Many people are unaware that a wood-burning fire is mostly decorative, and its heating properties are essentially worthless. It can keep you warm if you stay close, but otherwise, it's mainly an energy drain that steals fuel from the air inside a house and sends it up a chimney out of the house. In fact, the Department of Energy (DOE) calls fireplaces “energy losers.” Wood-burning fireplace alternatives are more energy efficient and, therefore, more eco-friendly. Also, there are several different types of fireplace alternatives, all with their pros and cons.
Electric fireplaces are environmentally friendly, especially when LED lights are used. All you need is a 120-volt outlet and you can have a fire with the push of a button. These units offer options like, sound and visual effects that simulates the sight and sound of a blaze. Some have thermostats so you can regulate the temperature, even turn off the heat completely yet keep the "fire", so these can be used year-round. While electric is a great alternative to burning wood, it can't simulate other qualities like the smokey smell. Also, these fireplaces can not be used if there is an electrical outage, unlike a real fire which can keep you warm in the event of an emergency.
Gas fireplaces do a good job of simulating a wood burning fire. There are fake logs, but real flames that surround the faux wood. Most of these units have a thermostat to control temperature. Electricity is not needed for operation so they can be a convenient source of heat during a power outage. However, gas fireplaces require a decent amount of infrastructure. Pipes need to be laid unless you get a unit that can be fueled with propane. Also, a venting system needs to be installed, making gas fireplaces less portable than other alternatives.
Alcohol Gel Fireplace
Ethanol fireplaces are extremely portable because they are self-contained, fueled by alcohol gel that can be carried with the unit. These fireplaces also create a lot of warmth and can heat an entire room. There is no need to vent and no expensive installation. Ethanol fireplaces create real fire, so you get the crackling and burning, but without the smoke. Also, these can be placed inside of structural fireplaces, if you want the fire without having to worry about chopping wood. The major drawback of ethanol is that these units are expensive to the point of being prohibitive for many people. Also, these fireplaces are fueled by alcohol that must be bought and and replaced. Most units will only burn for 2 to 3 hours before needing a refill.
Image: Boston Magazine