If you’re new to the world of fireplaces, it’s likely yours will be a gas-burning model. And for that, you’re lucky. A rustic, wood-burning fireplace can be a delight in a northwoods cabin, but in your home, gas-burning is the safer option. Plus, there’s no reason to be intimidated by a gas fireplace.
Read on for some background and safety tips that will help you enjoy your fireplace for years to come.
Three Reasons for a Gas Fireplace
Wood-burning fireplaces can be beautiful, but for most people they aren’t practical. Here’s why.
“One reason people go with gas-burning fireplaces is they are mandated by local communities,” says Rosie Romero, a Phoenix-based remodeling contractor and owner and president of Rosie On The House, a popular weekend radio show in Arizona.
“In Phoenix, we are in a valley, and in winter there is a temperature inversion that puts an ‘umbrella’ over the valley,” Romero says. “So any emission coming out of a fireplace, automobile or industry is trapped and becomes a huge black cloud over the city.
“About 20 years ago, Phoenix mandated no-burn days when you could not burn a real wood fire, to reduce emissions. Well, people here got innovative in developing real-looking gas logs, and they just took off.”
All it takes is walking over to the fireplace and flipping a switch. That’s it.
“Few people in an urban setting use fire for natural heat,” Romero says. “They use fire for the ambiance of the flame.
“Gas logs accomplish what most people are looking for with one one-hundredth the effort of a wood-burning fireplace — and with zero maintenance. You never have to scoop ashes, and you don’t have a backdraft of ashes blowing through the house. In the urban setting, gas logs are now the predominant choice.”
Romero says a cord of hardwood, delivered and stacked in Phoenix, is about $400, while a nice gas-log set ranges from $1,500 to $2,000 installed.
“Do I want to go with a $400 cord of wood time and time again that needs to be split and started and fed into the fire constantly?” Romero says. “Or do I want the one-time cost and the convenience of turning a switch and the flame is on?” The answer is obvious.
Gas Fireplace Safety Tips
Don’t let the convenience make you complacent about gas fireplace safety, however. After all, there’s propane or natural gas entering your house and feeding a fire in your living space.
Just because you’re burning gas and not logs doesn’t mean the fire is fake. There’s still a flame. You run the risk excess carbon monoxide will poison your family, or an untended gas flame will cause a fire.
Here are Romero’s 10 tips for indoor gas-burning fireplace safety:
- If you’re converting a wood-burning fireplace to gas, hire a licensed contractor. Working with a gas line or a propane tank is a job for an experienced professional, not a DIYer. Not all contractors are licensed, so confirm the company you hire has the proper license for the work. “It varies by region,” says Romero. “In Arizona, we must be licensed. But there are states, like Texas, that have no licensing requirements at all.”
- Check your county and city building codes beforehand to determine any restrictions on where you can place a gas fireplace. Ask your contractor to pull a building permit before installing the gas line or propane tank to fuel your fireplace.
- Study your gas fireplace manufacturer’s safety instructions. Some people consider a manual a bother, and their safety suffers. Read the manual.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your house, and change batteries twice a year.
- Be sure your damper (the device that regulates the draft of air) is always open. “With a carbon monoxide detector in the fireplace room and with the damper open, there is very little that can go wrong with a gas-log set,” says Romero. “By code, you have to fix the damper so that it can never be closed. Even in the closed position, it is open at least one-quarter inch. Should there be some small leak, gas will go up the flue. Propane is heavier than air and it will sink into the room. But with the damper open, at least it will create a draft to prevent propane from building up in the firebox.”
- Make sure your contractor installs an oxygen-depletion sensor in the fireplace. This device, sometimes called a “safety pilot,” automatically shuts off the gas if the fireplace temperature gets too cold or if there’s too little oxygen in the air.
- Hire a professional chimney sweep to clean your chimney before firing up your gas logs for the first time.
- Keep children away from the gas fireplace. If your model has glass doors, they’ll get hot enough to burn any little hand that touches it.
- Leave three feet between the fireplace and flammable objects like furniture and curtains.
- Contact the licensed contractor who installed your gas-log set if you smell an unusual odor, or if the flame’s appearance changes. If the gas fireplace came with your home, search for highly-rated, licensed installation and repair pros in your area and contact one. If you smell gas, call 911 and leave the house.