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Understanding the Best Fireplaces for the Planet

There are many varieties of fireplaces with differences and nuances, and these comforting and aesthetic fixtures impact the planet.

Environmental concerns make homeowners question the impact of every corner of their house. Are there ways to optimize and reduce carbon emissions for this appliance or in that room? Those ponderings inevitably wander to fireplaces and if they’re good for the planet.

There are many varieties of fireplaces with differences and nuances, and these comforting and aesthetic fixtures impact the planet. How many contribute to deforestation or emit volatile organic compounds? Here are the best and worst fireplace options for the eco-conscious.

Natural Gas and Flueless Gas Fireplaces

The most notable detractor of natural gas fireplaces is that they use fossil fuels. Although they are one of the most efficient and healthier options on the market because they don’t produce many byproducts, they rely on a nonrenewable energy source. They create atmospheric-harming methane, minimizing efficacy.

Flueless gas fireplaces seem to be the answer to harmful natural gas-powered options, but their utilization of catalytic converters to filter toxic pollutants brings another host of issues to its design. It makes them complex and requires more materials, leading to higher price tags for buyers.

Wood-Burning Fireplaces

These fireplaces are robust. However, clear-cutting and deforestation bring environmental concerns alongside the pollutants released into the atmosphere. Though trees are renewable and the EPA has instituted recommendations for particle-controlling designs, they only have a burst of heating power instead of gradual efficiency.

Wood-burning fireplaces also include subgenres. Some options are labeled high-efficiency to burn wood more slowly and release fewer toxins like nitrogen oxides.

There are also unsealed wood fireplaces, which are one of the worst options because they have a wide area to release smoke.

Pellet or Biomass Fireplaces

Pellets for fireplaces are usually made from sawdust waste, making them a renewable option, much like a wood-burning fireplace or stove. Because of their dry nature, they’re less harmful to air and keep a longer shelf life than traditional wood fireplaces. However, they still need an external power source to run, and they work best if a household already has a system like geothermal, which could power it with no problem.

Other biomass options could make these fireplaces even more eco-friendly as people grow and experiment with different renewable energy sources and their efficiencies. Any organic waste product could power them.

Ethanol or Bioethanol Fireplaces

These are the ideal fireplaces for environmentalists for a few reasons. Ethanol and bioethanol are alcohols and burn with only water and carbon dioxide as a byproduct, making them superior options. These fireplaces don’t require flues to function — which are the vents that control smoke and pollution.

Bioethanol is an up-and-coming fuel source derived from the fermentation of various fast-growing crop sources, like sugarcane, corn or waste straw. Therefore, it doesn’t rely on monoculture. Ethanol is the less friendly option because it contains petroleum, though it can be partially mixed with bioethanol, so it isn’t 100% nonrenewable. Regardless of what people use, it still eliminates concerns over emissions and pollutants.

Electric Fireplaces

Electric-powered heating is a versatile design for a fireplace, primarily if powered by renewables. Its most advantageous benefit is it requires no fuel source, making the system 100% eco-friendly, emission-free and efficient. However, they require a lot of energy, so homes with renewable energy generation may need to consider additional output for these power-intensive units.

The fireplace is less eco-friendly if the electricity powering it comes from nonrenewable power plants. However, fans of electric fireplaces can’t beat how all their power goes to heat, whereas only 50% of wood-burning options do.

Not All Fireplaces Are Equal

People can still enjoy the cozy atmosphere and warmth fireplaces provide while considering the planet. There are pros and cons to every fireplace variant. However, there isn’t yet a perfect design that aligns with environmental goals.

Regardless, there are safe and clean options on the market until research and development or new regulatory suggestions change the game.

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