If you want warmth and ambiance in your home, few options beat a cosy fireplace. But have you ever wondered how environmentally friendly your fireplace actually is? With climate change an urgent issue, it’s more important than ever to consider the impact of our heating choices.
In this article, we’ll explore common fireplace options for our homes and discuss the eco-credentials of each. Whether you favour the crackling warmth of a wood fire, the convenience of gas or electric fires, or contemporary biomass stoves or bioethanol fires, there are ways to stay cosy this winter without costing the planet. By understanding the pros and cons of different fireplace types in terms of both sustainability and practicality, you can make an informed choice for your home.
Gas fireplaces connect to your home’s mains gas supply to produce flames without the hassle of burning solid fuel. They provide warmth at the convenient flick of a switch and without any mess caused by logs or ash. “Gas stoves are a great alternative to a wood burner, without sacrificing the look of a traditional stove,” says one manufacturer and you can get a thermostatic fireplace with a timer or remote control, so it’s even easier to regulate usage. However, gas is a fossil fuel that emits carbon dioxide when burned, contributing to climate change, so it’s not the most eco-friendly choice.
While natural gas is cleaner-burning than solid fuels like wood or coal, your gas fire will still produce some pollutants, like nitrogen oxides, if it’s poorly vented. Modern, efficient models that vent fumes outside, known as balanced flue gas fires, are a better option for the environment as they minimise emissions and are safe to use for longer periods.
Gas fireplaces may be convenient but gas prices have surged in recent years making them expensive to run for long periods. The real-flame ambiance may encourage you to use the fireplace more, increasing costs and emissions. Non-vented models are the least environmentally friendly as all emissions are released into your living space.
An electric fire plugs into a standard socket to simulate the effect of a real fire. They’re easy to install and virtually maintenance-free. There’s a huge selection of styles and designs ranging from sleek wall-mounted models to traditional stove designs, and they “provide a stunning focal point for any living room, giving a look and feel of genuine warmth,” explains a major supplier.
Electric fires are almost 100% energy efficient at the point of use and produce no direct carbon dioxide or pollutants, but most electricity in the UK is still generated from fossil fuels so there are emissions associated with powering the fireplace, especially if they’re switched on for long periods. They also have higher running costs than gas fires, while their output is lower than other heating options, making an electric fire less practical for heating larger spaces. As a sole heating source, or for long-term use, an electric fire may not be your optimal choice.
Wood-burning stoves are a traditional and extremely popular fireplace choice for homes in the UK. They burn timber logs and produce a comforting real-fire experience in your home. However, burning wood does produce carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change. The eco-credentials of your log burner depend on several factors.
Sustainably sourced wood is carbon neutral, meaning the CO2 released when burned is equivalent to that absorbed during the tree’s lifespan. Firewood from well-managed forests or sawmill waste is the most environmentally friendly. Fully dry, seasoned fire logs are your best choice, both in terms of heating output and environmental impact. Wood is also a renewable fuel, meaning we can plant more trees to replace those burned. And provided the wood is locally sourced, it’s sustainable in terms of transport and supporting rural communities.
While wood-burning stoves need frequent log reloading and ash removal, they are a cost-effective and pleasurable way to heat your home if done properly. For the most eco-friendly and responsible option, choose an advanced, efficient stove and burn sustainably sourced, dry firewood.
Pellet stoves and boilers burn compressed wood or biomass pellets to provide heating and hot water. As pellets are made from sawdust, wood chips and other wood waste, they are classified as carbon-neutral and renewable, making this type of heating an excellent sustainable option. That said, while pellets themselves are sustainable, some carbon emissions are produced in the manufacturing and transport processes.
Biomass stoves provide space heating for single rooms, “these stoves can also be fitted with a back boiler to provide water heating as well,” advises one renewable heating expert. More advanced biomass boilers can be connected to your central heating and hot water system, servicing your home’s needs. They burn very efficiently and cleanly, producing little ash and pollution. As pellets have a high energy density, you need less bulk fuel compared to logs.
However, pellet stoves require attention such as feeding in pellets and emptying the ashtray. They also need storage space for the pellets, while boilers require a hopper for automatic fuel loading. The pellets themselves may be difficult to source and transport in some areas.
Bioethanol fireplaces burn liquid or gel bioethanol fuel, which is made from fermented food waste and residue materials like wheat, corn and wood chips. As plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, bioethanol is considered carbon-neutral and renewable. These types of fireplaces don’t require a flue as they burn very cleanly, though some CO2 and pollutants are emitted when the fuel is burned. Emissions vary between models and some fuels may contain additional chemicals so check efficiency and sustainability ratings.
Bioethanol fireplaces are a stylish and contemporary addition to any home, and they’re available as freestanding stoves or inset wall fires. “They can be placed in any room of the house without the need for a chimney. All you need is a flat surface on which to place the fireplace insert,” says one property expert. Used responsibly, bioethanol is a great way to warm your home without relying on fossil fuels. However, fuel costs can be high, and while bioethanol fireplaces are convenient and ambient, their eco-credentials ultimately depend on the model and fuel used.
Ultimately, the greenest fireplace is the one used most sparingly. No matter the type, the more a fireplace is used, the greater its environmental impact in terms of emissions, resources consumed and pollution generated. With that in mind, improving home insulation and heating efficiency is the most eco-friendly approach to staying warm. A fireplace should be an occasional luxury, not a daily necessity.
Staying cosy at a minimal cost to the planet requires considering both how you heat your home as well as how much. Choose a fireplace that suits your needs but aim for renewable fuel and high-efficiency options to warm your living space in an environmentally responsible way.