The Advantages of Heating with Gas. The Advantages of Heating with Gas.

This article focusses on traditional open log burning fires rather than higher efficiency log burning stoves. Keep your eyes open in later editions of the newsletter to see our comparison between gas fires, electric fires, and stoves.

Flavel Castelle Slimline

The flicker of flames, the sounds of popping, and crackling wood warm the body, heart, and soul. But you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Open wood-burning fireplaces are notorious for losing more heat than they generate at best working at an efficiency of 10-25% with the majority of the heat disappearing literally up in smoke. Then there are air-quality issues and constant maintenance   to consider. The traditionalists amongst us gripe about the sterility and lack of authenticity of gas fires. But are they as characterless and soulless destined to always be a poor second to the real thing as some would have us believe.

Sure, log burning open fires win in terms of raw character and authenticity. Not even a highly efficient stove can compete with the snap, crackle, and pop of an open fire or with the prospect of toasting toast or crumpets on the end of Grandma’s long forgotten toasting fork. But the question has to be at what cost. Gas fires are now, and I kid you not, seriously challenging the sensory experiences of the open fire. Flames are becoming more realistic imitating the colour hues,  and movement of the real thing,  with some models offering varying height adjustment. Ceramic logs and coals now replicate and resemble the real thing. The only thing missing is the sound of a crackling fire and the slight taint of wood smoke as you enter the house or room.  Wait long enough and I’m sure an app will arrive sooner rather than later.

Great at creating ambience and hugely aspirational log burning fireplaces are never the less poor performers when it comes to heating.  Log burning fireplaces at best return an efficiency rating of between 10% and 25% with the rest of the heat disappearing up the chimney. It is not unknown for open fires to return a negative rating with the draw of the fire sucking more heat from the room than they’re able to replace.  An open fire place also has the potential to draw warm air from other parts of the house creating cold drafts.

With energy efficiency heating of between 75% and 99% gas fires, depending on the type of fire chosen, win hands down in the heating stakes. Gas fires fall in to three main categories, flueless, inserts that can fit into most pre-existing fire places, and built in fireplaces. Inserts and complete fireplaces are the best heat producers filling the room with both radiant and convected heat.

Verine Meridian

Air quality is another consideration when choosing between a gas fire and open wood fire. According to the American EPA an open log fire produces 18 pounds of particulates per MMBTU (1m BTU) of heat output. In comparison natural gas produces up to 99% less producing 0.28 pounds of particulates per MMBTU of heat making open log fires 100 times more polluting than gas fires.

Open fires regardless of the fuel burnt require constant maintenance on a daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal basis. The soot and ash a necessary by-product of a fire needs constant tending. A chimney if burning wood as a fuel needs sweeping twice a year to prevent the build of soot and highly  flammable creosote.  A major chimney inspection should be carried out on an annual basis to ensure there are no cracks, blockages etc which may allow smoke and fumes from entering the house.

Whilst gas fires on the other hand need little more than a light dusting. Unfortunately gas fires are not completely maintenance free and require an annual service and where appropriate a flue clean.   All maintenance on gas appliances should be carried out by a suitably qualified person to ensure their safe and efficient running.

Gas fires win hands down every time in terms of convenience and day to day operation over an open log fire. With gas there is no need to store, prepare and season fuel in the form of logs. Logs are not only bulky but also dirty shedding bark etc. That said if you are not on mains gas supply you may need to install a LPG tank or rely on bottled gas. A gas fire starts with the click of a button or even by remote control or phone app. In comparison a log fire needs to be started with newspaper or a firelighter and coaxed into life with kindling and then larger logs. There is a whole ritual to the gathering, storing, preparation, and finally lighting of the log fuel in the fireplace which some find enjoyable whilst others deem to be faff and fuss.  The kafuffle doesn’t end there with a log fire you have to constantly tend it, poke it, and feed it to nurture it in to giving up its heat to the room.

Verine AtinaOnce you have coaxed the log fire into life and to give up its heat giving warmth. You then face the problem of controlling it. You often end up with a slumbering miserable cold fire or alternatively a raging inferno devouring the evening’s fuel in 30 to 40 minutes. You either end up relighting the fire or fanning and blowing on it for a good part of the evening or are required to fetch more fuel from the log pile hidden from view way at the end of the garden. Whereas with a gas fire once you have effortlessly   lit it and turned to a  high setting  to initially heat the room or space you then turn it down to maintain a comfortable and cozy temperature.

The controllability of a gas fire when compared to a log fire adds to its economy to run. You are able to zone heat choosing only to heat the area in use which will naturally be where the fire is turning central heating thermostats down to provide background heat to the rest of the house.   The efficiency of an open log fire can vary from 10% to 25% resulting in between 90% to 75% of the price you paid for the logs disappearing up the chimney with the smoke.  As already mentioned it is not unknown for open fires to result in a negative heat output by not only drawing the warm air from the room where the fire is situated but also from the rest of the house.

As to the price of logs they are not as some would have you believe a cheap alternative if you are to buy them delivered, split and seasoned. Granted the cost of logs can be greatly offset by free sourcing and there is a modicum of satisfaction gained in a small way by living the ‘good life’ and being self-sufficient in fuel. It is true good wood warms you twice and arguably more but do you really have the time and the inclination regardless of the room to store a season or two of wood. As one local farmer said to me I’m fed up of being married to the saw...


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