Gas Fireplaces and Logs

Gas fireplaces

Gas fireplaces are popular alternatives to the traditional wood-burning fireplace. Although not quite as convenient and maintenance-free as an electric fireplace, a gas fireplace involves less mess and doesn't require a supply of wood.

Gas fireplaces use a variety of visual methods, whether it be a traditional log or rocks or glass pebbles for a more contemporary look. No matter what it looks like, a propane or natural gas fireplace still uses the same basic method: an igniter (either a pilot light or electric igniter) and incoming gas line to create a smooth, consistent flame. Gas fireplaces are often very energy-efficient and provide the most heat in a room with the least energy loss. 

Although gas fireplaces are indeed easier to work with, don't forget the safety factor. A direct-vent gas fireplace still requires a clear path out of the house via the chimney. The fireplace still generates byproduct that can dirty up the chimney over time, and animals or outside debris can get into the chimney from the top and create problems. So, like a wood-burning fireplace, a gas fireplace should be regularly inspected and cleaned by a professional chimney sweep.

gas logs burning in fireplace

Gas logs used in a gas fireplace look like the real thing, but with less mess. (Photo by Doug McSchooler)

Vented gas logs

Vented gas logs are intended to be used in a gas-powered fireplace with the damper opened. This is the most popular option of gas log available due to its ability to provide the most realistic look of firewood.

Homeowners can buy vented gas logs in a variety of styles and sizes, including hickory, birch, oak and more. This type of gas log is available in lengths that range from 12 inches to more than 60 inches to fit any fireplace.

On average, vented gas logs cost between 60 cents to $1.75 per hour to operate, depending on the type of gas used to power the fireplace. Unfortunately, the need to keep the damper open while operating a vented gas burner causes a large portion of the heat generated by the fireplace to go up the chimney instead of producing more heat in the home.

Unvented gas logs

Unvented gas logs operate in a similar manner as gas-powered burners on a kitchen stove. Homeowners who want to convert their traditional wood-burning fireplaces to gas models will find this type of gas log works the best.

With unvented gas logs, the damper inside the fireplace can be left fully closed or open for comfortable temperature control. This allows the home to capture the most heat from using the fireplace.

An unvented gas log costs between 20 to 75 cents to use per hour, depending on whether the fireplace is operated with natural gas or liquified petroleum gas.

Even with all of the benefits available with this type of gas log option, there are some drawbacks. Unvented gas logs do not have the same realistic look to them as vented gas logs. When the damper is closed, some gases can enter the home. Also, the benefits of wall thermostats, remote controls and other temperature controls are not readily available when using unvented gas logs.

Safety concerns of gas logs

Regardless of the type of gas log chosen, homeowners need to be aware of a few safety concerns. One common misconception is that no chimney cleaning is needed when using gas logs. Gas fireplaces still require the chimney to be cleaned. Gases burned can still build up soot in the fireplace. Nesting birds and other debris that may collect in the chimney can block the passage and catch on fire.

Using unvented gas logs in a damper-closed fireplace may result in gases escaping into the home. These gases have the ability to cause the home's occupants — especially those who are sensitive to the odors and fumes — to suffer from asthma attacks, allergies and other medical conditions. Limiting the amount of time a gas  fireplace with unvented gas logs is used can help alleviate these problems.

Gas fireplaces also have a tendency to burn much hotter than a wood-burning fireplace. The surround areas around the fireplace should always be kept clear of items that can burn, melt or otherwise become damaged by the heat. Grating should be used as well to prevent burns and injuries.

How to install gas logs

Installing a gas-powered fireplace and gas log burners are not DIY jobs. This is a project that should be left to a certified professional. In many areas, it is illegal to do this without the assistance of a professional HVAC technician.

Professional HVAC technicians are responsible for the installation, repair and maintenance of heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems. They must have formal training and pass strict certification testing before they can work on these sensitive systems within a residential, industrial or commercial building. These technicians understand the regulations and codes, which govern the installation and operation of HVAC systems.

Homeowners can purchase gas logs from a home improvement store, online or through some HVAC technicians. A technician can provide homeowners with certain recommendations for the specific type and model of gas log burner that will provide the most benefits for the homeowner’s specific needs. Some factors that will be taken into consideration are whether a pre-existing wood-burning fireplace is already in place or if certain conveniences such as remote controls or wall thermostats are desired by the homeowner.

Homeowners should always make sure they are comfortable with the operation of their fireplace and gas logs prior to the technician leaving the premises. A full understanding on how to maintain the specific products should be obtained before operating. Homeowners should also know how to recognize signs that there may be a problem with their gas log burners and what to do should these situations arise.

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