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Gas Fireplace and Stove Buying Guide

Gone are the days when burning wood was your only option for a fireplace or stove. Presently, gas fireplaces and gas stoves are very popular due to the overall convenience and efficiency when compared to the traditional woodburning practice.

Gas hearth systems use either natural gas or liquid propane for fuel. Natural gas is more common, and propane is usually only used where natural gas is not available. While the use of gas in hearth appliances began way back in the early 20th century, its popularity has steadily increased over the last 50 years or so. Advances in technology, particularly in the increasingly realistic appearance of gas logs and flames, have persuaded more and more consumers to choose gas over wood.

There are several advantages in choosing the gas route, not the least of which is the vast increase in efficiency with gas as opposed to wood. Moreover, the gas burns clean; there are no hassles with cleaning up ashes, and you may never have to buy (or chop) another wood log in your lifetime.

One appealing aspect of a gas hearth appliance is its convenience in terms of owner control of the fire itself. Most gas appliances are marketed as "remote ready," meaning you can use a variety of methods to operate your fireplace remotely. You can use a remote control, a wall switch/timer, or even a programmable thermostat to determine just how hot and how long you want your appliance to burn. Many models also offer variable flame control, which allows you to adjust the height of the flame according to your desire for more heat or just a better-looking fire.

Another trait gas fireplaces and stoves share is ease of installation. The fireplaces can be recessed into a wall, placed inside a fireplace mantel cabinet, built around in the corner of a room, or even placed in the middle of the room with a multi-sided unit. You have several decorative options to choose from with gas units as well, such as trim kits, stunning surrounds, customized louvres, andirons and much more. A freestanding gas stove offers even more simplicity, just pick a spot in your room and put your stove where you like (observing the necessary clearances from walls, of course). Stoves also offer plenty of decorative options, including several door options, shelf kits, inlay kits, and more.

Last, but certainly not least to most consumers, gas appliances are far more efficient than woodburning units. You can use a gas fireplace or stove as a dependable secondary--or perhaps even primary--heating source and save a considerable amount of money on heating bills. When looking for a gas-fired unit, be sure to look for its "BTU" rating. A BTU (British thermal unit) is a measure of heat energy. As a general rule of thumb, 35,000 BTUs will provide sufficient heating for about 1,000 square feet. By no means is this an infallible measurement, as much depends on each individual situation in the room where your gas hearth system is installed--number of windows, doors, high or low ceilings, and other factors.

So, if you have made the decision to with a gas hearth system, or if you are interested in learning a bit more about one, here is a brief overview of the three different types of gas appliances.

Direct Vent

Direct Vent Fireplace

Generally speaking, direct vent fireplaces are the most popular type of fireplace. Direct vent units are the most efficient vented appliances on the market. The same is true of direct vent stoves. Each unit is closed-combustion--enclosed with glass to seal it off from the room--and the coaxial (pipe-within-a-pipe) or colinear (side-by-side) pipe runs air in from outside for combustion while venting out the exhaust directly back out of the home. You can never operate a direct vent unit without the glass panel installed and securely in place. Over the years, one of the biggest drawbacks for consumers has been the necessity of the glass, because the reflections would greatly hinder the view of the fire. However, the emergence of ceramic and tempered glass has significantly helped solve this issue. These kinds of glass dramatically cut down the issues with glare and appear almost invisible in front of your roaring fire.

More direct vent units are now using ceramic glass, which not only provides a clear view of the flames, but also eliminates the dangerous amount of heat prevalent on tempered glass models. Though ceramic is becoming the standard, some mid- to lower-end models still use tempered. It is always a good idea to find out what kind of glass the fireplace or stove you are interested in has. If you have children, you can eliminate any fears of burns by making sure you get a ceramic glass direct vent appliance. When browsing our selection of direct vent units, if you are unsure about whether a particular model has tempered or ceramic glass, we will always be happy to assist you in determining which type of glass it has.

