Gas vs. Electric

Your health is probably the farthest thing from your mind when you’re enjoying the warmth and ambiance of your fireplace. But when you stop to consider if fireplaces are healthy, there’s suddenly a whole list of things to think about.

What is the healthiest type of fireplace? From wood burning to bioethanol, there are many options and each has its own pros and cons when it comes to health. Let’s narrow it down and talk about the health concerns of gas and electric fireplaces.

 

Are Gas Fireplaces Healthy?

While much healthier than wood-burning fireplaces, gas fireplaces may also affect indoor air quality according to Cleveland Clinic. The biggest concern with gas fireplaces is gas emissions. Gas emissions are what’s released into the air after the gas has been burned. Most gas fireplaces are vented and the emissions are meant to go up and out of the building. But when something goes wrong, it can go very wrong.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide gas is one of the emissions that can result from a gas fireplace. It is also a risk with furnaces, vehicles, gas ranges, and burning charcoal or wood. It can become a problem if a gas fireplace isn’t venting properly and the gas builds up in the house. It is colorless and odorless and difficult to detect until after you start experiencing symptoms.

The CDC states that 430 people die in the U.S. every year from carbon monoxide poisoning (due to various causes). Another 50,000 make visits to the emergency department because of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon monoxide’s far less dangerous brother, carbon dioxide is another emission of a gas fireplace. It is generally not dangerous, unless in large quantities when it can cause respiratory distress and heart problems according to PubMed.

Nitrogen Dioxide

Nitrogen dioxide is produced when gas is burned at high temperatures and is a common emission of a gas fireplace. It is a known air pollutant that is monitored to protect outdoor air quality. Indoors, it wreaks havoc on your lungs. According to the American Lung Association it can cause a myriad of respiratory issues. It has recently been connected to shortened life expectancy in cancer patients, lower birth weight in newborns, and asthma in children.

Close up of gas fireplace.

Gas fireplaces can pose serious risks, especially if they break or are not maintained properly. They should be inspected annually by a licensed professional. The chimney should be inspected and cleaned regularly as well. 

While using a gas fireplace, the user should be on the lookout for any problems like smelling gas, hearing hissing, unusual debris in the fireplace, etc. Every home should have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed whether or not there is a gas fireplace in the home. If there is a gas fireplace, extra caution should be exercised to ensure they are always functioning properly.

Person sitting in front of an electric fireplace.

Are Electric Fireplaces Healthy?

Electric fireplaces emit no harmful gasses. Since they don’t have flames and no combustion is taking place, there are no emissions. An electric fireplace is just as safe and healthy to operate as any electrical appliance in your home.

Electric fireplaces are also safe to operate. You can run the fireplace with or without heat but even when you run it with heat, the heating elements are encased inside the unit and are not exposed where they might cause burns. They do blow warm air but even at the exit point for that air, it will never reach a temperature that could cause burns or melt items placed on or near the unit. Many units have thermal overload protectors that shut the unit off if it becomes too hot. Some also have sensors that turn the unit off if the vent area is blocked.

Which Fireplaces Are Healthy for the Environment?

The carbon footprint of most fireplaces comes down to how efficient they are. For example, a wood-burning fireplace can draw a whopping 300 cubic square feet of room air up the chimney every minute according to treehugger.com. That’s a bunch of heated air ushered right outside just after you’ve heated it. They also make smoke and that means particulate pollution.

By comparison, gas fireplaces do a better job. They are about 65% efficient. They don’t produce particulate pollution, but can cause gas emissions that create ozone, which contributes to global warming and climate change according to studies conducted by the International Nitrogen Initiative and the Global Carbon Project of Future Earth.

Electric fireplaces produce no emissions, no particulate pollution and function at 100% efficiency. On the other hand, how you power your electric fireplace will determine whether you have a truly zero-emission unit. Most of America gets its energy from coal, not a clean fuel. If you get power from solar energy, wind energy, or another alternative energy source, an electric fireplace is the best option for the smallest carbon footprint.


Learn more about how electric fireplaces stack up against other types of fireplaces. Read on.

Electric vs Wood Fireplaces