fire.

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