One potential "flaw" with direct vent fireplaces and stoves is the customer's inability to customize the actual fire. While many direct vent appliances offer variable flame control (flame height adjustability), the logs and burner that come with a direct vent unit are married to it forever. Be sure that the appearance of the flames and logs is to your liking before making an investment.

That being said, direct vent units have more realistic fires and flame patterns than vent-free units. Being, of course, a vented appliance, direct vent burners can have flames that wrap around the artificial logs and create a more realistic fire. Vent-free fireplaces and stoves are greatly handicapped in this area, as they cannot match the realism of the direct vent. For many consumers, this is the deciding factor in going with a direct vent appliance over a vent-free.

Additionally, you have many more options installing a direct vent fireplace or stove in a bedroom or bathroom as opposed to vent-free. Since direct vent units exhaust directly outside, there are not the same restrictions on these applications as there are with vent-free. We will discuss the limitations for vent-free appliances in bedrooms and bathrooms further in the Vent-Free section of this article.

Direct vent fireplaces and stoves have a huge advantage over B-Vent and traditional woodburning models when it comes to the venting. Whereas a B-Vent or woodburning fireplace or stove will require vertical venting all the way through your roof and at least three feet above, a direct vent unit offers flexibility and convenience. All direct vent appliances can be terminated horizontally, making it possible to place a unit on an outside wall and run just a few inches of pipe to the outside wall to complete your venting system. As such, almost all of our direct vent fireplaces and stoves have horizontal or through-the-wall vent kits that will include all the necessary components and take the stress out of building an expensive and complicated chimney system.

If venting horizontally isn't an option, you can still build a vertical venting system with direct vent appliances. Direct vent pipe is cheaper than most class A chimney pipe, so it would still likely be more cost-effective to install a vertical venting system for a direct vent fireplace or stove than a woodburning unit.

For more information about direct vent pipe and venting, please see our Chimney Pipe Buying Guide.

Direct vent fireplaces and stoves are also very low-maintenance when compared to vent-free units. A direct vent fireplace or stove should be cleaned and inspected every season, and the glass should be cleaned regularly, but by and large there are less maintenance issues with direct vent than vent-free. As we will discuss in the vent-free section, you must always exercise caution and be very deliberate when servicing a vent-free unit. It is strongly recommended that you have a professional service a vent-free appliance, while any weekend warrior should be able to handle direct vent duties. Of course, you should always check the owner's manual for proper maintenance procedures with any hearth appliance.

If you are looking for a good heating source and do not mind the necessity of a enclosed fire with a glass front, a direct vent fireplace or stove may be your best bet.

Vent-Free

Vent Free Fireplace

Vent-Free fireplaces and stoves are relatively new to the market, with a life span of roughly 15 years at this point. The appeal of vent-free fireplaces and stoves starts with the name--there is no venting necessary, so you don't have to worry about designing a chimney system or buying any pipe. They are also extremely efficient, since you aren't going to lose any heat up a chimney or flue. If you have a large, open room to heat, a vent-free unit is a great option. A vent-free fireplace or stove is also ideal for smaller homes and rooms in other homes where it would be impossible to build a chimney.

You should, however, be aware of some of the concerns about vent-free fireplaces and stoves. The most obvious would be that all the exhaust from combustion is going to stay in the room, since it has nowhere else to go. The precise engineering of vent-free appliances is what makes this feasible; the burners are manufactured and designed to create almost 100% complete combustion. This means that the exhaust from your unit is going to be almost entirely made of water vapor and carbon dioxide, not dangerous gases like carbon monoxide. If the unit is not running at maximum capacity, though, there is the potential for harmful by-products being released into your home and you could also have sooting problems.

In a smaller, cramped room, a vent-free unit is going to shut off at a frustrating rate. This is a case of a gift also being a curse, so to speak. With no pipe for venting, all the exhaust from combustion is sent back into the room. To some, this can be a nuisance because the smell of the burning gas is bothersome. Others may be concerned about the safety of those exposed to the combustion by-products in the home. This concern is shared by many, and some areas of the United States (such as most of California) and Canada have actually outlawed vent-free fireplaces and stoves (and all other vent-free appliances) altogether.

