Features to consider while choosing a gas fireplace
Gas fireplaces can come with a wide variety of features. If you’re unsure what exactly these features are, this can make choosing one for your home extra difficult. The following sections can help clear up these areas.
Freestanding or direct-vent?
The two main types of gas fireplaces on the market are the freestanding and direct-vent models. Freestanding units are also called ventless since they require no vent to run them. These fireplaces, like the Pleasant Hearth VFS2-PH20DT, are quite efficient, so they save you money on your heating bill every month. They are also among the cheaper gas fireplaces, so you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get your hands on one.
Another benefit of the ventless models is that they allow all the heat they produce to stay in your home. They are also more flexible on where you can place them since you don’t need to have them near a chimney or flue. You can put them in a corner out of the way or right in the center of your living room if you like, wherever it fits best.
Of course, these models do have their flaws. Since no vents are taking any air out of your home, any residual byproducts they produce stays in your home along with the heat. This has led to some strict installation requirements, including adding blowers or fans to circulate the air as they run. These units can also create minimal exhaust, which could cause lung irritation over time. These units are best avoided by those with allergies, chronic bronchitis, and asthma. Freestanding fireplaces may even increase humidity, creating water vapor that could show up as condensation. This could lead to the growth of mold and mildew if not wiped away regularly.
Direct-vent gas fireplaces, like the Empire Tahoe Deluxe Millivolt Fireplace, use a sealed venting system, which allows the fireplace to draw in fresh air from outside your home for combustion. It also uses the venting system to remove any combustion gases and harmful byproducts from your home. These units include a sealed front on their fireboxes that create a more efficient venting system while still allowing the heat to warm up your living spaces.
A direct-vent fireplace operates at 85% efficiency or higher, plus it can create a fair amount of heat. Adding a blower can increase the heat pushed out of the firebox, allowing them to warm up your home even more.
The issue with direct-vent units is that though they can be installed almost anywhere in your home, you do need to have the proper venting in that area to do so. If you don’t have it where you want the fireplace to go, you may need to do some pricey renovations, including cutting into a ceiling or wall.
There are two main fuel types when it comes to gas fireplaces, natural gas and propane. Though some models, like the ProCom QNSD250T, are outfitted for both with some minor conversions needed, most fireplaces use one or the other.
Natural gas is rather common in residential areas, provided by the area’s utility company. It is piped directly to a home, so there are no tanks to deal with. This gas burns clean, so it is environmentally friendly, plus it is less expensive than buying wood. Natural gas also offers a consistent output of heat.
Liquid Propane Gas is delivered to your home by a local propane company and stored in certified tanks. Propane is more common in areas that do not offer natural gas, like rural areas.
Propane is a byproduct of natural gas and burns about 3 times hotter. It also costs more than natural gas but since it burns hotter, you can run your propane fireplace for shorter amounts of time, evening out those costs. Another benefit of propane is that it creates a flame that looks more like that of a wood-burning fire, so it has some extra aesthetic appeal when used for a gas fireplace.
BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, which is used as a unit of measure for heat. When it comes to fireplaces, the higher the BTU rating is, the more heat the unit will put out. This means that the more powerful units can heat larger areas or smaller ones in a short amount of time. Of course, you shouldn’t get a high BTU unit to heat a small area, as this is overkill. You also shouldn’t skimp on a low BTU model to heat large spaces since this will require your unit to run constantly and likely never reach the desired temperature.
That’s why you need to look at the heating area as well as the BTUs before you buy your unit, so you know how many BTUs you need. You should also look at the insulation in your home. Poor insulation will retain less heat inside your home, so a more powerful unit may be needed to keep the area at a comfortable temperature. You should also consider the climate you’re living in. The colder the area, the more heat your heating system will need to provide to keep the temperature comfortable. The colder it is, the more power you’ll need.
Though it isn’t listed in some models, like the Sure Heat SH18DBNG, most of the best-rated gas fireplace inserts or freestanding models have a recommended heating area. This is determined by the BTU rating, which we discussed above. The BTU rating a unit has works best with heating areas of specific sizes, maintaining the temperature instead of warming it too much or too little.
If the gas fireplace you’re considering doesn’t have a heating area recommendation, there are approximate BTU outputs recommended for specific room sizes. For instance, with proper insulation, a unit with 4,000 BTUs is best for a room of up to 200 square feet. For every 200 square feet you add, you should add another 4,000 BTUs. So, a room of up to 600 square feet needs 12,000 BTUs while spaces up to 1000 square feet need about 20,000 BTUs. The larger the space is that you’re heating, the more powerful your gas fireplace model should be.
