Today's natural gas fireplaces have an aesthetically pleasing, natural look and are far less polluting than older gas models. Because burning natural gas doesn't produce creosote (that black gunk that the chimney sweep cleans out), maintenance is also greatly reduced.
If you'd like, you can simply install a new style of faux logs and a material to spread out below that glows like embers when the fireplace is on. For maximum energy efficiency and safety, purchase a full fireplace insert complete with glass screen. These are particularly handy for retrofitting older fireplaces.
Bio-fuelTypically a form of de-natured alcohol, bio-fuel is a perfect way to enjoy the beauty of a fire without the drawbacks. Derived from crops such as beets, corn, and even bananas, bio-fuels are so clean-burning they can be used in the middle of a room without a chimney or flue.
Bio-fuel fireplaces put off only a limited amount of heat, so they are best used for their aesthetic qualities rather than as a method for heating a room.
PelletAlso referred to as "bio-mass," pellets are derived from corn and agricultural by-products that are burned in a specially designed stove or fireplace insert. Although they produce a fire that is more functional than pretty, pellet stoves are a very efficient source of heat and can be easily adjusted to control temperature and output. One consideration is that pellet stoves require electricity to operate, making them nonfunctional during a power outage without a battery back-up system.
WoodThough old wood-burning fireplaces have their drawbacks, it is now possible to make an energy efficient, low-polluting, wood-burning fireplace. If you are building a new home or engaged in a major renovation, consider an EPA-approved fireplace such as a gorgeous Tulikivi soapstone stove/fireplace coming out of Europe. Although bearing a bit of a heavy carbon footprint on the way over, they are a highly efficient, lovely looking way to warm a home. Essentially, they use the heat radiating properties of the soapstone to make the most use of the high efficiency wood-burning fire. The larger versions can heat an entire home from one relatively small fire.
Ultimately, the fireplace or stove you choose will depend on what you need most. Is it aesthetic beauty? An efficient way to heat your home? Or maybe just a place to hang the stockings with care? Whatever you are looking for, there are now great choices that are also green choices!
To learn more, see Eco-Friendly Fireplaces.