Gas Heater Buyer's Guide
- Infratech ceiling-mount recessed heater
It's not surprising that gas heaters are an increasingly popular choice. They are efficient, cost-effective, low maintenance, and have a huge selection when it comes to model options. Whether you're looking for supplemental heat, whole-home heating, or outdoor patio heater options, a natural gas or propane heater is a great solution.
Because there are so many different options, we've created this guide to help walk you through what is available. You'll find information on the different types of gas heaters, including the different vent options, heating methods, and configurations.
We'll also talk about how to choose the right heater for your home or business as well as tips on maintenance and installation.
What is a Gas Heater?
The category of gas heaters encompasses a broad range of indoor and outdoor heaters fueled by natural gas or propane. This includes things like space heaters or wall heaters, furnaces, and patio heaters. There are also options for both residential and commercial use.
- SunStar wall-mounted gas heaters
One thing gas heaters have in common is that they tend to prioritize heating efficiency over aesthetics. This doesn't mean you can't find any stylish models, but the purpose is for heating, not for looks. Many times the flames are small or not visible at all.
Many gas heaters are available in both propane and natural gas options. It's important to always use the right fuel, however, conversion kits are available if you wish to switch from using propane to natural gas or vice versa.
Which is better: propane or natural gas? The answer largely depends on where you live and how you are using the heater. Propane is stored in tanks, so it works well for situations where you need portability (such as an outdoor patio heater). It's also a good option if your home isn't supplied with natural gas, or if the location would be difficult to route a gas line.
Natural gas is a convenient and cost-effective option if your house is already supplied with natural gas. If you don't already have a gas hookup where you intend to install the heater, you'll need to hire a professional to run a new line. However, once it's all hooked up, natural gas is relatively cheap to use and you'll never need to worry about refilling propane tanks.
You can read more about the differences between propane and natural gas in this article.
Before You Buy
Buying a gas heater is an investment, so how do you know you're getting the right one? Before you start wading through the vast array of options, here are some tips to help you narrow your search and choose what works for you.
Define your heating needs. Are you looking for something to heat your entire home, or do you need a solution for a single room? Do you want to heat your patio? Write down exactly what room or rooms you want to heat. It also helps to jot down any details (like poor insulation) that might affect how much heat you would need.
You can check out this article on BTUs for more information on estimating how much heat you'll need and understanding the heat ratings on gas heaters.
Check your state and local regulations. Some places have restrictions on what types of gas heaters are allowed. It would be incredibly annoying to order a gas heater only to find out it's forbidden by your state, local government, or Homeowner's Association. So save yourself the headache and check with your authorities ahead of time!
Set a realistic budget. Make sure when you're crunching the numbers that you include not only the price of the heater but installation costs such as running new gas lines. These costs vary, but it is usually less expensive to run a gas line under your home if you have a traditional foundation as opposed to a home built on a slab.
- Ceiling mounted heater
Decide on your installation preference. Do you want a heater that mounts to the wall or ceiling, or do you want the heater framed into the wall so that the front is flush with the wall? Or are you looking for a freestanding unit that you can move around your patio? Figuring out your installation preference will help in narrowing down your options.
And finally, consult a plumber or gas supplier to make sure you have adequate fuel and hook-ups. (If you are using portable propane tanks, this won't be necessary).
Types of Gas Heaters
As mentioned above, there are many, many different types of gas heaters. To make it easier, we've broken the options down into four categories: vent type, heating method, configuration, and application. Each of these larger categories encompasses several different options, but hopefully, this breakdown will make it easier to sort through the models when you're shopping.
There are three options when it comes to venting gas heaters: natural vent, direct vent, and vent-free. A natural vent is similar to how a wood stove vents. It requires a vertical vent pipe that terminates at the roof of the home. The natural vent heater draws in room air for combustion and then vents the byproducts out through the roof.
- Empire floor-mounted heater
Counterflow wall furnaces are an example of gas heaters that use a natural vent. Although they aren't as heat efficient as direct vent models, they don't have to be installed on an outer wall.
- Empire direct-vent furnace
Direct vent uses a special "pipe within a pipe" that uses outdoor air for combustion as well as venting the byproduct outside. These heaters need to be installed on an outside wall because the vent pipe runs horizontally through the wall to the outdoors.
The final option is vent free. Ventless gas heaters are designed to burn so efficiently that they create very little byproduct. So little in fact, that it is safe to vent the byproduct directly into the room. This eliminates the need for any outdoor venting and makes them extremely versatile.
- Indoor wall heater
The downside of a ventless gas heater is that it is not recommended for people with asthma or other air sensitivities since the small amount of smoke and byproduct could irritate people who are especially sensitive to it. It's important to follow the guidelines for how much square footage your model requires to allow for plenty of oxygen and prevent the buildup of smoke.
There are also some restrictions when it comes to installation. Vent-free heaters are restricted in some areas, so check with your local authorities to make sure they are allowed.
There are two options when it comes to heating methods in gas heaters: radiant infrared and blue flame. The short explanation is that radiant infrared heats the objects in the room while blue flame heats the air. But, of course, there's more to it than that.
Radiant infrared provides a slow, steady heat that distributes evenly throughout the room. It works by using infrared radiation to warm the objects in the room. The objects then radiate heat to their surroundings, making the whole room feel warm.
We're used to thinking of radiation as bad, but in this case, it's perfectly safe. All light (including the colors that we see) is technically "radiation". The radiation that comes from the sun has a whole range of frequencies.
- Electromagnetic spectrum diagram
High-energy, high-frequency radiation (the kind that is far higher than what we can see) can be harmful. However, infrared heaters use the radiation on the other end of the spectrum — this radiation is even lower energy and lower frequency than the colors of light that we can see.
