Gas Fireplace Operation: How Do They Work?

Category: Fireplace

The fireplace and the hearth is a zone of the home that’s particularly suited to getting together and sharing special moments—especially in the winter. You can curl your fingers around a mug of hot chocolate and watch the logs inside the fireplace snap, crackle, and pop (hopefully not that last one).

Or you can get your toes nice and toasty by laying down on the floor and pointing your feet toward the hearth after a day of playing in the snow. Some people even like to use their fireplace to heat up the home in lieu of using heaters or the HVAC. It’s what they did in the olden days, after all.

Now when it comes to fireplaces, more and more homes (and businesses that have fireplaces) are switching to gas fireplaces.

Benefits of a Gas Fireplace

A gas fireplace is actually a great, energy-efficient way to heat your home. You can turn down the thermostat, and turn up the heat! In the fireplace, that is. By leveraging the power of your gas fireplace to heat up the room you’re in, you’ll be saving money on your energy bill and avoiding wasting energy from the central heating system.

Traditional fireplaces, of course, need a chimney. Usually, the chimney becomes a costly and somewhat annoying part of home maintenance, needing to be cleaned regularly (at least once a year) and even posing some health and safety hazards if it gets clogged up.

But a gas fireplace doesn't need a chimney. It relies on vents to carry byproducts out of the home. There are even ventless gas fireplaces that don’t require any venting systems at all.

Gas fireplaces give you way more control. Unlike a traditional wood-burning stove, gas fireplaces are often temperature controlled with a thermostat. Some models even allow you to control the height and intensity of the flames and embers...with that kind of control over the vibe and ambience of the fire, you’ll feel like a wizard.

Don’t think that your style choices are limited when it comes to selecting a gas fireplace. From Victorian-era elegance to chic modern chrome, there’s something for everybody. This factor is especially appealing to those who have remodeled the inner appearance of their home and don’t feel that their current fireplace is matching the look they’re going for.

But I Already Have a Fireplace...

Now, if you already have a hearth with a fireplace and chimney, you may not see the point in switching to a highfalutin, rootin-tootin newfangled gas fireplace. This could be especially so in cases where you have a masonry fireplace or a customized mantelpiece that’s not easy to replace.

But in that case, you might want to consider that a gas fireplace insert can go right in your existing hearth, without having to do any structural modifications. So now that we’ve extolled the benefits of a gas fireplace, what exactly are they and how do they work?

The Traditional, Wood-Burning Fireplace

A traditional, wood-burning fireplace burns by cool air entering the firebox and fueling the flames through the process of combustion. The products of this romantic chemistry are released in the form of smoke that climbs upward through the chimney and then dances over the roof of your home.

Unfortunately, some of the byproducts do get occasionally released into the living area, which poses serious health and safety concerns over time. But in any case, heat is also generated by this process and fills the room that the fireplace is in.

But to keep the fire burning, it has to be fed. Wood, kindling, and flammable materials can help keep the flames alive, but once you stop feeding it, the fire will start to die down and die out. That said, wood-burning, traditional fireplaces are not the most efficient, since most of the heat is absorbed into the chimney...which is great if you’re a cold and lonely brick in winter, but bad if you’re a homeowner.

wood burning fireplace

Gas Fireplaces

This is where gas fireplaces make their entry into the story, perhaps riding a motorcycle through a ring of fire, or getting lowered from the ceiling in a steel cage amid a celebration of lasers and fog. The bottom line, if the introduction can be simple, is that gas places are much more efficient than their traditional, wood-burning counterparts.

Gas fireplaces push all the heat they create into the room, rather than allowing it to get absorbed into the masonry of the chimney (which is essentially wasting it for those in the room). Gas fireplaces also have a more efficient combustion process that creates a better source of heat.

Vented Gas Fireplaces

These gas fireplaces are vented by a pipe that goes directly out through the wall of your house, sort of like a vent you might have in your kitchen, bathroom, secret lab, or laundry room. Alternatively, they can be placed away from the wall as well and vented through the roof.

These vented units are sealed off from the room they heat, which means that they won’t draw any air from that room, but rather take it from outside. The air is then used for the combustion process for fueling the fire, and vented back out after use.

The benefit of this methodology is that none of the harmful or noisome (that means bad smelling) byproducts could enter the home...only heat. When it comes to considering deadly carcinogens like carbon monoxide, this type of vented gas fireplace carries a special appeal because there is no risk of deadly gasses getting into the room—all the air is vented outside.

Ventless Gas Fireplaces

These types of gas fireplaces work much like a gas range. They burn cleanly and do not need any kind of vent to pass gas outside (pause for a laugh). That’s right...we said pass gas outside.

In any case, since there is no vent, they do use the air in the room for the combustion process. But since they don’t have a vent, literally all the heat goes into the room, making them a hugely efficient choice when it comes to gas fireplaces.

They’ll be equipped with safety sensors that will shut them off if the oxygen level gets too low, or if the pilot light goes out (which would mean that gas would just be going into the room without getting consumed by a flame).

Gas Logs

Gas logs basically look like a cozy assemblage of kindling, but they’re not. Most of the time they’re made from ceramic materials that can look like birch, oak, or split wood. They can fit right into your existing fireplace, and come in vented and unvented options...similar to the gas fireplaces.

Vented gas logs require some air from the room to fuel their combustion, and consequently tend to look more realistic, while ventless gas logs burn like a range top: it’s more clean and efficient, but it can look more fake.

They don’t need to be replaced as often as real wood logs (obviously), meaning that you won’t have to stockpile wood...unless you enjoy the exercise offered by hefting an axe over your head and bringing it crashing down on a log you intend to cleave in two. While wood fires can take time to build, gas logs can be activated with the flick of a switch or press of a button.

Inspection and Clean

Regardless of how long you've been using your fireplace, it's always safe to get it inspected and cleaned at least once a year. The longer you go without cleaning your fireplace, the more creosote gets accumulated inside the flue of your chimney.

The danger of fireplace combustion happens more often in homes and residents than you might have guessed. To prevent this from happening, the best company to turn to is Vertical Chimney Care. Since 1985, Vertical Chimney Care has served more thousands of homeowners with their chimney and fireplace needs. Contact us today to speak to a product specialist.

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