Natural Gas Heater Buyer's Guide
- Natural gas wall mounted heater
What makes natural gas so popular? Is it because the fuel is convenient and inexpensive? Or because the maintenance is so low? The answer is all of the above, but another major factor is the sheer variety of options.
If you want to heat your home (or a portion of your home) with natural gas, you have a wide array of models to choose from. This makes it easier to find a heater that fits your needs perfectly.
There is one drawback to all the options, though: where do you even start?
This guide will walk you through the main categories of natural gas heaters and the different options in terms of venting, heating method, and configuration. We'll also include some top manufacturer recommendations and tips on maintaining your new heater.
What Are Natural Gas Heaters?
As the name implies, natural gas heaters include a broad range of heaters that use natural gas as fuel. This can be anything from a whole-home furnace, to a space heater, wall heater, or patio heater. Along with a variety of sizes and heat ratings, you can also choose from two different heating methods and several different configurations.
Many of the heaters you will find in the natural gas category are also available as propane models. In fact, some of the models can be converted from propane to natural gas or vice versa with a special conversion kit. (Vent-free models are not safe to convert.)
Before You Buy
Ready to start shopping? Planning for what you need before you start sifting through all of the model options makes the process so much easier. Here are some quick tips for things to consider when you are looking for a natural gas heater.
- Measuring installation space
Identify your heating needs. How much square footage do you want to heat? Are you dealing with factors like poor insulation or high ceilings? Writing down these details will help you estimate how much BTU output you will need in a heater.
(Pssst... Wondering what BTU is and how to calculate what you'll need? You can check out this guide for more information.)
Check for local restrictions. Some state, local, and even HOA authorities have restrictions on vent-free gas appliances. Make sure you know what is and isn't approved!
Come up with a budget that includes all the installation costs. After all, the total cost isn't just the price of the heater, but also any costs you might incur by running new gas lines, installing the vent pipe, or framing the heater into the wall.
- Plumber installing a natural gas line
Consult a plumber to make sure you have the right gas line hookups. If you need a new hookup for your heater, this should be installed by a professional. We recommend getting a quote for any new gas lines early on in the process.
Finally, get an idea of what type of installation configuration you prefer. Do you want something wall-mounted? Ceiling-mounted? Recessed in the wall? Free-standing? Deciding what works best for the space you have will help you narrow down the options.
Types of Natural Gas Heaters
Okay, now we are ready to jump into the different types of gas heaters and the options you will find. To make things easier, we'll break it down into five categories: vent type, heating method, configuration, application, and ignition.
Natural gas heaters have three options when it comes to venting: natural vent, direct vent, and vent free. Natural vent (sometimes called B-vent) uses a vertical pipe that vents up through the roof. Direct vent uses a special pipe-within-a-pipe vent to vent horizontally through an outside wall.
- Vent-free natural gas heater
Vent-free units don't require a vent pipe at all. Instead, they are designed to burn so cleanly that very little byproduct is produced by the burn. They vent directly into the room and also use room air for combustion.
This setup is obviously convenient, but it's worth noting that it's not a great idea for people with increased air sensitivities. You also need to pay attention to the space requirements since every vent-free model requires a certain amount of square footage to make sure there is plenty of oxygen and airflow.
Speaking of room air, that is one of the differences between the natural vent and direct vent models. Both of them vent the byproducts to the outdoors, but natural vent draws in room air for combustion. Direct vent is completely sealed to the room and draws in outside air for combustion as well as venting the exhaust outdoors.
Let's talk about heating methods. With natural gas heaters, you can choose between radiant infrared and blue flame. Blue flame gets the job done fast, but it's not as effective over larger areas and doesn't heat as evenly. Radiant infrared is a great choice for drafty rooms or larger spaces (including high ceilings).
Here's how they work. A blue flame burns the gas with a very hot (blue) flame. The temperature of this small flame is so high that the result is a very efficient and clean burn. All of this happens behind shields and the result heats the air in the room.
Radiant infrared uses low-frequency infrared rays to transfer heat to the objects in the room. The objects then radiate warmth to the room. Think of it as heating like the sun instead of like a hairdryer.
- Bromic infrared natural gas heaters installed at the restaurant
And in case of heating like the sun sounds dangerous, don't worry. These heaters don't use any of the dangerous high-frequency rays that we associate with harmful radiation. In fact, the infrared rays are even lower-frequency and lower-energy than the colors of light that we see with our eyes.
If you have a small to a medium-sized well-insulated room and are looking for a heater that heats quickly, a blue flame heater is a great option. However, if you want a gentle, even heat that withstands drafty insulation, radiant infrared is your best bet.
