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Get Cozy: Choosing a Gas Fireplace for your Home

What to look for when you’re shopping for a gas fireplace.

This winter, we decided to convert a previously wood-burning fireplace into one with a gas insert to create the warm and cozy living room space that our family didn’t even know we needed. What a difference it makes in our home!

Going the route of a gas fireplace presents many options, and if you don’t know where to start, here’s a quick guide to help you out:

What is a gas fireplace?

A gas fireplace is usually interpreted in three ways:

Freestanding logs: A unit of logs that can be placed in a converted wood burning fireplace. A gas line is installed to flow to the logs, and the resulting open flame burns much like a wood-burning fire, with only a screen or fireplace face enclosing the flames.

Gas insert: Converts an existing wood burning fireplace with an all-in-one box, which is vented up the existing chimney. The flame is fully contained within the box, with a screen and glass pane on the front to prevent fire from escaping into the room. The inserts often include built-in fans which help heat the room, and added effects for realism.

Built-in gas fireplace: Presents like a decorative insert, or as a freestanding fireplace. A built-in gas fireplace is used in a space without an existing fireplace or chimney. In most cases, built-in fireplaces are vented through an exterior wall. Many states have laws against non-vented gas fireplaces, as emissions can affect air quality inside the home.

The Benefits of a Gas Fireplace:

The biggest advantage for me: No having to deal with cutting wood or purchasing logs, and consequently, no ashes to clean up.

Jim Rehbach, an expert at Fireplace Fashions in Rochester, NY cites efficiencies in modern products, noting that “whether it is classified as 'decorative,' 'heater-rated' or the most efficient: 'furnace-rated,' all will generate heat,” adding that “most homeowners appreciate the unique burning appearances available in today's hearth products… [Homeowners] can be warm and save money on their utility bills at the same time.”

A gas fireplace needs no tending. Maintenance consists of a mere annual check-up.

Products can run on natural gas or propane. No chimney necessary – the built-in gas fireplace models can be installed in any room of the home.

You control heat output. Models offer a range in BTU output, and with the flip of a switch or remote control, you can set your unit to produce as much heat as you need.

The Costs of a Gas Fireplace

The product cost can range by size of the unit, and the type of installation. If you’re looking to have one installed in your home, be aware that in addition to the product cost, there will be costs associated with running the fuel source to the location, and labor costs on top of that.

As opposed to installing logs or an insert where there is already a wood burning fireplace, homeowners may find extra costs in installing a built-in gas model. Designing and building a vented faux fireplace leaves more flexibility in its ability to add decorative appeal, but can often cost more because it requires the construction of the framework and finishing surrounding the built-in, as well as cosmetic finishing outside depending on how the unit vents to the exterior. If you’re planning a built-in and want to DIY aspects of the job, consider taking on the finishing work that goes into creating your custom facade and mantle.

Annual maintenance is recommended for gas fireplaces – namely, to check the system, and clean out any debris (or bugs!) that arrived in the fireplace. Just like a wood burning fireplace, if you keep it clean and operating well, it will be safe and enjoyable for your family for years and years.

Select the Best Gas Product With the Best Features for Your Space

Choosing the right product for your space starts with measuring some BTUs, and understanding how many cubic feet you’re going to need to heat. Choose a product that is going to supply an adequate amount of heat, and validate your choices with a pro. A professional should be able to objectively share consumer feedback; our salesperson did, he veered us away from a model I liked the looks of but that didn’t have a standard fan, which was optimal for the size of our living space.

Next to performance, outer face design should be next on your shopping list. Consider your own home as you choose a face – you’ll find designs that are modern, traditional, rustic and contemporary. Many products are also available in a variety of colors, such as matte charcoal (like mine), black or bronze. With freestanding models, you might find even more color options (there was a gorgeous red freestanding gas fireplace displayed at our local Fireplace Fashions showroom!).

Enter a local showroom and be amazed by the variety of designs and features in the gas fireplace product lines. Note the following features, and use this list to your advantage as you compare your options:

  • Interior brick design - it can vary in color and brick or stone styling

  • Much like the outer facade of the fireplace, the logs and coals and alternative materials, like glass beads or stone, affect the visual style of your fireplace. Some logs look like driftwood (perfect for a coastal aesthetic), while ours is more traditional with bark-covered faux-wood logs.

  • Wall-thermostat or remote controls. Our remote has an all-important childproofing feature.

  • Variable-flame height adjustment

  • Built-in fan options (believe it or not, the fans are not always standard!) Our room heats gradually even when the fan is not running, but the range of fan speeds built-in to our model help the heat circulate efficiently.

  • LED lighting for realistic effects – subtle lighting helps the embers and coals look so realistic. The lighting on some models does look better than others, but before you jump to conclusions allow the showroom models to run for 5-10 minutes as the LED light adjusts to full power.

  • Pilot light vs. electronic ignition. I will note, some models have very small and disguised pilot lights. Ours is front and center and is always visible.

  • Battery back-up. This makes it possible to ignite the fireplace even during a power outage.

  • Two-pipe venting system vs. vent-free system (remember that vent-free is often banned because it affects indoor air quality. Check local codes).

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