Guide to Gas Fireplaces
An industry veteran explains how to get the right gas fireplace for your home.
Synopsis: Gas fireplaces are easily the best-selling of hearth appliances, outselling wood-burning models three to one. Industry veteran James Cleland explains how to choose a gas fireplace and identifies the most useful features and accessories. In addition, he gives information on sizing, accessories, and maintenance, and he provides tips for installing both atmospherically vented and direct-vent models.
Gas fireplaces and stoves are easily the most popular segment of the home-hearth industry, outselling wood-burning models nearly three to one. Convenience is the driving force behind the popularity of gas. There’s no cord-wood to haul, store, and stack. There’s no ash to clean up, and no smoke smell filling the house. Instead, there’s a steady supply of fuel piped directly to the unit. When you want a fire, you can have one up and running with the push of a button, often without getting up from your seat. When it’s time for bed, you can shut down the fire just as easily.
Although it’s simple to use a gas fireplace, it’s not so simple to install one. Further complicating matters, there are three basic types, and the design options are nearly limitless. To keep up with Houston’s booming housing market, the company I work for installs dozens of fireplaces every week.
Here, I share what I’ve learned about choosing among the three basic gas-fireplace types. I also explain what it takes to install and maintain a gas fireplace and identify the features and accessories you should consider when planning a purchase.
Gas is a different experience
Although gas fireplaces are convenient, wood purists often counter that splitting and storing firewood is great exercise and that having a good supply of wood means a reliable source of heat in all conditions without the risk of a disrupted fuel supply. In addition, those who like building and tending fires likely will be disappointed by the experience of a gas fire. The flames are less varied, the color is uniform compared to a wood fire, and there’s no opportunity to move logs around with a poker.
But even though they don’t crackle or produce that sweet smell of smoke, gas fireplaces continue to look more realistic every year. Manufacturers use real firewood to make the molds for casting the log sets, and then they often hand paint them, further adding to their realistic look. My favorite recent innovation is LED lighting in the bottom of the firebox that simulates the look of glowing coals.
Sizing and installation
Excluding custom commercial models, gas fireplaces are sized from about 10,000 to about 50,000 Btu of heat per hour. The size of the unit should be based on the size of the space where it’s located, not the whole house. Unfortunately, many buyers have a “bigger is better” mentality, which can lead to an oversize fireplace that drives folks out of the room. Besides heat output, the physical dimensions of the fireplace should be considered, as a fireplace that’s too big or too small looks out of place even to casual observers. Manufacturers have sizing charts and online calculators that take into account the size of the room and the size of the wall.
For more photos and information on sizing and installing gas fireplaces, click the View PDF button below.