A fireplace is the very definition of comfort. It’s hearth and home and a cozy way to spend cold nights. It’s also fun in the outdoors, sitting around the firepit on summer or fall nights, roasting marshmallows and telling stories. We live in a world where natural resources are something we think about frequently. While burning wood is not always the best option for your comfort, natural gas is a renewable resource that is clean burning and better for the environment overall.
Many people, as such, are turning to converting their old wood-burning fireplaces into gas log setups, or are installing brand new gas fireplaces where none existed before. When you decide you want such a setup, the first important choice to make is whether you are interested in vented or ventless gas log fireplaces.
Each type has specific advantages and disadvantages and may even be regulated differently in your municipality. Let’s break down the similarities and differences between ventless and vented gas log fireplaces and learn what you need to know, so you can make the right choice for you and yours this season, whether it’s for holiday cheer or fun times in your outdoor oasis.
Gas log fireplaces carry a great many advantages over traditional wood-burning fireplaces. The most obvious of these is that they are far more eco-friendly. Wood, though technically renewable, takes generations to grow, and we have faced problems with deforestation across the world. Natural gas, by comparison, is truly renewable, being generated by decay all the time.
In addition, when you burn wood, it contributes to carbon emissions that can damage the climate. Gas fireplaces, by comparison, burn very clean, starkly reducing the carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
Gas fireplaces also provide much more efficient heat than wood fireplaces. In fact, while a traditional wood fireplace delivers to your room between 10 and 30% of the heat generated, a gas fireplace puts 75 to 99% of the heat out into the room. With a modern gas fireplace, you can turn it on and off as needed — many models even have thermostats and remote controls that allow you to program the fireplace to turn on and off automatically when the room temperature hits a certain benchmark.
Gas fireplaces are clean and inexpensive in other ways as well. They don’t require buying, splitting, stacking, seasoning or hauling logs into the house. They don’t require cleaning up soot, grime and ashes and require significantly less care than traditional wood-burning fireplaces. They can also be placed almost anywhere, especially if a vent-free version is permitted in your area.
You should look for a number of features in a gas fireplace. First, look for one that allows you to adjust the height of the flame to dial in the precise amount of heat you want. Check for one that has a programmable thermostat control that automatically adjusts the output of your fireplace to allow you to get the precise temperature you want. Check for one that uses electronic ignition. This eliminates the need for a pilot light, which can save you money on utilities, as well as simplify operations.
Some fireplaces offer features like LED accent lighting to add a more realistic flickering flame effect, helping to mimic the appearance of genuine wood. Other models feature battery backups that allow the system to work even when the power is out, which can be a boon to those who rely upon electric furnaces for heat under normal circumstances. Finally, look for a model that has a built-in fan to help exchange cool air for hot, increasing the efficiency of the fireplace.
When you’re investigating gas log sets for your home heating, you may encounter the terms “yellow flame logs” and “blue flame logs.” In truth, this is often just another way to say “vented gas fireplace” and “ventless gas fireplace,” respectively. It’s not a perfect analogy, but this is generally how the terms are used.
In general, all yellow flame logs require venting, while many blue flame logs can be used without the need for a venting system. Yellow vs. blue flame fireplaces can also be thought of in terms of “realism”— that is, yellow flame logs more closely resemble wood-burning fireplaces, while blue flame logs tend to be more efficient and hotter.
It’s important to note that if you’re looking at blue flame log sets, you shouldn’t assume that all blue flame logs are vent-free. While the term is used interchangeably, some blue flame sets do require venting. Always check with your vendor to be sure you’re getting the setup you need for your house.
As we’ve said, there are two major varieties of gas log fireplaces: vented and ventless (or vent-free) fireplaces. The core difference between these two kinds of fireplaces is very simple. A vented fireplace is normally installed in a traditional chimney, often one that was originally designed as a wood-burning fireplace. Why? Because these kinds of fireplaces require an exit where fumes and heat can be vented out of the house.