In anticipation of the obvious concern about oxygen, a failsafe is in place on all vent-free fireplaces and stoves. Vent-free units are all equipped with an oxygen-depletion sensor (ODS), so when the oxygen in the room drops below a certain level (usually 18-18.5%), the unit shuts itself off to prevent potentially hazardous conditions. At sea level, air is comprised of approximately 23% oxygen. As humans, we function normally until that level reaches around 15%. Thus, the ODS on these pilot assemblies have a built-in margin of error to ensure maximum safety control. Moreover, an additional safeguard you can put in place is to purchase a carbon monoxide alarm in your home, near your vent-free appliance. We offer carbon monoxide alarms here at eFireplaceStore.com, and some jurisdictions require the use of these alarms.

While steps have been taken to avoid the most serious potential effects, vent-free fireplaces and stoves are still not necessarily healthy for everyone. If you, anyone living in your home, or frequent visitors have any respiratory issues, you may want to steer clear of vent-free. Conditions such as asthma can be irritated by the exposure to the exhaust from vent-free units. Anyone with sinus issues could also experience significant discomfort. Another potential unpleasant side-effect of a vent-free fireplace or stove is the odor; people who have a keen noses may not enjoy the smell some of these units emit.

You should also take note that if you use liquid propane, your vent-free appliance will be releasing a significantly more amount of water vapor into the room than with natural gas. Thus, be sure that you install any vent-free appliance using propane in a large, open room to avoid fogged-up windows and a humid, unpleasant atmosphere, plus some possible issues with mildew.

Given the nature of the concerns listed above, it will come as no surprise that BTU output on vent-free appliances is restricted. Vent-free fireplaces and stoves are limited to a maximum rate of 40,000 BTU/hour, and just 10,000 BTU/hour for bedrooms and bathrooms. This restriction for bedrooms and bathrooms is all-inclusive, it does not matter if your bedroom is gigantic--you cannot have an appliance with a BTU rating higher than 10,000. If your home is inspected, a violation of this code will result in a failure.

The National Fuel Gas Code has determined that vent-free appliances are not to be installed in what they term as "confined space." A confined space is defined as a room with a volume less than 50 cubic feet per 1,000 BTU/hour of the aggregate input rating of all appliances in that space.

A formula you can use to determine the maximum BTUs allowed in a room is as follows:

L (length) x W (width) x H (height) x 20 = Maximum BTUs allowed

If you have any hesitation or doubts about installing a vent-free fireplace or stove in your home, use this formula and check the BTU rating of any unit that interests you. You will also want to examine the owner's manual for any vent-free appliance to see the specific manufacturers' requirements, which can vary.

As discussed in the Direct Vent section of this article, a vent-free fireplace or stove requires more overall maintenance, both in frequency and attention to detail. If you have pets, you will want to clean your vent-free unit much more often, as pet hair can block the air intake and cause poor performance or some of those nuisance outages mentioned earlier. One frequent issue with vent-free pilot assemblies is dust getting into the ODS, which causes outages or ignition failures. The easiest fix to this issue is to take a can of compressed air and gently blow it into the ODS or the gas line in the direction of the gas flow. Obviously, this would not be a concern with a closed-combustion direct vent fireplace or stove.

Moreover, it is strongly recommended that you have a gas specialist install your vent-free appliance. Each vent-free fireplace has very specific and detailed installation instructions, as the logs must placed in exactly the correct spot on the burner, and the pilot assembly must be thoroughly examined and tested for proper operation. Simply put, everything must be in perfect order to prevent issues with oxygen depletion, carbon monoxide emissions, sooting issues, et cetera.

