Adding a Fireplace to your Renovation: Gas and Wood-burning Go Head-to-Head
Before starting a fireplace renovation, know the pros and cons of wood-burning fireplaces vs. gas fireplaces
(Above) A gas fireplace remodel in Sweeten homeowners’ Kirsty & David’s LA home
Updated on October 15, 2021
Fireplaces are in demand for renovations, according to Sweeten general contractor Dennis, a general contractor who works on about a dozen projects each year that involve fireplace renovations like additions, conversions, or restorations. The best time to add a fireplace (or switch from wood-burning to gas) is in the midst of a larger renovation or addition to your home. However, a fireplace can be added to most houses at any time with varying degrees of difficulty. The question is: will you go with a wood-burning fireplace remodel, or gas? Depending on what you want to get out of your new fireplace, Sweeten outlines some elements to consider.
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Fireplace renovation costs
Masonry for both a chimney and fireplace renovation, plus the added complexities of structural work, can add up to $20,000 to your renovation bill for a wood-burning fireplace, according to Dennis. The cost of a gas fireplace remodel can be as little as $5,000 if your building is already fed with either propane or natural gas, and you’re happy with a metal box fireplace that is prefabricated. If you need to run gas lines to your home or install a propane tank, this could double your bill to more than $10,000. However, that’s still a lot less than the costs for a wood-burning fireplace!
Winner on cost: Go with a gas fireplace.
Fireplaces as a heat source
(Above) Sweeten renovation by architect Shana Sandberg
Not all fires are equal when it comes to the heat they can offer. An enclosed wood-burning stove will warm you up much more than its open hearth or gas cousins. An enclosed stove is also more efficient and will burn less wood. Gas fireplaces add more for aesthetics than heat, but are kinder on the environment than wood-burning ones.
Winner on heat: Go with a wood-burning fireplace.
Consider the aesthetics
(Above) Sweeten renovators and actor Jaime Ray Newman and Guy Nattiv’s home in LA
Look and function may be equally important to you when a fireplace is the focal point of a room. If you’re after a nostalgic feel (and distinctive scent), there’s nothing better than an open hearth and wood-burning fireplace with a traditional mantle. Gas fireplaces often come with a wood-like formation of steel or ceramics to give the appearance of a real fire, but do not approximate the kind of broad, full, crackling fire that natural wood provides.
Winner on aesthetics: Go with a wood-burning fireplace.
(Above) A shiplap fireplace built for a Sweeten homeowner in Southampton
Permits needed for fireplace renovations
Complicated and time-consuming, permits can pause any project. A wood-burning fireplace remodel (whether it’s an open hearth or something more along the lines of a potbelly stove) will likely require a building permit because of structural elements like installing the chimney. When the installation of a wood-burning fireplace is part of a larger renovation project that will already require a building permit, you can roll the additional permit need into your process more easily. But if you aren’t planning a major renovation that already calls for permits, pursuing one just for a fireplace might be unnecessarily complicated.
If your gas fireplace is a simple prefabricated box and if gas lines already run to your home, there’s a chance the project won’t require any permits at all, according to Dennis. However, if there are no pre-existing lines and you’re after the open hearth look of a real fire, you will likely need a building permit for the structural work involved, a plumbing permit for the gas line work, and a mechanical permit for work affecting the heating system of your home.
Winner on permits: Close, but probably a gas fireplace.
What’s more convenient: A gas fireplace or a wood-burning fireplace?
While some people might enjoy the ritual of lighting fires, a gas fireplace turns on with the flick of a switch. There is no wood to store, no matches needed, and no soot to clean up, according to Dennis. A gas fireplace will also eliminate that stale campfire smell the next morning.
Winner on convenience: Go with a gas fireplace.
Overall, it’s a pretty even match-up. Gas wins on cost and convenience, and wood comes out ahead on the look and feel.
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