The Ultimate Guide to Gas Log Fireplaces

gas fireplace

Gas log fireplaces are wildly popular all over the nation, especially as more modern homes are being built without traditional wood-burning fireplaces. Even among those who do have traditional fireplaces, they’re looking to change over from wood-burning to gas setups, because gas options are cleaner, more renewable, more eco-friendly and save money in the long run.

If you’re considering a gas fireplace, let’s check out an ultimate buyer’s guide to gas log fireplaces, the options, installation, varieties and how you can improve your home’s value while reducing your carbon footprint.

General Types of Gas Log Fireplaces

Basically, four general types of gas log fireplaces are available. Two of these are indoor and two outdoor. It’s worth noting, however, that outdoor gas fireplaces have an almost infinite variety of setups, options, appearances and functions and are divided into two major subdivisions based on their fuel sources.

Indoor fireplaces are fed by natural gas and come in two varieties: vented and vent-free (ventless). Vented fireplaces are usually installed in a firebox placed into an existing wood burning setup. Vent-free can be placed anywhere there’s a gas line and enough space.

Outdoor fireplaces can be powered by either a propane tank, much like your outdoor grill, or they can be fed by a natural gas line, usually run from your house. The choice you make will depend on your personal preferences, needs and local ordinances.

Before making a choice, understand that your home municipality may have specific regulations to address that will require you to choose one over the other. The best way to determine this is to contact your local housing authority or municipality to ask about building and fire codes.

Benefits of Indoor Gas Log Fireplaces

Both vented and vent-free, or ventless, gas fireplaces have specific benefits over classic wood-burning fireplaces. Which one you choose depends on your heating needs and aesthetic desires, as well as local laws.

One thing is certain: more people every day are converting wood-burning fireplaces into gas log fireplaces. They are an eco-friendly solution to warming your house. They don’t consume wood, which takes generations to renew, while natural gas is being formed all the time by anything that decays. Wood also contributes to carbon emissions which damage the environment; gas logs, on the other hand, are clean burning and produce far fewer of these emissions, thus reducing your carbon footprint.

Finally, wood is heavy! Those who have traditional wood fireplaces know the hassle of buying and transporting, or even cutting and splitting firewood, then stacking it and carting it into the house, setting up the fire, trying to get it lit and maintaining it. Gas log fireplaces eliminate all of these hassles.

man splitting wood

In addition, natural gas heating is far more efficient than wood heating. A wood-burning fireplace sends heat up a chimney, radiating only 30% or less into your room. A gas fireplace, on the other hand, radiates heat directly into the room, operating as high as 99% efficiency with modern models.

Extinguishing a gas log fireplace is also a simple matter of turning off the dial or hitting the switch on your remote. You can even configure your gas log setup with a thermostat that will monitor a specific temperature and shut off automatically when the room reaches that temperature. Extinguishing a wood fire requires cutting off the oxygen flow by spreading the out the wood and embers, shoveling ash on the flames when the fire is reduced and covering the fire with baking soda. That’s a lot of work!

Features to Consider

Indoor gas log fireplaces contain a broad range of possible features, and while some of these are fancy bells and whistles, there are certain features you should be sure to include on any gas log set you install. First, you will want a log set that allows you to control the specific level of heat put out by adjusting the height of the flames.

Next, you’ll want a setup with a programmable thermostat. This will automatically adjust the heat your fireplace puts out, and automatically kick it on and off based on the temperature settings you choose. Finally, you’ll want a gas log set that uses an electronic ignition switch, which removes the need to worry about a pilot light. This will simplify the operation of the fireplace, increase safety and save you money on utility bills.

Other optional features can be fun and improve your enjoyment, including LED accent lighting, which can add a realistic flicker to the flames as though they were wood. Battery backup systems will allow your fireplace to work in the unfortunate circumstance that your power goes out. Models that have a built-in air exchange fan will improve the efficiency of your set by removing cool air and returning hot air as needed.

