Home Guides and Articles
Ventless Fireplaces Buyer's Guide

Ventless Fireplaces Buyer's Guide

Looking to buy a ventless fireplace? Want to give your home or business a more contemporary feel but unsure of which one you should choose? You may have noticed your investment property doesn't have a good way to install a chimney or vent pipes. Whatever your situation, a vent free fireplace can enhance the appeal of any home. No need to worry about the hassle of extensive renovations and venting logistics.

But, what's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a vent-free fireplace? Many people visualize an appliance leaking invisible, odorless toxins into their homes. You may have begun sifting through other misleading information populated on the web.

Ventless Fireplaces

Don't allow fear to misguide you. Don't subscribe to confusing messages or images that distort reality. All fireplace manufacturers must adhere to the same codes and regulations. These restrictions ensure the safety of hearth appliances for your health. Why would vent-free fireplaces be any different?

Some call them ventless gas fireplaces. But, many non-gas fireplaces fall into this category, too. And, non-gas units are Eco-friendly, safer, and more cost-effective than traditional, vented models.

This comprehensive guide will address all your concerns. It will describe various types of ventless fireplaces and will also explain the advantages and disadvantages of each. We'll make sure you don't make one of the top five purchasing mistakes made by so many others.

What is a Ventless Fireplace?

The terms ventless and vent-free are used to describe fireplaces that do not use or require venting for installation. They offer a wider range of fueling options, but they don't expel combustion by-products from a home or business like traditional vented fireplaces. In fact, most ventless units produce little to no emissions at all.

Ventless Fireplaces

3 Classifications of Ventless Fireplaces

There are three main classifications for ventless units: ethanol-fueled, electric, and gas. In this section, you'll learn some clear distinctions among these. Learning these differences will help you determine which option will best meet your needs. Could it be a ventless propane fireplace? Read on to find out.

Ventless Ethanol Fireplaces

Most people buy ethanol-fueled ventless fireplaces for decorative applications. Most of these models have simple and sleek designs. They work well in both residential and commercial settings. This means they complement many design aesthetics.

Whether your style is traditional, transitional, contemporary, or modern-organic, these units blend well. Many customers install them into feature walls within their homes. They help highlight the living space and serve as excellent conversation starters.

The choice is yours. But, it's much easier to make an informed decision when you know the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Ethanol: Benefits

  • One of the biggest advantages of an ethanol-fueled ventless fireplace lies in the fuel itself. It is manufactured from renewable resources such as corn, sugarcane, beets, and potatoes. So, ethanol fuel produces a very clean, odorless, and particulate-free burn. It also leaves minimal residue to pollute the air. As such, these units are ideal for people with air-quality sensitivities.
  • They provide the look of rich, natural flames without an overwhelming amount of heat.
  • Due to their low heat output, you can install these models near combustibles.
  • They are easy to move from room to room or from home to home due to their lightweight. Their portability makes them desirable among a popular niche.
  • They may be wall-mounted or free-standing.

Ventless Fireplaces

Ethanol: Disadvantages

  • Due to their low BTU outputs, these units are not the most effective heaters.
  • Ethanol gas comes in liquid form and is usually sold in packs of cans from major retailers. This makes the fuel less accessible than propane tanks.
  • In general, they are more expensive than electric, natural gas, propane ventless fireplaces.

Ventless Electric Fireplaces

Many people overlook electric fireplaces as a ventless option. Yet, electric models feature a host of technological advances and contemporary flair. Their modern styles have led to a spike in their popularity and growth in retail sales over the past five years. These figures are not expected to waver as more people opt for modern, sleek interior designs.

Coming in various shapes and sizes, electric units have three standard variations. You can find electric fireplaces that are linear or traditional in shape. They come wall-mounted or floor-mounted with logs or with decorative fire glass.

Customers rave over their visual capabilities, portability, and versatility. No longer will you feel forced to leave behind your precious fireplace investment. You can take it down, pack it up, and transport it to your new location.

Ventless Fireplaces

Electric fireplaces have the same environmental benefits as clean-burning ethanol-fueled fireplaces. Except, electric units offer more features and greater flexibility to customers. Many newer models come with touch-screen controls, back-light colors, and uncustomary flame presentations.

Such upgrades give you more artistic freedom to elevate the appearance of your rooms. You don't have to feel limited to the patterns of a real, exposed flame. With an electric unit, you can alter the color variations to transform your living space.

Electric: Benefits

  • No physical combustion occurs within the fireplace. So, these appliances do not interfere with air quality too much. Burnt dust is the only likely particulate circulating in the air.
  • Their low clearance requirements and lightweight materials make them very versatile and portable.
  • Advanced technologies found in these units give them an aesthetic edge.
  • Manufacturers often omit the heating element within these units. Or, they give customers the option to deactivate the heating component. This emphasizes their aesthetic value.

