Fireplace or heater? This is a question that has taken the front burner among home heating appliance professionals for many years. The winter is approaching and you may also be wondering what’s best for keeping the chill away in your home or office.
The truth is, a fireplace has as many benefits just like a heater. Both appliances are extremely effective at making your home warmer and more comfortable. However, there are areas where disparities exist.
There are cases where a fireplace is better just as there are situations where a heater is best suited. These disparities are quite many and we’ll explore them in this post.
What’s The Difference Between a Fireplace and Heater?
A fireplace is an age-long appliance that is used to provide heat and ambiance in a home or office. On the other hand, a heater is a pretty effective and efficient heating appliance.
While some similarities exist between the two- including the fact that modern electric fireplaces are more or less electric heaters- there are some differences that are worthy of note.
A heater, whether central, space or furnace, is designed to specifically provide heating in your home or office. That is the primary and, in most cases, the only function it is built to serve.
On the other hand, a fireplace is more than just a heating appliance. It is part of a home’s decor that accentuates a living room and adds some class and elegance.
In fact, some fireplaces are more decorative than heating appliances. It is hard to tell which is the primary function sometimes.
If there is any difference between a fireplace and a heater, it is in the design. A fireplace is built to function as a burning fire.
Whether it’s the real wood fireplace with actual fire or a gas/electric fireplace that most times enhance realism by including a flame with realistic logs in the box, a fireplace lives up to its name.
This is different from a heater that is either powered by electricity or gas, etc. If the physical structure is anything to go by, a typical fireplace trumps the heater significantly.
When it comes to heating performance, it often depends on the specific type of heater and how it is designed.
While an electric fireplace may not be very efficient in terms of heat production to the energy consumption ratio, a traditional wood fireplace is quite powerful, but not very efficient as well.
It gets around 10% efficiency as about 90% of the heat is lost through the chimney and only 10% gets into the room. A wood stove is often considered more efficient, reaching about 40% efficiency. EPA certified ones can even get to 70%.
In comparison, a gas heater is considered a very efficient unit because of its heating quality and efficiency.
In addition, gas fireplaces are considered more effective in zone heating than central heaters. But space heaters may also do a good job.
The cost of building a wood fireplace from scratch will take up between $8,000 and $20,000 depending on the type of house, the height, type of chimney you intend to install, and person-hours.
A gas fireplace insert, on the other hand, may cost about $4,000 to $6,000, considering there is already a fireplace and functional chimney. That cost will cover purchase, installation and cleaning.
On the flip side, a central heating system (in a house that already has ductwork) will cost between $4,500 and $8,500.
But if your home doesn’t have existing ductwork and installation includes opening walls, crawlspaces, ceilings, and attic, you should be ready to spend between $9,500 and $14,500.
There are other units like an electric fireplace (which may not provide as much heating). A typical electric fireplace will cost around $400 to $1,000.
If it is wall-mounted or an insert, you’ll either need to use an existing fireplace or create a wall insert, and that will cost about $500 to $1,200.
Smaller heaters like space heaters are also very affordable, attracting an initial investment between $40 and $250. However, these may only provide heat in specific spots in the room.
Is A Fireplace Better Than A Heater?
Not exactly. If what you want is the appeal and you’re not so keen on the amount of heat released into the room, a fireplace may be the best option for you.
Although, gas fireplaces (if properly installed and vented) and freestanding units may provide significant heating as well as aesthetic appeal.
A central heating system, on the other hand, although expensive to install and run, is much more efficient in heat production.
To recap, a fireplace is better if:
- You want your heating appliance to serve as an interior decor, primarily.
- It is well insulated and the heat is properly directed to the room.
- Draft is controlled sufficiently.
On the other hand, a central heater is better if:
- Heat is the priority and budget is not a concern.
- It is powered by gas (even though this is more expensive to install)
- You live in a very cold region.
- You do not already have a fireplace and chimney.
Is It Cheaper to Run Fireplace Or Heater?
If the alternative is a central heater, then Yes. It is cheaper to run a fireplace. Also, it’s possible you source wood yourself and this may help to reduce running costs if you use a wood fireplace.
A gas fireplace is also more cost-effective than a central heater. This is because you can choose to turn off your gas thermostat and still stay warm for a while.
Typically, a gas fireplace is about 3 to 4 times cheaper than electricity. It will cost around 18 cents an hour or $300 per year compared to an electric heater.
If you use a 1.5kW unit for 8 hours every day at the rate of 11.85 cents, you’d be spending $1.42 per day, $42.66 per month and around $500 annually.
If you use a 4kW electric heater, for instance, that cost can rise as high as $1,200 annually on electricity alone.
Maintenance is another very important factor to consider. There’s less maintenance to be done if you use a gas fireplace because there are no logs to replace, no ash or dirt to clean out, no cables or sockets to replace, etc.
A wood fireplace, on the other hand, is a handful. Meanwhile, running an electric heater requires regular maintenance to keep it working all year round.
Ducts may require cleaning, fans may need to be cleaned or replaced, filters may also need cleaning or replacement, and so much more.
So back to the question; is a fireplace better than a heater? If you consider all the factors outlined and explained above, it’s difficult to reach a conclusion. What is best is what works for you, based on your needs, situation and budget.
However, before you make a choice, be sure to consider all the factors talked about and consult a professional if you need to.
One thing is for sure though, a fireplace is more than just a heating appliance. It may not give you all the heat you want, but the ambiance it provides is unbeatable.