Yellow Flame vs. Blue Flame Log Sets

flames

Another decision you’ll likely need to make is whether you want a yellow flame set or a blue flame set. By and large, these terms are used interchangeably with vented and ventless gas logs, respectively, but that’s not 100% accurate. Generally speaking, yellow flame logs will require venting, while blue flame logs won’t, but there are add-ons that can make blue flames appear more yellow.

The biggest difference between these (aside from the vented vs. vent-free issue) is that yellow flames look more like wood fires than blue flames do. It’s also important to understand, however, that while the vast majority of yellow flame sets which aren’t formed by add-ons require venting, the reverse is not true. That is, not all blue flame logs are vent-free. For that reason, most people who are going for a vented set look for yellow flame logs.

Vented Gas Fireplaces

Vented gas fireplaces are the oldest version of gas fireplace on the market. That does not, however, make them obsolete. In fact, these are still in wide use today. For the most part, a vented gas fireplace will be placed into an existing wood burning fireplace or stove with a chimney, but they can also be standalone units. What differentiates them from ventless fireplaces is that they require a chimney or some other type of flue to vent heat and fumes to the outdoors.

Fireplace

This flue helps the air to circulate through, which provides fuel for the fire as well as vents gas up through the chimney or outside through a direct vent pipe. Vented fireplaces are less efficient than ventless fireplaces, but generally are considered to carry less of a risk of carbon monoxide creation (though that risk is very low, regardless). They are, however, more efficient than wood-burning fireplaces and work similarly to a heat exchanger, drawing cold air out of the room and replacing it with warm.

Direct vent modern fireplaces can be placed almost anywhere there is room, as long as a venting pipe can be run to the outside of the home. That makes modern versions quite versatile, as they don’t require a fire box inside of an existing chimney and are ideal for homes that weren’t built with a traditional fireplace.

Finally, in places like California, vented gas logs may be your only legal option. Check your local laws, rules and regulations to see if you’re required to vent your gas fireplace.

Vent-Free Gas Fireplaces

Vent-free gas fireplaces, or ventless gas fireplaces, are growing in popularity across the nation. They can be installed anywhere in the home that has a natural gas line — so you’ll want to be sure you have access to a line, or talk to a plumber to have a line run to the area you want to install the fireplace. As fewer homes are built with traditional fireplaces and chimneys, installing a fireplace becomes an issue of what can go in your home.

Gas pipe

The advantages of a ventless fireplace are that if you don’t have a chimney, they don’t require cutting a hole in the wall to run a vent pipe to the outdoors. They’re set into specialized fireboxes with control panels that use valves to control a pilot light or electronic ignition system. In this fashion, they work a lot like a gas grille, water heater or even your furnace.

Ventless gas fireplaces are exceptionally efficient, offering up to 40,000 BTUs of heat, which can allow them to serve as a backup heating source in case your power goes out or your furnace fails. They are very clean burning and use less gas than vented units. A properly installed ventless fireplace can heat up to 1,000 square feet.

Ventless Gas Log Safety

While many proponents of vented gas logs claim that they are far safer, that they have a lower risk of carbon monoxide emissions, it’s vital to understand that in all of the decades that ventless gas log sets have been in use, there has never been a single reported case of carbon monoxide poisoning from one of these setups.

That’s not to say that carbon monoxide emissions aren’t a concern — any substance that burns, whether vented or not, creates carbon monoxide. That includes your furnace. For that reason, it’s simply best practice to install carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home. Place one in any room where there is a flame source, as well as one inside every bedroom, and you won’t have to worry about this issue.

Carbon Monoxide alarm

Vent-free gas log fireplaces have another risk to consider, but when properly managed, it, too, is minor. That risk is water vapor. When something burns, it creates condensation in the air. This condensation can cause damage to surfaces like paint, or even wood in the home, and can be the cause of mold issues. It can also, however, be an advantage, as during the winter months the air in your home gets very dry, and water vapor can help to add desperately needed humidity to the air.

In the end, just monitor your home’s humidity levels and, if needed, run a dehumidifier to mitigate any issues, and you shouldn’t have to worry about damage.