Electric: Disadvantages

  • Electric fireplaces rate between 4,800 and 10,000 BTUs. They are not intended for heating large open spaces. In well-insulated homes, they offer zoned heating for areas that are around 150 to 300 square feet.
  • Manufacturers recommend having a dedicated circuit for electric fireplaces. There is one exception. That is if your circuit rates for 20 amps and has no other high-load appliances sharing it. Running a vacuum cleaner while using the fireplace may result in a tripped breaker or a blown fuse.
  • These units may need more frequent cleaning than other fireplace options. Customers should expect to clean the unit to prevent dust build-up on important parts. Dust-sensitive areas include intake vents, circulating blowers, and the space within the chassis. If dust becomes caked on the blower, you may experience a vibrating or clicking sound. It also causes the appliance to operate poorly and fail prematurely.
  • High energy demands make electric fireplaces an undesirable primary heating source.

Ventless Fireplaces

Ventless Gas Fireplaces

Offering up to 40,000 BTUs, a vent free gas fireplace is best known for its heating efficiency. But, these units also hold the most controversial reputation than any other fireplace. Like other scrutinized subjects or topics, the problem often lies with gross misunderstanding.

Ventless Fireplaces

Many people are unaware about the way a ventless gas fireplace operates. The next section of the article will help clarify any confusion you may have as a consumer. It will also address many of your concerns about these units.

Keeping Your Air Quality Safe

Ventless gas fireplaces come in two primary variations - push-button and automatic. Both types rely on an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS) to detect oxygen levels. These sensors preserve 20-22% of oxygen in the surrounding space. Some combustion by-products will circulate and interfere with air quality. But, the ODS system monitors and maintains safe levels of oxygen at all times.

We recommend installing vent-free gas units in well-ventilated areas of your home. As a precaution, you can place extra carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home. If you follow the manufacturer's installation guidelines, it's unlikely that you'll encounter problems.

How Ventless Gas Fireplaces Operate

Stage 1

The initial combustion process takes about 30 seconds. During the process, a push-button or automatic ignition system creates a spark or a series of sparks. These sparks ignite the pilot. Once lit, thermocouple or thermopile sensors send millivoltage to electromagnets within the gas valve. The magnetic components within the valve clamp together and allow for a release of gas.

Stage 2

As gas travels through the valve, the ODS pulls air from the room through small holes in the side of the pilot tube. These holes are part of the oxygen depletion sensor itself. When the combination of gas and air reach the lit pilot, the flames will combust in the unit.

Stage 3

If the surrounding space begins to run low on oxygen, the pilot flame will begin to lift away from the thermcouple or thermopile. In doing this, the amount of voltage to the valve drops. This process causes the flame on the pilot tube to dissipate and go out over time. After this, the unit will lose gas flow needed to maintain combustion and will turn off.

Ventless Fireplaces

Gas: Benefits

  • A ventless propane fireplace or one fueled by natural gas does not use traditional venting methods that allow heat to escape. Because of this, they offer more efficient heating for your home. They maintain higher BTU outputs, keeping the home warmer for frigid nights.
  • They offer the appearance of an authentic flame.
  • They come in several configurations, including wall-mounted, linear, traditional, and double-sided.
  • They operate as a supplemental source of heat. This makes them ideal for homes with open floor plans and higher ceilings. In large open spaces, by-products disperse better.
  • They add moisture to the air, reducing stuffiness that may dry out your throat or nasal passages.

Gas: Disadvantages

  • Vent free gas fireplaces have extreme installation restrictions and limitations. This is due to their consumption of oxygen and release of exhaust back into the home. It's important for homeowners to follow manufacturer guidelines precisely. Make sure to research county, state, and municipality restrictions as well. We'll cover more details on specific restrictions in a separate section.
  • We don't recommend ventless gas fireplaces for people suffering from allergies or asthma.
  • You can't use them as a primary heating source.
  • They produce larger amounts of combustion by-products that circulate in the air.

Installation Restrictions for Ventless Gas Fireplaces

In this section, we'll cover common installation restrictions for ventless gas fireplaces. You can have these units installed in many locations throughout your home.

But, there are specific guidelines for different applications. Restrictions apply to bedrooms and bathrooms, confined spaces, and spaces above sea level. There are also state or municipality restrictions.

Bedroom and bathroom installations have fixed BTU caps. These include a standard 10,000 BTU input for bedrooms and a 6,000 BTU input for bathrooms. These restrictions shield areas more prone to energy depletion. Given the smaller square footage of most bathrooms, they have greater restrictions. This could even include the size of the ventless gas unit you plan to install.

