By Mary Boone
Wood fires are a lot of work. You have to chop or buy wood, store the logs, haul the wood in, build and tend the fire and clean up the ash.
Gas fires are as simple as flipping a switch or pushing a button. That ease of use is attractive to a growing number of homeowners who are converting their wood-burning fireplaces to gas.
Jeff and Barb Macy of Mequon, WI, say convenience was the chief reason they converted their wood-burning fireplace to gas.
“It’s been great,” says Barb Macy. “We use our fireplace daily throughout the winter. Our gas bill is higher, but it’s worth it to have a fire we turn on with a switch. A wood-burning fireplace is a mess and stinks up the house.”
For Eric Bergson, the decision was less about convenience and more about practicality. When his family moved into their 96-year-old home in Tacoma, WA, it had no central heating system.
“Converting the old fireplace to gas was the most logical option for us,” says Bergson, whose new fireplace is connected to a remote-control thermostat. “Plus, today’s inserts are made to fit a variety of fireplace sizes, and they come in different styles, so they can work with modern décor or something more traditional. We’ve loved ours since the day it was installed.”
If you, too, decide you’d like to convert to gas, you have several options: a gas log kit, a vent-free gas fireplace or a gas fireplace insert. None involve structural changes, but there are significant differences in how they work and how they look.
Gas log kit
Gas log kits (about $850 installed) are installed by running a gas line inside an existing masonry fireplace. They’ll give you the look of an open fire without the mess – and also without a lot of heat. Gas log sets can only be installed and burned in a fully vented fireplace with a fully functional damper and chimney that is free of obstructions. Once the gas log kit is installed, you can no longer burn wood or any other material in the fireplace.
One downside to the gas log kit is that your installer must lock the damper into a partially open position. That guards against someone lighting the fire and forgetting to open the vent, which could fill your home with carbon monoxide. Having the damper open all of the time, of course, means you’re continually losing heated or cooled air. To avoid that, you’d also need to install tight-fitting glass doors.
Vent-less fireplace kits (about $850 installed) do not need an open flue to the outside, making them more efficient and economical than vented logs. However, because all the exhaust and moisture released by the burning gas ends up inside the house, vent-free gas fireplaces are not recommended if anyone in the home suffers from allergies, asthma or heart problems.
Homeowners also are advised against using vent-free kits as their main heating systems; in fact, it’s recommended their use be limited to three or four hours at a time.
Gas fireplace insert
This solution changes the whole aesthetic of the fireplace because you’re adding an insert.
The fireplace’s glass doors are always shut because the fire chamber must be sealed. Heat radiates into the room, and the unit is vented through a chimney liner. This ensures you have good quality indoor air, the system is energy efficient and you can leave the fireplace running as long as you want.
A sealed gas fireplace insert converts an inefficient wood-burning fireplace into an efficient heating system. Expect to pay $3,000 to $6,000 for an installed gas fireplace insert, depending on size, style and the length of the gas line required.
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