Wood Fireplaces vs Wood Stoves - Comparing Wood Heating Units

Comparing Wood Stoves and Fireplaces

If you have never compared wood burning stoves and fireplaces in person, stop by Burlington’s Fireplace & Heating. We have a wide selection of models that demonstrate the surprisingly large variety that is available today. You can compare and contrast them yourself with our selection of fireplace inserts which share some of the same advantages. If this article sparks more questions for you about the differences between wood burning stoves, fireplace inserts and ZC fireplaces, don’t hesitate to ask our staff.

fireplaces or wood stoves lake geneva wiWhen you imagine a wood burning stove, what might come to mind is a vintage image of an outdated cast-iron stove in a hunting lodge or log cabin. Many more images, both modern and rustic, might come to mind if you were asked to imagine a wood-burning fireplace. The reason that most of us are more likely to be able to imagine a contemporary image of a fireplace than a contemporary image of a wood burning stove is that most of us are more familiar with fireplaces. Comparing and contrasting the two is an excellent way to illustrate how much wood burning stoves and fireplaces have evolved and help you decide if one might be a welcome addition to your home.

Design & Construction

A fireplace—with its mantelpiece and stylized façade—is designed to be the focal point of a room. Whether it is a prefabricated fireplace that has been installed into the wall or a traditional masonry fireplace that is a part of the construction of the house, it is an eye-catching structural feature. With the options of brickwork, natural stone, marble or veneer—just to name a few—the variety of fireplace designs that you can choose from can seem almost endless. While fireplaces can serve a functional purpose, their greatest attraction is typically their aesthetic appeal. Very important to mention is that an older traditional style fireplace can be brought up to high efficiency by adding what is called a fireplace “insert” directly into the opening that houses the current wood burning.

Though contemporary stoves are available in a variety of different styles and designs, a wood burning stove is more of a functional heating addition to a home than an aesthetic one. A wood burning stove is a free standing appliance that radiates heat from all sides. Manufacturers design stoves that range in design from contemporary to ornate so that they can add extra elegance to a room. Since a stove’s primary purpose is functional, some homeowners prefer a wood burning stove that has been designed to look like a sleek, modern furnace. While a stove can be an attractive addition to a room, its greatest value is its ability to decrease your utility bills by inexpensively and effectively heating large areas of your home.

Heat Output

Wood burning stoves have two advantages over traditional fireplaces which make them an excellent alternative heating source. The first advantage is that stoves radiate heat from all sides, whereas a fireplace can only radiate heat from one side. The second and most important advantage is that a stove is a closed combustion system which means that it burns fuel more efficiently and pushes the majority of the heat that it produces into your home. A traditional (non-insert) fireplace consumes large amounts of wood without producing a significant amount of heat. The reason for this is that it is an open combustion system that burns rapidly and allows the majority of heat that is produced to be lost up the chimney. On average, 90% of the heat that a fire produces in a masonry fireplace escapes up the chimney whereas only about 15% of the heat produced by a wood burning stove is lost. Modern Zero Clearance fireplaces can also be quite energy efficient and have the advantage of being able to be added just about anywhere in your home where space allows.

The incredible heat output and efficiency of a wood burning stove is what makes it such an excellent investment for homeowners. You can use one load of wood to zone-heat a large area of your home—from a living room to a whole floor depending on the model—for 4 to 8 hours. This is why many homeowners are choosing to use wood burning stoves as a cost saving alternative heating source.


While it is always important to follow safety procedures to ensure that any wood burning appliance does not start a fire, most modern appliances of both types are designed with safety in mind. All wood burning stoves have glass doors that prevent sparks and hot embers from escaping and potentially igniting a house fire. The doors also stop inquisitive animals and children from reaching into the flames. The glass can still reach high temperatures so it is important to remain watchful when children and animals are near the stove when it is operating. It is suggested that you also add doors and or screens to fireplaces to increase the safety of use.

Wood burning stoves are also known for the improved efficiency which results in the production of less soot and creosote (a highly flammable combustion byproduct). While it is still recommended to have the flue cleaned annually, you can use your stove freely during the bitterly cold months of Wisconsin’s winters and schedule your cleaning after the season or prior to the next year’s burning.

Environmental Impact

Another contrast between fireplaces and stoves is their environmental impact. Since wood is a carbon neutral and renewable sustainable resource, overall it is an environmentally friendly fuel. Burning wood in a traditional “old-style” fireplace can have a detrimental impact on the environment, though, because of the production of toxic combustion byproducts that are released into the atmosphere. In contrast, wood burning stoves and fireplace inserts burn wood so efficiently that they produce dramatically less combustion byproducts. Most contemporary wood burning stoves and inserts meet or exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean air standards making them an eco-friendly heating source.

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