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Home & garden.

Updated: 15 Dec 2021

Fireplaces: electric vs gas vs wood-burning stoves

Considering a gas, electric or wood-burning stove? Here's what you need to know
PF
Paula Flores

If you like the look of a fireplace, but can’t decide which one will be most efficient and best-suited to your home, and you want to learn more about the environmental implications of each type, read on. 

We’ve summarised the benefits and drawbacks of gas fires and stoves, electric fires and stoves, and wood-burning stoves to help you make the most appropriate choice.

Already decided which type you want? Search for local fireplace and stove installers that have passed the Which? Trusted Traders assessment and background checks.

Gas fires and stoves

Gas fires and stoves come in a wide variety of styles and pump out plenty of heat at a relatively low cost. 

But the downside is that they need regular maintenance and monitoring – and, crucially, they rely on burning fossil fuels. 

Gas fire pros

  • Low running costs Using gas to heat your home is cheaper than using electricity, and less hassle than buying and storing logs
  • Give out plenty of heat Gas fires and stoves can provide outputs of up to 6kW, about three times as much as electric fires
  • Can be very efficient Gas appliances can be up to 90% efficient (measuring the heat output from an appliance in kW against the gas input in kW). The exact figure varies from one model to another, though, so check the stated efficiency rating
  • You don't necessarily need a chimney You can now buy ‘balanced flue’ fires, which are vented through an external wall, or even flueless models
  • Aesthetics Gas fires tend to look more authentic than most electric fires, when comparing similarly priced models.

Gas fire cons

  • Environmental impact You'll be burning fossil fuels, and therefore contributing to global warming and climate change. Moreover, burning gas releases nitrogen dioxide, a form of air pollution which is particularly dangerous for people with asthma and COPD
  • Professional installation costs Your fire must be installed by a registered Gas Safe engineer. You’ll also have to get it serviced annually by an engineer to make sure it’s safe to use
  • Carbon monoxide You should already have a carbon monoxide detector, to protect yourself against the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you don't, it's imperative that you fit one if intending to buy a gas stove. If you live in Scotland, you will be legally obliged to have one from Feb 2022 onwards. Also make sure your gas stove is maintained correctly and that there's appropriate ventilation
  • Maintenance Your chimneys will need to be cleaned once or twice a year unless you have a flueless appliance, as we said before
  • Limited flexibility Most styles of gas fire will need to be placed within a chimney breast or against an outside wall so they can be vented.

Find out more about how to buy a gas fire or stove.

If you’re considering a gas fire, you can search for gas installers in your area with the Which? Trusted Traders search tool.

Electric fires and stoves

If you’re looking for flexibility and minimal maintenance, consider an electric fire or stove. Just be aware that the running costs can be high, and electric fires and stoves don't generate enormous amounts of heat. 

Electric fire pros

  • Cost Electric fires and stoves start at less than £100 (for basic models) whereas you might pay £200 for a gas stove and at least £400 for a wood-burning stove
  • Flexibility You can place electric fires anywhere there is a plug point. You can still use an electric fire within a fireplace, or set it in a chimney breast, if you want it to look more authentic, but equally you don't have to. Depending on the model, and where you want to put it, you may be able to just plug and go, meaning you won't need to pay for professional installation
  • Lower-maintenance than other options Electric fires don’t produce ash that needs clearing up and don’t require a chimney that needs to be cleared regularly
  • Very efficient Electric fires are 100% efficient, as 100% of electrical energy is converted into heat, whereas with gas, as we said before, it's up to 90%. In addition, all the heat that's generated goes into your room and none is lost in a chimney or flue
  • Convenient Some models can be operated by remote control, which could be handy if you have limited mobility
  • You don't necessarily need the heating on Many models nowadays allow for the flame effect without having the heat on.

Electric fire cons

  • Higher running costs The biggest drawback of electric appliances is the running costs, as electricity is a much more expensive fuel than gas or wood
  • Lower heat outputs Most electric fires and stoves are limited to just 2kW or less, which is significantly lower than the range available from gas and wood-burning appliances
  • Less realistic-looking You won't get a realistic flame effect from an electric fire unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money on a high-end model. 

Find out more about how to buy an electric fire or stove.

Wood-burning stoves

The closest experience to a traditional open fire is to get a wood-burning stove. But that authentic experience could come with substantial upfront costs and a detrimental impact on the environment.

Wood-burning stove pros

  • Aesthetic reasons Their main draw. According to Dr Gary Fuller of Imperial College London, 96% of UK homes that burn wood already have other types of heating 
  • More efficient than an open fire Most of the heat from an open fire is actually lost up the chimney, while most wood-burning stoves are 60% to 80% efficient. This means that 80% of the energy will heat up your room and 20% will be lost through the chimney. That's less efficient than a gas or electric stove or fire, though
  • Different fuel options As well as traditional log burners, you can also choose from multi-fuel or wood pellet stoves. Make sure to only burn approved fuels, particularly wood with a moisture content of less than 20%.

Find out more about the difference between wood-burning stoves and multi-fuel stoves.

Wood-burning stove cons

  • Pollution There's a growing body of evidence showing that wood-burning stoves have a negative impact on air quality. This can be minimised if you buy a more efficient model and use cleaner fuels. From January 2022, all wood-burning stoves that are sold need to be EcoDesign compliant: these are more efficient than earlier wood-burning stoves (at least 75%) and have been tested against strict criteria. However, some studies, including a 2017 report by the government's air quality expert group, and a 2021 report from the European Environmental Bureau, state that even Ecodesign stoves produce fine particulate matter pollution, which is dangerous for human health. The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) says these claims are overstated. Research in the field is ongoing
  • Storage You’ll need plenty of room to store fuel, especially if you'll be burning logs and you're planning to dry them out yourself
  • Preparation Wood-burning stoves can take time to light and some need the ash cleaned out first every time you want to start the fire
  • Maintenance As with most gas fires and stoves, you’ll need to get your chimney cleaned regularly (at least once a year)
  • Installation You’ll need to get a professional to install your stove to make sure it meets building regulations
  • Expensive to buy Wood-burning stoves start at around £400, which is significantly higher than the cost of gas or electric equivalents.

Find out more about how to buy a wood-burning stove and see how customers rated popular stove brands.