If you have read over these last several paragraphs and still feel like vent-free is the way to go, then you will have plenty of options to build a vent-free hearth system to your liking. Unlike direct vent units, you can fully customize a vent-free system. For example, if you don't want a vent-free fireplace system, which would include the logs and burner, you can purchase a universal vent-free firebox, which would have neither. The advantage here would be the ability to find a ventless gas log set that you like and installing it inside the firebox, allowing you to choose an aesthetically-pleasing firebox that can be customized and a realistic-looking ventless gas log set. We have many vent-free fireboxes and ventless log sets available. Please note that everything mentioned earlier in this section about vent-free fireplaces and stoves in regards to the ODS and BTU rating restrictions also applies to ventless gas logs.

Vent-free fireplaces and stoves are, by nature, going to be extremely efficient, up to 99.9%. Without an escape route up a chimney or flue, the heat is going to stay in the room and provide significant warmth, especially on the more powerful models. Even if you have an existing woodburning fireplace, either masonry or manufactured, you may want to look into getting a ventless gas log set to install to take advantage of this kind of efficiency.

Although vent-free appliances must be open, many of our units come with safety screens or offer them as accessories. Some models have screens that appear to be (or even referred to as) glass doors, but of course they must be able to "breathe," so these screens are not solid. Some units may have an option to add glass or even come with glass, but these will be installed in such a way as to allow air in and out of the unit. If you have children or pets, it would be wise to see what kind of screen any given vent-free fireplace or stove has to offer.

B-Vent (Natural Vent)

B-Vent Fireplace

B-Vent fireplaces and stoves are fading significantly in popularity and becoming more difficult to find on the market. B-Vent (also referred to as "Natural Vent") units appeal mainly to builders and contractors who like the affordability and the relative ease of venting. In fact, out of the relatively few B-Vent stoves still on the market, most are dual B-Vent and direct vent stoves that can be vented either way.

B-Vent pipe is usually smaller in diameter than Class A chimney pipe (used for wood-burning/coal-burning hearth appliances), and it is much cheaper. However, B-Vent fireplaces and stoves have very poor efficiency ratings. As with a traditional woodburning fireplace, B-Vent units are open and use the air from the room for combustion. As a result, you will lose a lot of heat up your flue or chimney as the exhaust travels out of the home, so don't expect to use these to be a reliable heat source.

B-Vent units are becoming more and more scarce, and are gradually becoming a "builder-only" kind of fireplace. The direct vent and vent-free units are both much more efficient and, most of the time, easier to install. The vast majority of consumers who choose a B-Vent fireplace or stove are doing it for its cost-effectiveness and aesthetic value. They are not concerned with using it as a primary or even secondary heating source. With the rise of popularity in both direct vent and vent-free appliances, B-Vent fireplaces and stoves will continue their decline.

You can learn more about venting a B-Vent fireplace or stove by reading our Chimney Pipe Buying Guide.

Fireplace or Stove?

When you have made the decision to go with a gas-fired appliance, and even when you have decided among direct vent, vent-free and B-vent, there is still one more question: fireplace or stove? Obviously, the difference between the two is mostly obvious. It is mostly a matter of whether you prefer the look of a traditional fireplace or a freestanding stove. With a fireplace, you have a bit more diversity when you consider the possibilities of a peninsula (three-sided) or even an island (four-sided) model (vent-free only, of course). With stoves, you have a little more ability to customize with decorative options, particularly with decorative doors, inlays, shelves, and more. Another advantage for stoves over fireplace is the extra radiant heat the body of stove provides. Be sure to look into all your options with both and make the decision best for you and your home.

Conclusion

If you are still conflicted about whether you should choose gas over wood, or if you should go with a direct vent model or a vent-free unit, we are more than happy to help. If you have any questions about any of our gas fireplaces or stoves, please give us a call at 1-800-203-1642 or email us at info@efireplacestore.com. Another feature new to the website is the "Email Your Question" button, which is located on each item page below the picture. Simply click this button and ask us a question about that item and we will respond to you as quickly as possible. Many questions have already been answered and can be found by clicking on the "Ask & Answer" tab on each item page, located on each item page below the Shipping Calculator, to the right of the "Customer Reviews" tab. Please let us know how we can be of assistance, and thank you for shopping at eFireplaceStore.com.

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