In this post, you will learn:
- What’s new in wood fireplaces
- What’s new in gas and LP fireplaces
- What’s new in electric fireplaces
- How to choose the right model for you
From an open wood fireplace to an electric fire pit, fireplace technology has come a long way since the 20th century. As the 21st century continues to unfold, concerns about climate change, air pollution and environmental impact are changing the way people think about traditional fireplaces.
Many switched early on to natural gas or LP as their fire fuel of choice. They preferred the cleaner burn, easier maintenance and authentic appeal of gas fireplace inserts.
Innovative thinkers are also driving the latest trend in fireplaces: zero emissions, 100 percent fuel-efficient electric fireplaces. An electric fireplace or electric firepit does not raise the environmental concerns of wood-burning or gas fireplaces. It does deliver the warmth and ambiance of a traditional fireplace, though.
What’s New in Wood Fireplaces
An open fireplace with a briskly burning wood fire is the gold standard for cozy comfort. When you look beyond the romantic nostalgia, though, such an open fireplace falls far short of ideal. Some of its inherent faults include:
- Wastes more fuel than it burns
- Creates flammable creosote buildup
- Emits toxins like CO2
- Spits sparks into the room
- Requires regular maintenance and cleaning
Modern technology has taken a few stabs at improving the traditional fireplace to make it more acceptable to contemporary homeowners.
Manufacturers sell freestanding wood stoves and wood fireplace inserts that fit an existing fireplace. They are more energy efficient and less environmentally harmful than traditional wood fireplaces.
Even so, the most fuel-efficient wood-burning unit currently available reaches only around 75 percent efficiency. This means that the stove converts 25 percent of your fuel dollars into smoke that escapes up the chimney.
Although 75 percent fuel efficiency is a major improvement over the mere 25 percent or so achieved by most open fireplaces, it still doesn’t measure up to many gas or electric heating appliances.
The addition of fire brick on the interior of your fireplace will make it burn more efficiently. The brick absorbs some of the heat from the fire. Then, when the fire goes out, the brick gradually releases that heat back into the room.
If you don’t use a high-efficiency wood stove or insert correctly, you may get more creosote in your chimney. Because a more efficient firebox transfers more heat into the room, the chimney does not get as hot as it does in an open fireplace.
Creosote buildup occurs when the exhaust meets cooler surfaces. It is also a byproduct of unburned wood that smokes as the fire goes out. The solution, according to experts, is to maintain a hot fire. Your flue temperature should be at or above 250 degrees F when a fire is going.
Wet or unseasoned firewood smokes more than dry, high-quality firewood. It contributes to your chimney buildup. Also, it’s virtually impossible to get a hot fire going with wet or green wood. These are problems in traditional open fire pits, but they are magnified in an enclosed space. A slow, stodgy fire lowers the fuel efficiency too.
The result is you may need to hire someone to inspect or clean your chimney more often than the standard once per year. You will also be cleaning the glass doors of your fireplace insert more often due to more soot buildup on the glass.
In terms of exhaust, a hot, clean fire emits fewer toxins than a slow, smoky fire.
According to EPA, wet or green firewood emits more smoke when burning than seasoned wood. This smoke contains fine particulates, carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein and other toxins harmful to humans and the environment.
While you can expect fewer sparks from an enclosed wood stove, you still have to add wood. Whenever you open the stove to feed the fire, sparks and smoke are likely to escape.
Speaking of wood, you need to lay in a good supply, keep it dry and split it regularly to keep your home warm. Gas and electric-powered fireplaces are easier and don’t create the mess that wood does.
Pellet stoves save you the extra work of chopping, but you still need to lay in a supply of pellets. Gas and electricity offer the advantage of being directly supplied to your home as needed.
What’s New in Gas and Propane Fireplaces?
For years, homeowners have been turning to natural gas/LP as a cleaner-burning alternative to wood fireplaces.
With a consistent supply of fuel, the gas log set or fireplace does not require constant tending like a wood fire. You don’t have to deal with smoke and ashes.
