Beautifully designed and technologically advanced, we look at the best alternatives to wood-burning fireplaces
Nothing is more appealing on a cold afternoon than sitting by an open fire, listening to crackling wood and being lulled by dancing flames. Of course, this romantic notion would not be complete without a book, a cup of tea or a glass of wine. But truth be told, this dreamy setting requires quite a bit of work and maintenance.
First, you have to source the logs and cart them in. Then, if you were not a good Scout, you have to battle with small wood and fire starters to get the flames going and keep the fire burning throughout the afternoon. Not to mention the regular ash clean-up operations.
If you do not want to deal with a time-consuming wood-burning fireplace, there are plenty of easy options out there. Some are more practical, others more appealing, whilst technologically advanced options are also more economical and sustainable. To help you find the best solution for your lifestyle, we take stock of the latest trends on the market and the pros and cons they come with.
Although there are many alternatives, for Eva Von Rosen at Fires of Portugal, they do not really beat the feeling you get from a wood-burning stove, ranging from over €1,000 to just under €3,000. “The wood burner is still relevant with its contemporary design, cosy feeling and crackling fire.”
Based in Loulé, Fires of Portugal offers a wide range of options, from elegant Fogo Montanha wood-burning fireplace inserts and small log burners, to stylishly designed and technologically advanced pellet and gas stoves. “The most economical alternative continues to be the wood burner, especially here in the Algarve where wood is plentiful,” says Eva. However, she concedes that the best alternative is, without a doubt, the pellet stove.
Eva believes that a new era has begun with the pellet burners. “These are a clean and efficient alternative to a classic wood-burning stove. With minimal smoke output and fuel made from a renewable source of recycled waste wood, pellet burners are kind to the environment. They offer convenient and user-friendly warmth.” Not to mention that the pellets are lighter to carry than logs.
Closely followed by ethanol and gas, pellet burners seem to be the best alternative on the market. According to Sérgio Monteiro at Flame Décor in Vilamoura, “they are easier to use, cleaner and entail less work. They are also completely automatic. They can be operated via remote control or mobile application with practical programming options”. This technology allows you to control your equipment from anywhere in the world, should you need to.
Of course, nothing is perfect. There are disadvantages, mainly that these stoves make a slight noise and that if there is a power cut, the stove won’t work.
So, how does this revolutionary solution work? Simply put, pellet stoves burn compressed wood or biomass pellets to create a heat source. By slowly feeding fuel automatically from the storage container (the hopper) into the burn tray, a constant flame is created and monitored to ensure maximum efficiency. The built-in hopper allows pellet burners to operate autonomously for approximately 12 hours with a full load.
As for gas fireplaces, they are a great option to avoid hassle and residue. They are very efficient and clean, and some can even be installed without a chimney. They provide heat at the click of a button and can also be controlled via an app. Available in various designs, from classic to modern, this type of fireplace is ideal for apartments with piped propane or natural gas. On top of its practicality, its greatest advantage is that it does not produce combustion residues after its use. On the downside, they are less economical, and the equipment must be checked and certified regularly to ensure there are no gas leaks.
If you do not have a chimney and cannot install a flue, do not despair. You have options, such as beautiful bioethanol or “make-believe” electric fireplaces. You won’t get that warming wood-burning smell or as much heat, but you will undoubtedly lose less time with maintenance.
Bioethanol fireplaces are striking focal points. Their sleek and modern designs add glamour to any indoor or outdoor space. They are very safe and ecological, do not generate smoke, smells, or dirt, do not require a chimney and can be wiped clean with a cloth.
The fuel they use, ethyl alcohol, is a biofuel produced from plant products. It is biodegradable and affordable, with one litre lasting up to four hours, depending on the size of the flame chosen. It is also highly flammable, so watch out.
Like gas stoves, and electric stoves, which we will look at next, they are straightforward to operate. They are turned on with a button, and the flames can be adjusted on the burner. Although it is a clean option, which does not create residue, like all fires, its combustion does produce CO2, so make sure to refresh the air between refills.
Last but not least, the electric fireplaces. These are great for show, that is, if what you want is a fireplace that will give you minimal hassle. They do not produce real flames but are an almost perfect illusion of fire.
They are ideal for media walls, as they do not produce excessive heat, which could affect TV equipment. Many models are also designed to operate without heat whilst producing realistic flames. They are easy to install; just plug them into an electrical socket and they are ready to use. They do not produce dirt and, of course, there is no need for a chimney or maintenance of the appliance. However, consumption can be expensive. Practicality does come at a price.
Of course, with the price of gas and electricity going up, we have to consider the cost of these options. Once again, “the most economical alternative is the pellets option. Not only is it cheaper than the other options, it is also the most sustainable solution,” says Sérgio Monteiro.
As for prices, the simplest stove options at Flame Décor start at €1,000, whilst the top-end designs can reach values above €50,000. Depending on your home’s layout and budget, make sure to get the flames that will give you the cosiest feel.