“I love them!” “They heat the entire house.” “I wish we had installed them a long time ago!” Ask homeowners with gas-log fireplaces how they feel about their glowing hearths—part accessory, part appliance—and these are common expressions you will likely hear.
While gas logs are high on most new homebuyers’ lists of desired features, many homeowners choose to add them later. Still others decide to convert their wood-burning fireplaces to natural gas or liquid propane because of the convenience that gas logs offer. Some of the many advantages of heating your home with gas logs include:
• virtually maintenance-free
• come in a variety of design styles
• available in sizes to fit your home heating requirements
• fairly easy to install
• less risk of fire than wood-burning fireplaces
• clean burning, no mess
If you are starting from scratch, you’ll need to choose between two basic types of gas logs: “vented” and “vent-free.” The ultimate decision involves several factors including looks, efficiency, local building codes, and location of the fireplace.
Vented fireplaces are most similar to wood-burning fireplaces. They require an open chimney flue or damper just as a wood-burning fireplace. Vented gas logs produce a yellow, attractive, very natural and realistic flame. The flame from vented gas logs is larger than that of the unvented logs. They more closely resemble the look of a wood fire without the ash, dust, clean up and prep work required. However, another important similarity to a wood burning fireplace is the fact that the majority of the heat is lost up the chimney. Prospective buyers should purchase vented gas logs for a decorative, realistic look, but not necessarily as a secondary heat source.
Vent-free gas logs—sometimes referred to as unvented—burn with a clean, blue flame similar to a gas furnace or range. The flame produced by vent-free gas logs is not as high or natural-looking as the flame produced by the vented logs. Because unvented or vent-free gas logs operate with the chimney flue closed, they are an extremely efficient source of heat because all of the heat remains in the home. This feature makes vent-free gas logs an excellent source of secondary heat, which would be particularly helpful during a power outage. Gas logs require no electricity to operate.
Gas logs operate using either natural gas or liquid propane (LP). Natural gas is more prevalent in metro areas. If you have natural gas service available for appliances such as your water heater, range or clothes dryer, you of course could choose to add a natural gas log set. If natural gas is not available in your area, you will need LP gas logs. Natural gas is typically supplied by public utilities, while propane is delivered by private gas companies and stored in tanks at your home. LP tanks may be purchased or leased from your LP gas supplier.
A common term prospective gas log buyers should be familiar with is BTU, which stands for British thermal unit. This is a measure of the heat required to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. For reference, a cubic foot of natural gas contains approximately 1000 BTUs, while a pound of liquid propane contains more than 21,000 BTUs. Gas logs are rated by BTUs—the amount of heat the logs are capable of producing. Another thing to keep in mind is that vented logs would use more fuel than vent-free logs to heat the same-sized room, since much of the heat produced by the vented logs is lost up the chimney, while the heat produced by the vent-free logs remains in the room.
The old adage “shop early for best selection” definitely applies when shopping for gas logs. While home, hearth and fireside shops carry these units year round, most home center retailers only stock them during a specific season. Availability is best during the late summer to early fall shopping season. Shoppers can usually locate a desired unit as well as any accessories like a remote control or decorative rocks to place around the logs. No fireplace? No problem. You can also purchase a freestanding unit including a firebox surround and mantel in a variety of finishes, from stone to all types of wood, to warm up your room.
Whether it’s the great look and low heat of vented logs you’re seeking, or the good looks and fabulous heat of unvented logs, gas logs should always be professionally installed. Most gas companies will install gas logs; however, some of them may require that you purchase the logs from them. A licensed plumber is more than capable of providing this service. A quick check of the phone book will reveal many options for installation. Always install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors as an additional safety precaution.
It’s hard to beat the feeling of a warm, cozy fire on a cold day. The convenience and cleanliness of gas logs make that atmosphere much easier to achieve on a daily basis.