Ventless fireplaces, on the other hand, can be placed just about anywhere, as they don’t require this kind of escape. Ventless fireplaces tend to burn hotter and more efficiently and are easier to install. However, there have been concerns about carbon monoxide, and some municipalities don’t permit them to be installed.
The oldest form of gas fireplace on the market is vented, and they are still used today. Many homes that have converted wood-burning fireplaces to gas, or have turned their old traditional fireplace to a combination unit that can burn wood or gas, have vented fireplaces. They use the air in your house for combustion — this air forms the fuel to burn your natural gas and sends flames up the flue, just like a wood fireplace would.
This flue helps to exhaust the gasses generated by the fire in a natural way and sends them up through the chimney, flue, or out a directly vented pipe. While they tend to be less efficient than ventless fireplaces, they offer a number of distinct benefits. First, they are seen as safer than ventless fireplaces, as they present less risk of generating high levels of carbon monoxide in the home.
They are more efficient than wood-burning fireplaces, as most of the energy generated from burning natural gas is released into the home as heat. In many ways, they work sort of like a heat exchanging unit, removing cold air from the home to burn and replacing it with warm air generated from the flame.
Modern vented gas fireplaces can also be installed as a “direct vent” system, which can vent heat through a pipe in the wall. This allows them far more versatility than traditional vented fireplaces that have to be installed in a traditional chimney setup.
When one chooses a gas log fireplace, one reason is to increase the efficiency of heating over a traditional wood fireplace. The efficiency of a vented gas log fireplace is far higher than that of a wood-burning system, which can provide as little as 10% heat from the energy generated. Vented gas log fireplaces can provide far greater efficiency, ranging from 50 to as high as 85% efficiency in the room in which they are set.
Ventless gas fireplaces are a very popular choice, but one that should be carefully considered. Fewer and fewer new homes are built with traditional chimneys, which means that traditional vented fireplaces are quite a bit less viable in these homes. While direct-vent fireplaces are always possible, they require running a pipe to the outside, which means cutting a hole in the wall somewhere.
Ventless gas log fireplaces can be installed anywhere in the home and provide very high efficiency heating. They work by piping natural gas or propane into the gas unit, similar to the way a natural gas stove works, but with flames running up through artificial logs made of ceramic fiber. These fireplaces are set into special fireboxes and have their own control panel which uses valves to control a pilot line and a striker button to ignite the flame, a lot like your gas grill works.
Since these fireplaces require no flue or chimney, they can be easily fit in anywhere, with little floor or wall space required. Since they don’t require cutting holes in the wall, they increase efficiency and save energy. They can serve as a secondary heat source in case of power outages to a maximum of 40,000 BTUs of heat.
Vent-free gas fireplaces use less gas than vented units and burn very clean. They are, in fact, so efficient that they can heat up to 1,000 square feet if properly installed. They can, as such, be an outstanding option for those for whom a vented fireplace isn’t an option.
On the down side, some people report odor from these fireplaces, as the combustion remains within the room where it burns. They also look a bit less real than vented models. However, accessories can be added to make them appear more realistic, even adding a realistic crackle and the scent of wood, so these drawbacks can be largely mitigated.
Many people are concerned about carbon monoxide emissions from ventless gas log fireplaces. While this is a reasonable concern — after all, everything that burns generates carbon monoxide, and these fireplaces don’t vent — there has yet to be a reported case of this issue. It is always recommended that if you install a ventless gas fireplace in your home, then you also install carbon monoxide detectors in the room where you have the fireplace, as well as in each bedroom, just to be safe.
Again, however, there has never been a reported case of carbon monoxide poisoning related to a ventless gas fireplace. These kinds of fireplace setup have been in use for nearly four decades, so that’s a telling statistic. Still, it never hurts to be safe, and installing detectors is a good idea in any case.
