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Wood-Burning vs Outdoor Gas Fireplace: Which Is Right for You? And Is There An Eco Alternative?

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

There’s something primeval and relaxing about flames and the warm glow of a fire. Installing a fire pit can be a wonderful addition to your garden and a great spot for gatherings with family and friends - or for enjoying the beautiful weather on a summer night. An outdoor fireplace can also extend Spring into Summer and Summer into Autumn. And a firepit, firetable or outdoor wall fire will not only finish off your outdoor entertainment area, it will be the main feature.

But are there a few things to consider before installing one? If you're thinking of getting a fire pit, here’s what you need to know before buying one.

Whether you're looking to build or buy a new home with an outdoor fireplace or you're having one installed in your existing home, apart from the various designs you will have more than a couple of fuel options to choose from: wood versus gas, of course, but there's also the eco-friendly bioethanol liquid fuel and bioLPG. There are pros and cons to each, so here's what you need to know.

Wood-burning fireplaces

When we picture a fireplace, we tend to imagine logs burning in a cozy family room. The benefit of a wood-burning outdoor fireplace is that you will get the classic, romantic experience. Wood-burning fireplaces not only blend nicely into the garden atmosphere, but there's nothing like the smell of fresh, burning wood to create the rustic feel you may be going for.

On the other hand, if there's one drawback to wood-burning fireplaces, it's that getting the fire itself going can be a time-consuming and sometimes messy process. You need to make sure you have the right amount of properly seasoned wood on hand and then actually take the time to get the fire lit. Plus, you'll need to keep refuelling it if you want it burning for several hours, say, while you're entertaining friends for the evening. And whilst you might enjoy the smell of burning wood, you may not enjoy the smoke that fireplaces can sometimes produce or the ash that you have to clear. And you should think about the particulates that emit into the atmosphere. Plus, in most cases you'll need to install a chimney or flue.

Gas fire pits

The main benefit of an outdoor gas fireplace is that they're extremely easy to light - and they don't need a chimney. All you have to do is press a button on the remote control, tap the screen on your smartphone or tablet, or even ask Google or Alexa to access your home automation - and voila - you have a fire going and pretty much instant warmth. And in most cases, it'll look similar to the fire you'd see in a regular woodburning fireplace. It's true that some homeowners feel that gas fireplaces have a little less charm, but these days the visual is very realistic with options of ceramic logs or even pebbles for that modern appearance.

Gas fireplaces don't produce smoke or smells, so if you're the sensitive type, you won't have to worry about being bothered while the fire is going. And the fact that you don't need a pile of wood to light a gas fireplace is an added plus.

Gas firepits can be operated on mains gas from your home (NG) or LPG (liquid petroleum gas) in cylinders. There is even bioLPG which is plant-based.

That said, to install a gas fireplace, you'll need a registered Gas Safe installer.

Bioethanol outdoor fireplaces

A firepit fuelled by bioethanol (a renewable liquid fuel produced from agricultural by-products which burns clean - no smoke, no sparks, no fuss). The combustion of bioethanol produces only heat, water vapour and a little carbon dioxide which itself nourishes plant life. Because bioethanol is clean burning, you'll never need a chimney like a woodburner, or any kind of utility connection like a gas fire, unless you want electronic control.

The clean combustion of bioethanol means when burning bioethanol fuel you'll not only create a beautiful flame whilst being the ultimate eco-friendliness, there are no messy environmental pollutants like soot, smoke or ash.

How is Bioethanol Made? Bioethanol - or simply 'ethanol' is a renewable energy source made by fermenting the sugar and starch components of plant by-products - mainly sugarcane and crops like grain, using yeast. It is also made from corn, potatoes, milk, rice, beetroot and recently grapes, bananas and dates depending on the producing country's agricultural strengths.

But, be warned, hour for hour, you will get less heat from a bioethanol burner than the equivalent sized gas burner and it's likely to cost more per hour to operate. The upside is that, in the main, bioethanol firepits don't incur installation costs.

So, which is the right choice for you?

Some people simply like the idea of creating a real fire, so if that sounds like you, a wood-burning outdoor fireplace may be the way to go. You can even cook on some. But if you're admittedly the type who prefers the convenience of flipping a switch and having an instant fire at your disposal, then go with a gas fireplace. Gadget freaks will love the connection to home automation! Whichever you choose of the options listed here we know they'll leave you feeling warm and content on a chilly evening.

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