You will need to have a pro install a fuel supply line. Many prefer this one-time expense to chopping and stacking cords of firewood all winter.
Latest Tech in Gas Fireplaces
What’s more, the latest gas fireplaces are more efficient than ever, so they waste less fuel.
Top-rated direct vent gas/propane fire pits feature some of the following tech advancements:
- Energy efficiency between 75 to 85 percent
- Heat output range from 7,000 to 60,000 BTUs
- Adjustable flame height
- Electronic/millivolt ignition
- Battery backup
- LED lighting
- Smartphone app
Patented FireBrick Liner
One of the innovations in contemporary direct vent gas fireplace inserts is QuadraFire’s patented FireBrick firebox liner. This ceramic liner creates a barrier that sends heat from the fire back into the room rather than up the chimney.
Compared to a metal firebox, the company claims, a FireBrick insert creates 25 percent more heat from the same amount of fuel. It saves you money by using gas or propane more efficiently.
Another notable innovation in gas fireplace inserts, the comfort control feature anticipates and adjusts the fire to match your comfort level. Similar to a programmable thermostat, the comfort level technology monitors the room temperature.
When it is nearing your comfort setting, it begins to reduce the heat output of the gas fireplace to prevent overheating.
Travis Industries is one of the manufacturers offering the comfort control feature with its premium direct vent gas fireplaces. As a component of its GreenSmart system, this feature turns off the insert’s rear burner when the room reaches your desired temperature. The front burner continues to produce flames without heat.
Vent-free gas stoves and fireplace inserts have been around since 1980. Questions about the safety of the technology are still unanswered, but manufacturers have done considerable fine-tuning on the technology.
This type of gas heating appliance does not require a vent or flue. Instead, it draws oxygen for combustion from the room, and it emits any byproducts back into the room.
Some main advantages of a vent free gas fireplace include:
- Up to 99 percent energy efficient
- Can go wherever there is a gas supply line
- Highly regulated for safety
The fact is, though, that unvented gas burners do emit toxins. Although the amount of toxic byproducts are minimal, they do pose risks to vulnerable residents of your home. Carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide are just two of the contaminants that a ventless unit returns to your living space after combustion.
Additionally, while a direct-vent gas stove or insert draws oxygen for combustion from outdoors, a vent-free unit accesses the oxygen in the room. That and the toxic emissions are the reasons that ventless appliances now on the market have built-in oxygen depletion sensors and carbon monoxide monitors.
A gel-fueled fireplace is another ventless option. This standalone appliance does not need a chimney or a fuel supply line. Instead, it burns gel cartridges that you add as needed. It works like camping stove.
The gel is an alcohol-based fuel that you light with a match. Each canister burns from two to three hours.
Some gel-fueled units are for indoor use while others are made for outdoor use. A gel fire pit is an easy option for an outdoor get-together. Just add a can of fuel. Each cartridge produces up to 3,000 BTU. You can double or triple the fuel for added warmth.
Like a vent-free gas fireplace, an indoor gel fireplace draws the oxygen it needs for combustion from your living space. The trace amounts of byproducts from combustion vent inside your home, affecting your indoor air quality.
What’s New in Electric Fireplaces?
Electric fireplaces are quickly becoming the zone heaters of choice in the new home market. A contemporary architect or home builder often chooses to install an electric fireplace insert for their new home projects. The versatility and energy efficiency of an electric heater appeal to interior designers who are planning a remodel too.
These types of fireplaces run solely on electricity. There is no additional fuel to buy. There are no supply lines to hook up.
Unlike a wood or gas-fueled model, an electric fireplace insert does not require a chimney or any venting whatsoever. It does not emit toxins. Instead, it creates the atmosphere of the real thing without the drawbacks.
Electric fireplace technology has come a long way over the past few years. Some of the top innovations include:
- Remote control
- Smartphone app
- Flame effect options
- Realistic flames
- Crackling wood sounds
- Trim kit options
- Zero byproducts
- 100 percent energy efficient
- Plug and play technology
The ability to control your fireplace from anywhere in the room is a convenience feature you cannot wo without.