Now onto the part about configurations. You can choose from freestanding, wall-mounted, ceiling-mounted, or recessed. The freestanding units are designed for outdoor patio use and have a weighted base for added stability as well as other safety features like automatic shut-off sensors if the unit tips.
Wall-mounted units are popular and also simple to install. They often come with a mounting bracket to mount directly to the wall. Some heaters also have the options of a floor stand if you don't want to mount it to the wall.
Ceiling-mounted heaters mount on the ceiling instead of the wall (no surprise there). They are a great option for a covered deck or patio since they can mount up and out of the way.
- Recessed ceiling-mounted natural gas heaters
Recessed or framed-in installations take a bit more work, but the result is that the heater sits flush to the wall instead of projecting into the room. With recessed heaters, venting is often concealed within the wall.
The good news is that you can find a natural gas heater for almost any application. In addition to commercial heaters, you can find residential heaters in many different sizes. You can even find heaters approved for bedrooms, bathrooms, and mobile homes.
Natural gas heaters use either electronic ignition or something called Matchless Piezo standing pilot ignition. You may also find some older models with manual match-lit ignition, but these are not as common. Matchless Piezo is more common for indoor wall-mounted units, while electronic ignition is more common for patio heaters.
The Matchless Piezo system creates a spark with the push of a button that lights the pilot light. The pilot light is then used to ignite the main flow of gas when the heater is turned on. If the pilot light goes out, the gas will automatically shut off. This way you prevent gas from accidentally leaking into the room.
- Matchless piezo ignition system
Electronic ignition uses an electrical circuit to create the spark for ignition. Note that you don't necessarily need an electrical source since many of the models are equipped with batteries to power the circuit.
Natural gas heaters are an investment, so we know you're looking for something that is high quality and built to last. Here is a list of our top recommended manufacturers to get you started in finding a heater that is made to go the distance.
- SunStar - SunStar Heating Products, Inc. was founded in 1987 and specializes in a variety of gas heating options. Their products include heaters for both residential and commercial applications.
- Empire - Family owned since 1932, Empire continues to lead the way for efficient gas heating. In the 1980s, they were the first to market a gas heater with 80% efficiency, and in 2006, they topped that by being the first to offer a gas heater with 90% efficiency. Their products include vent-free, natural vent, and direct vent heaters.
- Bromic - Bromic is known for its outdoor heating solutions. They are an excellent choice if you are looking for a natural gas patio heater.
Care and Maintenance
Maintenance is very important for keeping your heater safe and effective. Expect to do maintenance every six months or more to keep your heater in top shape. The most important advice is to read and follow all the instructions in the owner's manual. The models vary in what they require, so read the information on your specific heater.
- Performing regular dusting and maintenance
In general, the maintenance focuses on preventing dust buildup, inspecting the gas supply, and making sure the venting is in good shape. Remember not to use combustible or corrosive cleaners to clean the unit!
Don't ever tamper with the pilot light or the gas hookup. Not only is it a safety hazard, but you could end up voiding your warranty if you tamper with the unit.
If you ever smell a strong odor of gas, call 911. It could be evidence of a gas leak. We recommend turning off the gas to the heater during the off season.
Smaller heaters like the vent free wall-mounted heaters will ship via a small parcel post. Larger wall furnaces and direct vent furnaces often ship using LTL freight. When you do receive your delivery, inspect all the components to make sure nothing is missing or damaged. Don't sign off on the delivery until you confirm that everything shipped safely.
- Enjoying the warm comfort of a natural gas heater
Natural gas heaters offer an excellent heating solution for your home or business. Whether you're trying to heat an entire home or a small space, there are so many options to find the perfect fit. You can even heat your outdoor patio!
If you have any questions about gas heaters, we are happy to help! Contact one of our NFI Certified Specialists today!
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Natural Gas Heaters Q&A with the NFI Certified Specialists* Please Note: All customer questions are answered by our NFI Certified Specialists free of charge!
from Tupelo, MS asked:
January 29, 2021
We are looking for a natural gas wall heater that does not pop when the metal expands. Do you have any heaters that do not pop when it cuts on and off?
Unfortunately, the metal on heaters will be subject to making popping noises as the unit heats up and cools down due to the metal expanding and contracting.
on January 29, 2021
from The Villages, FL asked:
October 30, 2019
I am looking for a pad to place under my Patio Heater to help prevent rust. Where would I shop to find this accessory?
We would require some additional details in order to answer this question. Please note that any heater or hearth product designed for outdoor use will be constructed of stainless steel to prevent rust. If you have an indoor-only product installed in an outdoor setting, there are no products that may be added to prevent corrosion and rust.
on October 30, 2019