Woodfires versus Gasfires

G Magazine

You can't beat a crackling open fireplace for atmosphere, but is it environmentally justifiable? And how does it stack up against a gas heater?


Hot stuff: Are wood or gas heaters the best option for warming your home (and not the planet)?

Credit: iStockphoto

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An open fire is a prime source of cosiness, but what about its energy efficiency? What about the trees? Is it OK to spend hours curled up in front of it, or should we be staring at gas-fuelled flames instead?

Paul Myors, energy efficiency specialist with Energy Australia, says an open fire is the most wasteful way to warm your house.

"Open fires are hopelessly inefficient,'' he says. "Eighty-five per cent of the generated heat will go up your chimney."

A modern wood-fed slow-combustion heater is a more efficient option, looks almost as pretty and is better at warming a room. And, according to Cameron Russell from Coonara Heaters, just 50 per cent of the heat is lost.

However, Russell says, gas heaters go one step better and only 20 per cent of the heat energy is wasted.

Cost-wise, gas beats wood hands down. Unless you live in a rural area with ready access to cheap firewood, you'll be looking at about $100 per tonne of wood. Combustion heaters usually burn a minimum of three tonnes over the course of winter.

Fuel facts

Unfortunately it's not as simple as just converting your old pot-belly stove over to gas. Gas is a fossil fuel, and therefore not a renewable energy source. It's not cheap to drill and has to be transported to your house.

Besides, natural gas is not available everywhere in Australia. Victoria has the highest rate of connection: 80 per cent.

Bottled LPG can get around this problem, but it is more expensive to get your bottle replaced continually than to have natural gas plumbed in.

Timber, on the other hand, is renewable and - apart from the trucking - essentially carbon-neutral.

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