Confined space restrictions apply to areas that are less than 50 cubic feet. This is equal to approximately 4' L x 4' W x 3' H, accommodating 1,000 BTUs of output per hour. You can determine the volume of space available in your room, which helps configure the number of BTUs your room can support.

Ventless Fireplaces

First, measure the dimensions of the installation location. You also include measurements of adjacent rooms or openings that provide extra ventilation. Bathroom spaces are more confined and enclosed. Thus, they receive limited ventilation support from other rooms. For this reason, there are restrictions on the size of an appliance you can install in bathrooms.

You can determine the maximum BTUs per hour a given space can support with a simple calculation. Multiply the room's space volume (length x width x height) by 20.

For example, 50 cubic feet of space multiplied by 20 equals 1,000 BTUs per hour. This is the maximum BTU output an area of this size can support. Spaces smaller than 50 cubic feet call for smaller ventless units with less BTU output. Smaller units reduce oxygen depletion and hazardous air quality.

Manufacturers calibrate vent-free gas fireplaces to sea-level oxygen percentages. This means you cannot install them at higher altitudes where oxygen levels are too low. Installing your fireplace in these elevated areas will cause the unit to perform poorly. Elevation restrictions specify the highest altitude ventless appliances can function.

Ventless gas fireplaces are rated for use up to 4,500 feet of elevation. Areas above this altitude may cause pilot outages or dangerously low oxygen levels. Manufacturers prohibit tampering with factory settings for gas output in elevated areas. To ensure compliance, many states have outlawed the installation of ventless appliances altogether.

County, state, and municipality restrictions exist in North America. These restrictions also exist in other parts of the world. Some of these areas include Canada, California, Colorado, and New York. Other states pose scenario-based restrictions for homes built before a certain year. To ensure you follow codes, check out the International Code Council.

Care and Maintenance

Most ventless fireplaces are low maintenance, for the most part. But, they do need periodic cleaning and dusting. Ongoing cleaning improves the long-term efficiency of any appliance. There is a strong correlation between maintenance and the lifespan of your product.

Both ethanol and electric units are very low maintenance. All that is necessary is a periodic inspection of the controls and power cord of an electric model, as well as the removal of any dust that has built up on the intake to the fan. Wipe down the surface of the unit to remove any build-up of residue that has formed. Ethanol models should have their fuel tray removed and wiped out after 3 to 4 burns.

Ventless gas models should have an annual inspection performed. The ODS assembly should be cleaned and any build-up of dust, lint, or animal hair removed. Verify proper operation of both the ODS and the main burner assembly.

Expected Lifespan

Beyond maintenance concerns, other factors contribute to its lifespan as well. One of the most common determinants of lifespan pertains to the frequency of use. Frequent use may result in you replacing minor parts like pilot knobs and push buttons.

Shipping Information

A small to medium-sized vent free fireplace will ship parcel if it's electric or ethanol-fueled. Only the largest of these units may ship LTL freight. Ventless gas fireplaces ship, almost exclusively, via LTL freight. This is due to their fragility and packaging materials. Only small ventless gas units ship parcel.

Key Takeaways

We hope this article helps you on your journey to buy a new vent free fireplace and spark up the ambiance of your home. Please don't forget all the wonderful advice and links provided in this article. You have access to some helpful information.

Ventless Fireplaces

Remember, when it comes to air quality, the vent free gas fireplaces are the only ones of true concern. We urge you to install extra carbon monoxide detectors in areas near the unit as well as around the home. Make sure to adhere to the space volume metrics and calculations described. This will help you determine the maximum BTUs your installation room can support.

Don't plan to use a vent free fireplace as a primary heating source. Try to refrain from using your gas unit for extended periods of time.

Electric fireplaces are more prone to collect dust. So, don't forget to dust these appliances often. This will help to avoid build-up and caking that may interfere with the performance of your unit.

Also, don't forget to dispose of any unused fuel for your ethanol-fueled fireplace. It evaporates fast and could result in hefty expenses.

Most importantly, always adhere to the installation guidelines provided by the manufacturer. This is especially important for ventless gas fireplaces.

If unsure about restrictions in your area, be sure to check with your local authorities. You want to be in compliance with coding restrictions.

The highest altitude allotted for gas units is 4,500 feet. If you live at a higher altitude, don't tamper with the factory settings of the gas valve. Remember, it's better to be safe than sorry.

About the Author

Collin Champagne

With over 13 years in the industry, Collin is a National Fireplace Institute (NFI) certified technician and managed content for the eFireplacestore and eCanopy brands. He has achieved the highest NFI certification possible as a Master Hearth Professional and is certified in all three hearth appliance fields: wood, gas, and pellet. With experience with sales and in-field installations, his expertise shines through his technical knowledge and way with words.

Customer Q&A with Product Specialists

Ask a Question