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Home Care Library

Fireplace (gas)

Facts About Gas Fireplaces

A gas fireplace can be a very clean, energy-efficient way to heat your home, while adding a special charm. Whether you have one, or are thinking about getting one, here are some safety tips and maintenance tasks you should consider.

Types of Gas Fireplaces

There are three different types of gas fireplaces, and each has its own set of advantages and operating needs: Fireplace Inserts; Direct Vent Fireplaces; and Vent-Free Fireplaces. Each type can have additional features such as fans which circulate the heat into the room, automatic thermostats, remote controls, etc. And most will operate during power failures, which is a nice plus (although the electric fan will not work until the power comes back on).

If you are thinking about getting a gas fireplace, here's an important tip: if you enjoy watching the flames, then do not get one that is too high of capacity (BTU/hour heat rate) for the size of your home, otherwise, because they are so efficient, it may only need to operate for a short while and then shut off after quickly bringing your room up to temperature.


Fireplace Inserts

Gas Fireplace Inserts are installed in the opening of an existing wood burning fireplace, and they are vented through the existing chimney with a special vent pipe that carries the exhaust to the outside. Depending on the particular model of insert, the combustion air can either come from a pipe layer which is around the exhaust pipe, or it can come from inside of your home (it is more energy efficient to have a style that uses outside air), and some models have outside air vents.


Direct Vent Fireplaces

Direct vent fireplaces can be vented directly through an exterior wall, and do not require a traditional masonry chimney. Like fireplace inserts, direct vent gas fireplaces come in styles which can either bring combustion air from the outside, or from the room inside. And again, the models which use combustion air from the outside are more efficient, because you are not burning heated air from your home. These models can operate at or near 90 percent efficiency. Some models can even produce up to 45,000 BTU/hour, which can be as much as some furnaces.


Vent-Free Fireplaces

Vent-Free fireplaces are designed to operate without the venting of exhaust fumes to the outside (sort of like a gas oven which burns gas in your home without a vent). Some models are free-standing in a room, or other models can be in a corner or wall of the room. Vent-free models draw room air for combustion and deliver the combusted hot air back into the room. Vent-Free fireplaces are highly efficient, burning at an efficiency rate of more than 90 percent. However, there is some debate regarding the air quality impact of having combustion gases returned to the room, and installation may require exterior ducts and improved room ventilation.

Gas Fireplace Safety Tips

Have your fireplace inspected and serviced by a trained professional at least once a year. This is best done just before the heating season begins.

If you're moving into a newly constructed home, clean the area around the fireplace thoroughly of drywall dust and other debris before turning it on. Contaminants and dirt can damage the burner, fan, and motor. Before you turn on your newly installed fireplace, read the manufacturer's instruction manual carefully. If you have questions, contact a heating contractor or contact the manufacturer directly.

Never modify your fireplace or the mantle before checking with a heating contractor.

Always wait for at least five minutes before lighting a pilot light that has gone out (to allow time for gas to dissipate).

Even if your gas fireplace is vented to the outside, consider putting a carbon monoxide detector in the room where your fireplace is located (see types, costs, and reviews of CO alarms).

If you notice unusual flames, odors or the smell of natural or propane gas, turn off your fireplace and contact a heating contractor or your local gas company.

Always keep your fireplace fan clean.

Always keep outside air vents clear of leaves, debris, ice, and snow.

Do not keep combustible materials such as newspapers, paint or other flammable liquids near the fireplace. In addition, keep furniture, curtains, and rugs away from the fireplace.

Keep children away from the fireplace. Even though the flames are behind glass, the glass can get very hot and can stay hot even after the fireplace is turned off.  Make sure children understand that the glass can burn them. Use a safety gate or screen to keep children away from the fireplace (helpful accessory: child safety fences).

Do not use the fireplace if the glass doors are broken or cracked.  Keep the gas turned off and refer to the owner's manual for how you should proceed.

If you have a Vent-Free Gas Fireplace (which vents exhaust to the room they are in) then there are some special safety issues which you should be sure to address:
  • be sure that the unit is not too large for the room that it is in, or it can dangerously remove too much oxygen from the room.

  • you must have either an oxygen depletion sensor ("ODS") built into the unit or one in the same room it is in.

  • don't run your Vent-Free fireplace for long periods of time, as this can lead to oxygen depletion and carbon monoxide build-up


Gas Fireplace Safety Tips

Shown below are the routine maintenance tasks which you should be sure to perform on your gas fireplace:

As mentioned above, before each heating season be sure to have your gas fireplace inspected and serviced by a trained professional.

Things you will want to be sure they check are:
  • clean the glass and check for irregularities

  • inspect, clean and adjust pilot system

  • check and clean the control compartment

  • inspect entire venting system

  • check on/off switch and thermostat

  • check and clean blower (if applicable)

  • adjust the primary air shutter

  • check combustion chamber for any cracks

  • adjust the primary air shutter

  • check the valve pressure

  • inspect the heat-exchange area

  • verify the log positionings

  • check the tightness of all electrical connections

  • sweep and vacuum the firebox to remove any loose soot

  • replace ember material as necessary

  • conduct a gas sniffer test to detect any gas leakage

Be sure to check your room carbon monoxide detector regularly.

And never clean the outer glass if the glass is even the slightest bit warm because the pores in the glass will expand and draw the glass cleaner into the pores, which may cause the glass to become cloudy.

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