The warm, dancing glow of a fire can turn even the dullest room into a cozy retreat. When a traditional wood-burning fireplace isn’t an option, gel fuel, electric, and gas log fireplaces offer convenient, affordable alternatives. They provide not only ambiance, but also supplemental heating and an attractive focal point.

Gel Fuel Fireplaces: Simplicity and Gentle Warmth

A relative newcomer to the market, the gel fuel fireplace has quickly gained popularity as an easy-to-use alternative to a wood-burning fireplace. These fireplaces use commercially produced cans of isopropyl alcohol gel to fuel a flame.

To start a fire, open the can and remove the label, place the can behind the concrete log inside the fireplace, and light the fuel using a long match or a wand lighter. For a larger fire, you can use up to three fuel cans.

© rades / Adobe Stock

Because the fuel burns so cleanly without creating smoke, soot or ashes, the fireplace doesn’t need venting. Each can burns for around two to three hours and produces enough heat to bring a mild warmth to a small room. It can’t compare to the heat from a roaring wood fire, but it will take the chill out of the room. You can either let the fire burn down to the bottom of the can or put out the flame by sliding the lid back in place or using a snuff tool.

A gel fireplace’s flame is similar to the flame of a wood fire, with yellow, orange, and red tones and a soft crackling sound. To install the fireplace, just place it against a wall. The only maintenance it needs is an occasional light cleaning, which is less than what a wood-burning fireplace or even a gas fireplace requires.

You won’t be able to regulate the flame size as you would with a wood-burning, gas or electric model. If you put out the fire, the flame might not be as robust the next time you light the fuel can. While a gel fuel fireplace can give you mild supplemental heating, it can’t keep a room comfortably warm on a cold day.

The biggest downside is the potential safety risk. You’ll need to take care not to spill the fuel anywhere. Spills can cause the flame to spread outside the fireplace. Once a gel-fueled fire spreads, it’s difficult to put out by smothering or dousing with water. If you decide to install a gel fireplace, keep an ABC- or BC-rated fire extinguisher nearby.

Electric Fireplaces: A Realistic Look with Exceptional Safety

Today’s electric fireplaces can create remarkably realistic flames that give you all the warmth and ambiance of a wood fire without the hassle.

These fireplaces draw in air, pass it over a heating coil, then gently push the warm air back into your room.

Some also use infrared heating elements to provide radiant heat that directly warms people and furniture. Because they don’t burn fuel, they don’t need venting. Electric fireplaces are available in a range of heating capacities, rated in Btus, and how much space they can heat adequately depends on their size.

© sharafmaksumov / Adobe Stock

Smaller models that plug into a wall outlet are usually meant to heat rooms of between 400 to 500 sq. feet. More powerful models for larger spaces are available, but these typically need to be hardwired into the house’s electrical system by a professional.

Electric fireplaces offer variable flame control that lets you choose the size of fire you want. The heating coil and flame effect can be controlled separately so you can enjoy a romantic fire on a warm summer night without overheating your house. Some models produce a crackling sound, but for those that don’t, you can find accessories that will add the sound. Electric fireplaces are the safest option of all, with no risk of spilled fuel or gas leaks.

An electric fireplace won’t do you any good during a power outage. These fireplaces require a lot of power, so if you choose a plug-in model, be careful where you put it. Plug it into a circuit that’s already loaded with appliances and you’re likely to trip the breaker. They’re also not much more energy efficient than space heaters, so unless you enjoy high electric bills, it’s best to use the fireplace for supplemental heat over short periods.

Gas Log Fireplaces: Real Flames and Ample Heat

Gas log fireplaces offer a reasonably energy-efficient way to provide a room with warmth and an inviting glow. These fireplaces burn either natural gas or liquid propane. Natural gas models are hooked up to the house’s gas lines and require professional installation.

Most propane models are hooked up to your home’s existing propane tank, which you can do yourself if you’re familiar with the process of installing a new propane-fueled appliance.

© David Prahl / Adobe Stock

If your home doesn’t have a propane tank, you can have a small one installed outdoors specifically for the fireplace. Liquid propane burns hotter than natural gas, so you’ll enjoy more intense heat from your fire.

Looking to get a propane tank for your home? Read our propane tank pricing guide.

Both vented and ventless models are available. The safest choice is a direct-vent model, which draws in outdoor air to feed the fire and vents combustion gases and water vapor outdoors. If you’re replacing a wood-burning fireplace, you can vent your gas log fireplace through your existing chimney.

Ventless models are more energy efficient because they don’t lose heat through the chimney. On the downside, they leave combustion gases and moisture lingering in your home. Although generally considered safe, they’re still banned in some states.

These fireplaces use a pilot light, and when that’s on, you can start a fire with the flip of a switch.

The only maintenance you’ll need to do yourself is periodically taking the artificial logs outside and brushing them to remove soot. Besides this, the fireplace also requires an annual professional inspection. As with electric fireplaces, gas log fireplaces come in a range of heating capacities.

Overall, though, they can produce more heat than electric models. This makes them a better option for large rooms, but not so great for small rooms, which they can quickly overheat.

Although they burn clean and can put out intense heat, gas fireplaces don’t use fuel very efficiently. They’ll usually cost you more than a wood-burning fireplace or pellet stove for the same amount of heat. You won’t get that soothing crackle, either.

Enjoying a cozy fire doesn’t have to involve hassle and mess. A gas or electric fireplace can provide instant warmth and ambiance with little in the way of maintenance or cleanup needs.

A gel-fuel fireplace makes it even simpler to add a little extra heat to a room, although the need to replace the fuel cans frequently makes these models less convenient to use.

Editorial Contributors
avatar for Henry Parker

Henry Parker

Henry Parker is a home improvement enthusiast who loves to share his passion and expertise with others. He writes on a variety of topics, such as painting, flooring, windows, and lawn care, to help homeowners make informed decisions and achieve their desired results. Henry strives to write high quality guides and reviews that are easy to understand and practical to follow. Whether you are looking for the best electric riding lawn mower, the easiest way to remove paint from flooring, or the signs of a bad tile job, Henry has you covered with his insightful and honest articles. Henry lives in Florida with his wife and two kids, and enjoys spending his free time on DIY projects around the house. You can find some of his work on Today’s Homeowner, where he is a regular contributor.

Learn More