You should also add a couple of thousand BTUs if the insulation of your home isn’t the best. Moderate insulation in rooms of 800 square feet need about 24,000 BTUs to maintain the temperature. The same amount of space with poor insulation needs at least 36,000 BTUs to keep warm. Of course, these units will also cost more to buy and to run since they are using much more fuel than the smaller units and run much longer to make up for the heat you’re losing through the poor insulation, so you may want to consider upgrading your insulation before getting the gas fireplace. Though the initial cost may be high, the less fuel used in your gas fireplace will go down, saving you money down the line.
The dimensions of the gas fireplace you’re choosing are important for a few reasons. First of all, you need one that can fit in the space you have available for it. A huge model like the Pleasant Hearth VFF-PH32NG may not fit into a small apartment, especially when you consider that it needs some clearance space on the back and sides as well. The bigger the unit, the more space it will take up.
If you have an existing fireplace that you’re adding a direct-vent or a log set to, you need the unit to fit in there properly. If it’s too big, it won’t fit right, especially when you add in the liner that goes into the fireplace before you add the unit. You also don’t want it to be too small for the area since it won’t fit securely if there is too much space between the gas model and the walls of the fireplace.
Ease of installation
The ease of installation is another important feature to look at when buying a new gas fireplace. The easier it is to install, the faster you’ll have it up and running. The ProCom QNSD250T and other freestanding models come almost fully assembled, so it takes very little time to put it together. Then you only need to hook it up to your natural gas or propane line, which should be a quick and simple task.
Direct-vent models may need a bit more skill to install, so if you aren’t familiar with how to do this, you may need to hire a professional to do it for you. This is because it not only needs a gas line available, it also needs the venting to hook up to. Placing it in an existing fireplace could make this easier since the chimney will already be there. Otherwise, you may need to cut into your ceiling or wall to create the ventilation you need. The less work you have to do to get your new gas fireplace installed, the better you’ll feel about buying one.
You want every single thing you buy for your home to work properly. If it doesn’t, you also don’t want to be on the hook for any costly repairs or replacements, especially if the issues you’re having are caused by faulty parts or improper manufacturing. That’s why you should always check out the warranty on every product you buy, including your new gas fireplace.
A few of the gas fireplaces on our list have a one to three-year limited warranty for all parts and labor needed to deal with a faulty unit. You should also look at the fine print on this type of warranty. The ProCom QNSD250T has a one-year limited warranty, though it specifies that you need to have the unit installed by a qualified installer. If you try to do it yourself, you will void the warranty, so any issues with it will need to be paid out of your pocket.
The Majestic Quartz QUARTZ32IN is a bit more complicated than the other models. It has a one-year warranty on parts and labor, except for the ones with special conditions. This includes the burners, logs, and refractory on their gas fireplaces, which have a 10-year warranty on parts but only a one-year warranty on labor. The Firebox and heat exchanger have a lifetime limited warranty for parts and a three-year warranty on labor. This is another reason to look at the warranty before you buy your new gas fireplace.
There are a few other features to consider when choosing a new gas fireplace. Some of which are for ease of use, while others are for aesthetic purposes.
The design of the logs is one thing to look at. The purpose of those logs is to give you the look of a real wood-burning fire. There are varying quantities of fake logs included, which can look like small or large fires, depending on the size of the fireplace. They should look realistic, otherwise, you won’t enjoy watching those flames.
Though not common, a remote control is a handy piece to have. These not only allow you to turn on or off the unit from across the room, but many of them also act as thermostats, so they will help maintain the temperature you want in any given area. The modes and settings on the unit should be easy to use, so you can easily adjust the heat level of your fireplace to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home.
Safety features are also a must. Built-in sensors that read the air quality or amount of oxygen can help prevent a build-up of fumes or carbon monoxide, making the unit much safer to use in your home at all times.
The style of your fireplace is also something to consider. Though it may not be the focal point in your room, a nice fire can draw the eye. That’s why it’s important to have a stylish gas fireplace to really show off those flames.
Some safety tips
When using your new gas fireplace, you want to do so safely. The following tips can help get you started, preventing damage to the unit and protecting you at the same time.
- Check the unit for damage before it is installed to ensure it is working properly and won’t be allowing any harmful fumes into your home.
- Maintain the proper clearance around your fireplace. Not only does this include walls and furniture, but also flammable items like rugs, clothing, newspapers, books, and pet beds.
- Don’t touch the gas fireplace while it is operating. The glass and metal areas on the unit can get very hot, so be sure to avoid touching it.
- Be careful when cleaning it. Be sure it is completely cool to avoid cracking the glass.
- Turn off your gas fireplace before leaving your home.
- Have your gas fireplace serviced regularly to ensure that it is in proper working order at all times. If any issues occur, have them repaired right away to prevent further damage.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector near the unit.