Gas Fireplaces: All Your Burning Questions Answered

As you search the web for the best gas fireplace, you’ll find three primary options:

  • Vented
  • Vent Free (or Ventless)
  • Direct Vent

You don’t need to be an expert to decide which style works best for you, but understanding the differences in fireplaces is extremely important before you spend your hard-earned money on the wrong product.

? 5 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before You Buy:

  • What’s the purpose of this fireplace? Heat, decoration, efficiency, power outages?
  • How often will it be used, and how many hours a day will it operate?
  • Do I currently have a fireplace that I’m converting or upgrading
  • How important is safety?
  • What’s my budget?

Okay, Let’s Break Down Your Options:

Vented Gas Log Fireplaces:

A vented gas log belongs in a fireplace that’s capable of burning wood. If you don’t have a fireplace, don’t worry. Installation is totally possible. Vented logs are a little more than handcrafted concrete logs. They’re designed to mimic a wood fire as they’re placed over a gas burner.

Pro – Outside of the crackle and smell of real wood, this is as close as you will get to natural looking fire. Sounds great right?

Con – The bad side, it’s not efficient. I mean not at all. If you have burned wood in your fireplace before expecting similar results. Nice and toasty in front of the fireplace or perhaps the entire room depending on the design of the existing fireplace. But as soon as you walk down the hall you start to freeze. You see you are pulling large amounts of heat out of the home and sending it up through the chimney. The warmth you feel in the room is radiant heat, meaning its warming objects, not air.

? Let’s answer those burning questions:

1. What’s the purpose?

If you’re simply wanting a decorative addition to your living room, a vented gas fireplace would be a great choice. But if you’re looking for proper heat distribution, pass on it.

2. How often will it be used?

You can run a vented gas fireplace all day with little concern for anything other than gas usage.

3. Do you currently have a fireplace installed?

If you’re planning on converting your wood burner, this style is a great choice. If not, the installation might require more work than you’re expecting.

4. How important is safety?

This style of a gas fireplace is relatively low risk if:

  • Your chimney system is annually inspected
  • How often will it be used, and how many hours a day will it operate?
  • Your gas run and installation has been completed by licensed professionals
  • You open the damper (the vent that controls chimney airflow)

5. What’s your budget?

If you already have a fireplace, and if it’s in good shape, a conversion to a vented gas fireplace can be as cost-efficient as it gets, depending on how you turn it on each time.

  • You could either turn a valve and light it with a match, which is the cheapest option
  • You could also use a remote and a push-button, which usually ends up being a 25-50% increase in price.
  • Your gas run and installation has been completed by licensed professionals
  • You open the damper (the vent that controls chimney airflow)

Pro Tip: If your home utilizes propane heat, the fireplace must have a pilot ignition.

Vent Free (Ventless)

Vent-free gas fireplaces have been around for over 50 years. Since then, they’ve evolved for the better.

What does “vent-free” even mean?

Essentially, It means that there’s no chimney. If you choose to purchase a “vent-free” fireplace, and if your home has a chimney, your installer can seal it off. If you don’t have a fireplace at all, this style is very low cost.

Vent-Free gas fireplaces operate at 99% efficiency, so the heat is cheap.

But where do the fumes go?

Well, as the name suggests, there isn’t a need for ventilation as the fumes are “safe.” The unit, when running as intended, will put off less than 3 parts per million (ppm) of carbon monoxide (CO). Up to 10 ppm is widely accepted as “safe”.

However, that number typically depends which government agency you ask. However, there are always situations where that’s not the case. For example, if the unit isn’t installed properly, and if it’s not serviced annually, if a log gets moved and causes pressure changes (which is unlikely to happen) there might be complications. However, that’s why it’s important that your installers are properly licensed.

Okay, so what do I do if a problem occurs?

If the unit is producing dangerous levels of CO, it’s designed to shut down. At Bassemier’s, we require our customers to purchase a carbon monoxide detector if they decide to install a vent free gas fireplace, just in case.

Cons – If not working properly, a vent free gas fireplace can also create soot that will damage the home.

  • The fire is decent but not as good as vented.

? So back to those burning questions:

1. What’s the purpose?

If you ever need heat (and back up heat) during a power failure, this fireplace is a perfect choice.

2. How often will it be used??

This is where it gets a little tricky. Most manufacturers don’t advise running a vent free gas fireplace for more than a few hours a day.

Usually, that’s not much of an issue, because you’ll get hot in 20 minutes, and you’ll probably be ready to turn it off.

We recommend installing a thermostat remote with it.

Notable Issues:

  • If you don’t use it weekly, dust will settle, and it will stink when you light it.
  • In the fall, it’s not uncommon to set off smoke detectors the first time you light it./li>
  • You won’t be able to enjoy this fireplace during large family gatherings, because it produces so much heat.

3. Do you currently have a fireplace installed?

This is a great choice if you don’t already have a fireplace installed.

4. How Important is safety?

As far as gas fireplaces go, vent-free fireplaces technically pose the highest risk. However, with proper maintenance and precautions, these are still relatively safe.

5. What’s my budget?

Similar to the vented gas fireplace, the vent free variety is very budget-friendly.

Pro Tip – It’s all in the nose! Find a friend that has a vent free fireplace, and try to “smell” around. If the fireplace is running normally, it will produce an odor that some people can’t smell and other people can’t stand. However, if you have a chimney, you could crack it open and let the heat out during the party to limit the weird smell. People either love or hate these fireplaces. So it would be wise to get some opinions from the others living with you.

Direct Vent Fireplace: Saving the best for last.

Having a direct vent fireplace is having your cake and eating it too. They’re pretty, efficient, and here’s the icing on the cake: they’re the safest type of fireplace. If you don’t have an existing fireplace, it can be a little harder on the budget, but it’s still installable in almost every case.

So why are direct vent fireplaces so special?

It’s all about sealed combustion. Sealed combustion is “fancy talk” for “there’s glass in front of the fire and pipes that move all the air around”

Let’s break it down even further:

One pipe brings in air from the outside to burn, and an exhaust pipe sends the fumes (and all the other bad stuff) out! But don’t worry. With most installs, you won’t even be able to see the plumbing. The only effect it has on the home is warming it.

Are there any other “pros”?

Of course. It has the greatest “turn down ratio” of any gas fireplace. Essentially, this means that there’s a “low” setting. When set on low, the fire stays pretty, and it provides exactly the amount of heat you want. Also, if the gas fireplace utilizes “Green Smart,” the fire can automatically get larger and smaller depending on the heating need automatically.

Let’s run through the burning questions one more time:

1. What’s the purpose?

Heat, emergency heat, decoration, and efficiency! YES, YES, YES, and YES.

2. How often will it be used?

It doesn’t matter! You can put it on a thermostat set it for 70 and let it do its own thing! Turn it on once a year at Christmas, that’s fine as well.

3. Do you currently have a fireplace installed?

If you do or don’t have a fireplace this has an option for you.

4.) How important is safety?

This is the safest style of gas fireplace, without question.

5.) What’s your budget?

While direct vent fireplaces are usually a little more expensive, you won’t regret spending the extra cash on something this amazing.

It’s ultimately up to you to decide which type of gas fireplace is right for your home, but if you need any assistance, feel free to call Bassemier’s at 812.479.6338.

At Bassemier’s, we live by this motto: “We’d rather sell you nothing than sell you the wrong thing.”