Not only is infrared heating safe, but it's also a perfect solution for rooms with poor insulation. Because it's not just heating the air, the warmth from the heater is still effective even if the room is drafty. This is especially true for outdoor models where the air is not contained. It also heats better over a distance and is good for larger rooms or rooms with high ceilings.
Of course, infrared heaters only work well in spaces where there are objects to heat. If you have a mostly empty room, you're probably better off with blue flame heating.
Blue flame heaters use a very hot (blue) flame that is encased in a combustion chamber. The tiny flame is so hot that it burns very clean with almost no odor or byproduct. These heaters are great at heating up the room quickly and are often the model of choice for cold-natured people.
- Blue flame heater
Since blue flame heaters rely on heating the air, they aren't as effective for larger rooms or places with poor insulation. They also can create hot pockets of warm air next to the heater and are more likely to make the room feel stuffy.
When it comes to configuration, you can choose between models that are wall-mounted, ceiling-mounted, or ones that are framed into the wall, floor, or ceiling. Outdoor patio models also come in freestanding or tabletop configurations. Some heaters also have the option of mounting on a floor stand.
Wall-mounted units are fairly straight-forward and easy to install. They come with a mounting bracket or screw holes and mount directly to the wall.
Ceiling-mounted heaters mount using a similar concept. They are great for mounting on the beams above a covered patio or deck.
- Outdoor ceiling mounted heater
Framed-in or recessed heaters take a little more effort since they are designed to install in a framed cavity in your wall, ceiling, or floor. The plus side is that the heater doesn't project out into the room and vertical vents can be routed up through the wall.
Freestanding outdoor patio heaters are portable heaters with an enclosed space for a propane tank. They have weighted bases for added stability and automatic shut-offs in case the unit would ever tip.
Tabletop models are similar, but they are much smaller and designed to sit on a table.
- Outdoor portable gas heater
Gas heaters are available both for residential or commercial use. Although there is some overlap between these two categories, it's important to make sure you find a model that is suitable for your application. Within the category of residential heaters, there are also heaters that are approved for use in bathrooms, bedrooms, or mobile homes.
Again, always double-check that your heater is approved for your installation!
There are two main ignition systems for gas heaters. Matchless piezo standing pilot ignition is common for indoor heaters and furnaces. Electronic ignition is often used for patio heaters. There is a third option of match-lit ignition, but this is less common and is mostly seen in older heaters.
Matchless piezo ignition uses a push button to ignite a pilot light. The pilot light is used to light the gas for the heater. As a safety feature, if the pilot light ever goes out, the unit will automatically shut off the flow of gas so that gas does not leak into the room.
- Heater Ignition System
Electronic ignition uses an electrical circuit to ignite the gas. For most of the patio heaters, this is accomplished with a battery.
Ready to start the hunt for the perfect gas heater? We know you are looking for quality and durability, so we've compiled a list of our top recommended manufacturers to get you started on your buying search.
- Dimplex — Dimplex makes a wide range of heaters for various applications, with good quality and value built into their products.
- Empire - The Empire brand is well-known in the heating industry, and they offer a wide range of heating products. They carry a quality selection of direct vent, b-vent, or vent free gas heaters.
Installation for gas models varies greatly depending on the model that you choose. Some require venting all the way to the roof of your house, while others only need a short vent route or no venting at all. Here are some general tips to keep in mind:
- Read the manual and any other installation instructions thoroughly.
- Hire a professional to install any gas lines or wire any new electrical supply.
- Make sure you follow all the guidelines for the clearance (distance away from flammable objects) your heater needs.
- Follow any clearance requirements for your vent pipe. For example, a b-vent pipe usually requires a 1-inch clearance, so a 4-inch diameter pipe will need a 6-inch diameter space.
Some vented gas heaters can be converted from natural gas to propane or vice versa. Note that vent-free heaters cannot be converted. This is for safety reasons and they will be set up for their intended fuel at the factory. Trying to convert a vent-free heater is dangerous and can release toxic byproducts.
- Gas conversion kit
Most vented heaters are safe to convert. Companies like Empire sell conversion kits that allow you to convert your Empire heater to either propane or natural gas.
Care and Maintenance
One of the benefits of gas heaters is that they are relatively low maintenance. However, even though they take less work, it's still very important to follow all the maintenance instructions that they do require. Not only will proper maintenance extend the life of your heater, but it will also keep it functioning safely and efficiently.
Gas heaters vary depending on the model, so it's crucial to read the manual and any other manufacturer instructions that are specific to your model. Keep in mind that the following tips are general guidelines and aren't a substitute for the manual instructions.
- Cleaning an Infratech heating element
Before the heating system, remove any front panels and vacuum to remove any dust buildup. You can also use a can of compressed air for hard-to-reach areas. Check the pilot light, ignition, and blowers to make sure everything works as intended. Also, check any venting to make sure it hasn't been clogged or bent.
Periodically, inspect the gas line and hookup (or propane tank) to make sure the connections are tight. If at any time you smell a strong gas odor, call 911.
After the final burn of the season, shut off the gas to the heater and give it a final dusting.
Small vent-free units can often ship via small parcel posts. (Small in this case means up to approximately 20K BTU.) Larger heaters, such as wall and floor furnaces, will require LTL carrier shipment. The delivery company will contact you to schedule a delivery.
Always inspect the heater before signing off on the delivery. If you notice damaged or missing parts, contact the manufacturer right away and they can help make things right.
- Gas indoor heater
Gas heaters offer a safe, convenient solution for your heating needs. Now, with so many options and configurations available, you can find a heater that checks all the boxes. From outdoor heaters to wall units and furnaces, gas heaters offer low-maintenance, stress-free heat.
If you ever have any questions about gas heaters or any of the models that we carry, please contact us! Our NFI Certified technicians would be glad to answer your questions!
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