Gas Fireplaces 101

When it’s a bitter-cold winter evening in Pennsylvania, there’s nothing like a roaring fire in the fireplace to make your home feel cozy and warm – especially if it requires no tending, minimal cleanup, and won’t die out from neglect.

Welcome to the warm and comfy world of new generation gas fireplaces – where a fire lights with the push of a button and burns much more realistically.

Gas Fireplace

Here’s everything you need to know about modern versions of gas fireplaces:

The benefits of gas fireplaces are many.  There’s no need to split, stack, season, or haul logs; no ashes to bag; no smoky smells, no chimney to clean.  You can start and extinguish fire with the touch of a remote control, and a wall thermostat can control the flame size and heat output to maintain a desired temperature in the room.  And, you can get as much as 75 – 99 percent of a fuel’s energy back as heat, instead of only 10 – 30 percent for wood fires.

Gas fireplaces can burn either natural gas or propane; natural gas is the less expensive option of the two, and produces about 5 percent more heat than propane.

A see-through fireplace unit above your bathtub can show its flames in the adjacent bedroom – and you can adjust flame size of this romantic fire, as well as the room temperature with a remote control, without needing to leave the comfort of your bed.

A low-profile outdoor fireplace or fire pit will reduce the evening chill and add a flickering glow to your environment.

Gas fireplaces come in different types: log sets inserts; and built-ins.

Log sets usually are more for the look and feel of a fireplace than for warmth, while inserts and built-in fireplaces can provide more reliable heat.

Type: Log Set

This is a basic, least expensive type of burner that sits in existing, open fireplace.  Log set installation requires drilling access holes for the gas and electric lines, and units can be vent-free or vent up the chimney.  With vented sets, the damper has to be propped open at all times to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning; this means that much of their heat goes up the flue.

There are some beautiful log alternatives: a sparkling bed of tempered glass chips for a modern look; calico-colored ceramic rocks for a rustic feel; and black ceramic lumps that generate a rosy glow evocative of the coal burned in Victorian-era parlors.

Type: Insert

If you want to retrofit a wood-burning firebox with something more convenient and efficient, an insert fireplace is your answer.  A log-and-burner set is placed inside a metal box surrounded by a larger metal box and installed within an existing fireplace.  An insert warms room air in the gap between the boxes and radiates heat from its firebox.

An insert fireplace is available vented, with a fixed glass panel in front of the flames, or vent-free, with a fixed metal screen or glass panel.

Type: Built In

If you want to have a fireplace and there isn’t yet one in your house, built-in is the way to go.  Made like inserts, with metal box-within-a-box construction, this unit does not require an existing fireplace or chimney.

You can have a vented unit installed with fixed glass panels that cycle air

and exhaust directly through an exterior wall opening, or choose a vent-free unit with a fixed metal screen or glass panel.

Each gas fireplace type offers a choice of vented or vent-free versions. While a gas fireplace doesn’t produce smoke or odors, its flames do create pollutants, so it’s important to understand that vented fireplaces send these emissions outside, while vent-free ones direct them into your house.

The safest, most efficient venting method is a two-pipe system known as direct vent, where one pipe feeds fresh air for combustion to a sealed firebox, and the other pipe takes the combustion fumes away and out.

Vent-free fireplaces can conveniently be installed anywhere (even on a wall like a flat-screen TV) since they don’t have a flue, and they’re up to 99 percent efficient since all of their heat stays in the room; however, so do all the pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen and sulfur oxides.  This is why vent-free indoor units are fine-tuned to burn extra clean, their heat output is limited to 40,000 Btus, and they have an oxygen-depletion sensor that automatically shuts them off if a room’s oxygen level drops below 18 percent (20.9 percent is normal).  Even with these precaution features, vent-free fireplaces are banned in California and in some U.S. cities.

The heat output of your gas fireplace, measured in Btus, should match your room size, your house’s insulation level, and local climate.

Once you’ve selected your fireplace, here are some upgrades that can enhance convenience, comfort, and ambience.

  • Variable-flame height adjustment – allows you to dial in the amount of heat you need
  • Wall-thermostat control – automatically adjusts the fireplace’s heat output to the manually or remotely set temperature
  • Electronic ignition – eliminates the need for a pilot light, saving you money spent on fuel
  • Built-in fan – pulls indoor air into the space behind the firebox and pumps hot air out, heating a room quickly
  • Battery backup – ensures the fireplace will light during a power outage
  • LED accent lighting – adds a realistic flickering effect inside the firebox

For the safest, most efficient, and professional-looking installation, leave the work to a certified technician.

Once installed, a certified technician should come once a year to clean and adjust the burner of your fireplace, and make sure that you have realistic, soot-free flames producing efficient heat.

So, when the first icy night of winter arrives, all you will need is a press of a remote-control button and you’ll be nice and cozy in front of your roaring fire.

UGI Heating, Cooling & Plumbing is a comprehensive HVAC company offering Natural Gas Conversion and other HVAC services in Lancaster, PA, Reading, PA, Harrisburg, the Lehigh Valley, and the surrounding communities in Eastern and Central Pennsylvania.

We invite you to contact us for more information and to help you figure out the best gas fireplace or other heating options – make your appointment today.

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