You can turn the unit on or off, adjust flame height or change flame styles from your easy chair.
Most electric models come with a remote, but universal controllers are also available.
Higher-end models offer a smartphone app so you can control your fireplace from work, the grocery store or wherever you happen to be.
This handy technology saves electricity when you inadvertently leave the house without switching off the fire. You can also turn up the flames when you are headed home so that you return to a warm, welcoming room.
Some of the leading manufacturers in the industry offer the smartphone app with Bluetooth technology as an add-on at an extra cost. A few, like MagikFlame, include the app as part of the package.
Flame Effect Options
Entry-level electric inserts may not offer flame effect options. Others provide as many as 30 choices of flame styles. It all depends upon the brand you purchase. If your fireplace does offer flame options, make sure that the remote controller has a button for that.
This has been a big issue for manufacturers and consumers alike. How does an electric fireplace simulate flames? Some, such as Dimplex, rely on mist and mirrors to recreate the look of dancing flames. Others, like MagikFlame, use advanced holographic technology to nail the appearance of the real thing.
This is a feature you really should compare among various technologies to see for yourself. HoloFlame technology, patented by MagikFlame, is an industry leader.
Crackling Wood Sounds
The appeal of a fireplace is more than the flames themselves. Sure, the visual enjoyment of glowing coals and flickering flames is key to the experience. However, it should engage other senses too.
Gas log sets produce real flames, but they are virtually silent except for the noise of the blower. Most electric fireplace inserts are silent as well. To truly immerse yourself in the cozy atmosphere of a real fireplace without the safety and environmental issues, choose one that provides the sounds of crackling flames.
The MagikFlame insert, for example, has this option. It also offers a pine scent module that wafts the unmistakable aroma of a real wood fire into the room. These added features really enhance that nostalgic feeling of winters past.
Trim Kit Options
When weighing the latest technological options in fireplaces, don’t overlook aesthetic appeal. How will various models fit into your home decor? Will you need to hire an interior designer to help you coordinate whole new interior design theme?
True, many fireplaces include surrounds and mantels that are attractive. The safest choice in terms of home décor, though, is a surround with classic design elements that complement a spectrum of decorating styles.
A prime example is the MagikFlame Trinity model. It comes with a furniture-grade wood surround and mantel. The design is classic and elegant.
Features such as fluted side columns and carved corbels add lovely yet versatile touches. The style is at home in a variety of décor schemes.
An electric fireplace insert is typically maintenance-free. Unlike a woodstove that you have to clean on a daily basis, electric units have sealed, self-contained fireboxes.
With no ashes, creosote or wood debris to contend with, your electric fireplace should provide years of maintenance-free enjoyment.
At most, you should keep the exterior free of normal dust and debris, just like the rest of your fine furnishings.
Because no combustion takes place in an electric insert or freestanding fireplace, it does not emit any byproducts like wood or gas-burning heaters do.
With an electric appliance, there are no carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or other toxins to worry about. Therefore, an electric fire poses no health risks to family members.
As we discussed above, a wood-burning fireplace insert is not very fuel efficient. At most, a direct vent gas fireplace still wastes from 15 to 20 percent of your fuel dollars.
In contrast, the latest electric inserts and heaters convert 100 percent of the power they draw into heating your living spaces. That means they do waste money or energy.
An electric insert or stove is an effective zone heater. Models like MagikFlame produce 5,000 BTU that keeps up to 1,000 square feet warm and cozy.
Plug and Play
One of the top benefits of the latest fireplace technology is ease of installation.
You can add beauty, value and ambiance anywhere in your home where there’s an electrical outlet. Simply choose a model that offers plug and play convenience.
Find Out More About What’s New in Fireplace Technology Today
Get the data and advice you need to about the most advanced fireplace technology with the MagikFlame Electric Fireplace Buying Guide. Get the cozy atmosphere, crackling log sounds, fireplace mantels and connectivity you’re looking for in an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and economical heater for every room in your home.