Another risk is sometimes associated with these setups, however, and that’s water vapor. If your fireplace is not installed correctly, it can create water vapor that can cause surface or structural damage to your home. Carbon dioxide and water vapor can also be responsible for mold issues in the home. It can also, however, be an advantage, as winter air tends to be very dry, so it’s best simply to keep an eye on the humidity levels in your home. If you set up this kind of fireplace, you should carefully monitor your home’s humidity levels and take any necessary steps to mitigate them, if necessary.
The biggest hurdles to many people looking to install a ventless gas fireplace are state and local codes. Not every state allows for ventless fireplaces, and even within states that do, certain municipalities may not permit them. It’s vital that you check with your local municipality codes before installing this kind of fireplace in your home.
It’s worth noting that in Kentucky at the state level, these fireplaces are legal; however, individual city, township and other locality policies can vary widely. The best way to find out is to contact your local city administrative offices to inquire about the local codes. If you’re not sure, your fireplace provider or installation professional can help you determine the legalities in your area.
A common question is whether a vented or ventless gas log fireplace can be installed in an existing chimney. The answer to this question depends heavily on the kind of setup you have and the product you are looking to install. You must keep strict considerations in mind as to the kind of gas log fireplace you can install. If your setup is masonry, you can install either vented or vent-free gas log fireplaces. If you have a prefab wood-burning setup, you may or may not be able to install gas logs, though generally you’ll be able to install a vented system.
If you already have a ventless fireplace or firebox, talk to your installation company about the kinds of upgrade or replacement log sets that might be compatible with the setup you have. If you have a B-vent, direct-vent or a stove that is wood or gas, you may not be able to install replacement vented or vent-free gas fireplaces.
The key thing to understand here is that gas logs are not the same thing as a gas fireplace. Gas logs are designed to convert wood-burning setups to gas setups, while gas fireplaces are standalone units that aren’t designed to take gas logs. It can be a confusing and specific distinction, so again, talk with your installation professional to be sure you get the right setup for your system.
Outdoor fireplace units — often referred to as gas fire pits — are an entirely different animal from indoor vented or vent-free units. These decorative structures are designed specifically for outdoor use and display.
They can come in a dizzying variety of looks, form and function. Some are built to use for cooking and to look like real, natural fire pits. Others are ultramodern and offer a sleek design built largely for sitting around a glowing fire to relax on autumn nights. They have decorative bowls that might be filled with gravel, sand or river stones. They may have ignition switches or even realistic coals that glow when the fire burns.
Pre-fabricated firepits are super easy to install, but the do-it-yourself custom variety requires a lot of knowledge and care to install. They are cleaner than wood-burning fire pits and require less maintenance and virtually no cleanup of ashes. Putting them out when you’re done is as simple as turning them off, so they’re less dangerous in that regard as well.
Countless varieties of these kinds of fireplaces are available. While many run on natural gas lines, some can also run off of propane, similar to what runs your gas grill. When you choose your firepit, you’ll want to decide between the two, and if necessary, have a plumber run a gas line from your home to the new firepit.
When choosing your perfect gas firepit, take a look around. Find an area in your yard that’s safe enough to place a fireplace. Be sure that any safety hazards like low branches, brush and debris have been removed, and be sure that any local municipal, or HOA rules, are followed. Decide what kind of décor matches your needs and look at the available products. Many easily assembled modular firepits are available that can meet just about any need.
Of course, when you’re installing an outdoor firepit, there’s no need to worry about vented vs. vent free — all outdoor fireplaces burn and vent heat to the air outside!
If you’re ready to buy a new gas fireplace, Emberside is ready to help. We have an unparalleled selection of products for indoor and outdoor, vented and vent-free, and a series of add-ons. Consider all the different aspects of buying your fireplace, then turn to us for the solutions you need.
Whether you’re looking for gas logs, outdoor living, replacement sets or accessories to take your fireplace to the next level, our collections can provide the solution. We even provide information and videos on installing your gas log fireplace and inspiration for decoration and use. Take some time to look over everything we have to offer and get in touch with us for more information or to place your order today!