When shopping around for fireplaces, you may think to look for the coolest features first, but safety should also be a factor to consider before purchasing. Many people opt for gas and wood-burning furnaces, but are gas fireplaces safer than wood-burning fireplaces?
Gas fireplaces have fewer safety concerns than wood-burning fireplaces, so gas fireplaces are the safest option between the two. Gas fireplaces have better ventilation, burn more cleanly and with more control, and are easier to maintain than wood-burning furnaces.
In this’s article, we’ll explain why gas fireplaces are the safer alternative to wood-burning fireplaces. First, we’ll look at what makes gas fireplaces the safer choice; then, we’ll see what factors make wood-burning fireplaces not as safe as the gas-fueled ones.
Are Gas Fireplaces Safer Than Wood-Burning Fireplaces?
Gas fireplaces pose fewer safety risks than wood-burning fireplaces, even though both gas and wood fireplaces can be safely used when they are properly maintained and supervised. Gas-powered fireplaces are safer than wood-fueled furnaces because they offer better burn control, more advanced ventilation, and burn cleaner than wood.
Wood fireplaces can lead to house fires if soot and ash build up in the chimney, plus wood produces harmful pollutants in smoke as it burns, which we breathe in. Over time, consistent use of wood-burning fireplaces has the potential to cause health problems.
For example, with the flick of a switch or the press of a button, you can control a gas fireplace. In contrast, wood-burning fireplaces have no buttons or switches; they must be lit with a match or lighter, kindled, and regularly tended to. Most new gas fireplaces on the market today feature safety mechanisms like fail-safe shut-off valves, whereas wood-burning fireplaces don’t have that capability.
Having a shut-off feature in gas fireplaces makes gas furnaces less risky in terms of safety than wood-burning ones. While falling asleep in the lounge chair with the gas fireplace is okay since it’ll eventually shut off, you never want to fall asleep with a wood fire burning!
Another reason why gas fireplaces are safer than wood-burning fireplaces is that the ventilation is better with gas models. Gas fireplaces have more room to ventilate. Many gas-powered fireplaces use propane, a clean-burning fuel. When wood burns, it gives off toxins, which over time can damage the lungs.
While wood-burning fireplaces are pleasing to the eye and give off that cozy, nostalgic smell, gas fireplaces are the safer choice for the home.
Why Are Gas Fireplaces Safer Than Wood-Burning Fireplaces?
Gas fireplaces tend to be safer than wood-burning fireplaces because gas fireplaces burn cleaner, give homeowners more control over the burn, and have better ventilation. In addition, gas logs are also easier to maintain than natural wood in wood-burning furnaces.
Read on to learn more about why gas fireplaces are safer than wood-burning fireplaces.
Gas Fireplaces Have More Burn Control
One of the reasons why gas fireplaces are safer (and thus often more popular) than wood-burning fireplaces is because gas fireplaces make it easy to control the burn. Hit a remote button or flick a switch on the wall, and there you have it – fire! Starting a fire with natural wood takes time, more effort and is not as easily controllable as the flames in a gas fireplace.
The gas fire will stop burning with gas fireplaces once you turn it off, and it’ll start to cool down. On the other hand, firewood takes some time to break down and burn out completely, and stray embers from a lit wood-burning fireplace could catch flammable material nearby and start a fire. The artificial and often-ceramic gas logs in gas fireplaces break down fairly easily too.
Furthermore, many gas fireplaces give users control over the temperature as well as the size and intensity of the flames. This way, users can customize their fireside experience without having to worry about tending to a real wood fire.
Gas Fireplaces Have Better Ventilation
Gas fireplaces have more advanced venting system options than wood-burning fireplaces, the latter of which can only ventilate combustion byproducts through a vertical chimney. Gas fireplaces sometimes have the option of horizontal ventilation or venting horizontally through a wall.
Instead of a traditional chimney, a gas fireplace with a horizontal direct vent could have a pipe running from the fireplace’s exterior through a wall with a termination cap installed.
Gas Fireplaces Provide A Cleaner Burn
Gas fireplaces can burn propane or natural gas, and these gases do not produce the toxic pollutants that wood smoke can emit – like benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS).
Gas Logs Are Easier To Maintain Than Firewood
Lastly, gas fireplaces are safer than wood-burning fireplaces because gas logs are easier to manage and maintain than firewood.
For starters, you don’t have to haul, chop, and toss any wood into a gas fireplace – so those steps are eliminated – and you don’t have to kindle or stomp out the gas logs when you’re finished. Once you shut off your fireplace, the fire will stop burning, and the logs will cool down.
When you are burning a fire, the fire level is easily adjustable in a gas fireplace. You would have to feel comfortable using a poker and flue to adjust the wood logs inside your wood-burning fireplace. Not everybody is comfortable going that close to an open flame nor wielding a tool to adjust it. Plus, gas logs are enclosed behind a sealed glass panel, which means zero soot cleanup after every burn session.
What Can Be Unsafe About Wood-Burning Fireplaces?
Wood-burning fireplaces can be unsafe if improperly maintained or left unattended. Soot and fire residue can build up inside the chimney, which can cause house fires. Embers from a burning fire can also catch hold of a flammable object and ignite. Leaving a wood-burning fireplace unattended for long periods is also dangerous.
Let’s take a closer look at three things that can cause a wood-burning fireplace to become unsafe.
Unmaintained Chimneys Can Cause Chaos
If you don’t regularly clean your chimney and have a wood-burning fireplace, that’s a potential problem for your health and home. Creosote, a type of soot that forms in your chimney from burning wood, can build up if the smoke doesn’t rise through quickly enough or if you burn green wood.
Creosote buildup can catch fire in a chimney, and studies have shown that creosote can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. If you come into contact with creosote, it may burn.
Be sure to clean your chimney at least once a year if you use it seasonally. If your fireplace is on year-round, you’ll want to inspect and clean it more regularly. When burning, keep the glass doors open to your fireplace to allow enough airflow and minimize creosote buildup in the chimney.
Should you see creosote glaze, your chimney needs cleaning. Creosote glaze looks like shiny black or brown flakes. It’s hard, tar-like, and may look crusty or drip-like.
Wood Burning Fireplaces Can Lead To House Fires
Following how unmaintained chimneys can cause house fires and health problems, the open flame of a wood-burning fireplace itself can lead to house fires too. Embers and sparks can catch nearby furniture and ignite. We recommend keeping your furniture at least three feet away from the opening of the firebox.
Wood Smoke Contains Harmful Pollutants
When wood burns, the smoke is released, and so are toxic chemicals which can damage your health via inflammation of the lungs and immune system. Nitrogen oxides, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), and polycyclic organic matter (POMs) are toxic chemicals released into the air.
While healthy lungs can filter out many of these chemicals, people with preexisting health conditions (like asthma, emphysema, or heart disease) are more vulnerable to these harmful pollutants over time.