Installing Vented Gas Log Sets

Gas log sets are super easy to install, provided that you have the right conditions in your home for a setup. The first step is to be sure that you have a gas line properly installed and running to the area you want to install your logs. If you don’t, call a professional plumber to have such a line run. It’s generally a bad idea to mess with gas lines on your own; plumbers will be specially certified and trained to do this.

Once the gas line is run, the steps you’ll need to take depend on the kind of fire log set you’re installing. For vented gas logs installed into a chimney, the first step is to clean your fireplace. Get it clear of any soot, ashes, dirt, grime and dust. It’s best to use a natural cleaner that won’t result in toxic fumes when you light the fireplace — plain white vinegar is a great option for this. Next make sure the flue is open and the chimney is clean. Call in a chimney sweep if need be. A blocked or fouled chimney won’t vent properly and can cause dangerous problems.

chimney on house

Positioning and Connecting the Burner

Positioning your burner is essential. First, measure the front width of your firebox, the usable space inside and between the side walls. Then, measure the back width in the same way — never assume the dimensions are the same. Next, measure the depth from the front to back and the height. You need a depth of at least 14” and a height of at least 18” to properly install your set. Follow your installation instructions to be sure you have enough clearance on all sides for your log set.

When this is done, you’ll need to connect your burner and arrange the logs. You’ll need the right tools, which can vary based on your individual project but should include, at least, a pair of channel locks, a drill and sheet metal or masonry bits, a screwdriver and wrenches to match the fittings. Screws may be required, though these will often come with your installation kit.

When you’ve got everything cleaned, measured and the tools gathered, it’s time to place and secure your burner. Be sure the gas line is securely connected and that it’s properly sealed, so it doesn’t leak gas into the home. Make sure to check it for leaks using soapy water in a spray bottle, which you spray along the line and at all the connection points. If you see bubbles form, there’s a leak, or something needs to be tightened.

Arrange the Logs and Enjoy

When the burner is connected and secured, you’ll want to arrange the gas logs. This is often a simple affair, as most sets will have a specific way they fit together, much like a 3D puzzle. Insert tabs into slots following the instructions with your kit, and you’ll be good to go.

wood in fire

After you have the burner connected and the gas logs arranged according to your installation instructions, you can add any accessories you like. Be sure never to use an old grate for your logs — always use the one that comes with the kit.

Installing a Ventless Fireplace

Installing a ventless fireplace is largely the same process as installing a vented one. The difference is that your ventless fireplace will often come as a whole, self-contained kit, instead of as a set of logs designed to go into your existing fireplace. You don’t need a chimney to install, which means you don’t need to measure the fireplace or ensure it’s been cleaned.

There’s one exception to this: if you’re installing a vent-free firebox in an existing fireplace, you’ll want to be sure that the firebox you’re installing is designed to go into an existing space, you’ll want to measure to be sure it will fit, and you’ll want to be sure the old space is cleaned out. Carbon deposits and creosote in the existing fireplace can still catch fire from the heat generated by the new fireplace, so you’ll want to start clean.

Just like a vent-free fireplace, you’ll need to be sure that there’s a secure gas line, that everything is connected and sealed properly and that the new fireplace is properly insulated and set up exactly according to the instructions in the installation kit. These generally tend to be relatively easy to install, but whenever working with gas and fire, it’s important to observe all safety precautions, and if you’re unsure, always call the professionals.

Customization and Appearance

After your fireplace is installed, there are tons of options for customization to achieve the perfect aesthetics. Gas logs are made of either ceramic composite or cement, which don’t burn but are designed to look as if they are. Some modern versions even glow like real embers when exposed to heat.  You’ll certainly want to choose a set that looks the most realistic, but you’ll also want logs that will last a long time and stand the test of time. Ceramic logs are less likely to wear physically, but they will lose their finish over time. Cement logs, on the other hand, tend to look more realistic and hold their appearance over time. They can, however, crack from constant heat exposure.

The type of logs you choose will affect how often you need to replace them. In general, this is a case of getting what you pay for. More expensive sets will often be made better and will need to be replaced less often, which will save you money in the long run. They also tend to have a design that much more closely mimics the look of real wood, with many different options available from split oak to birch and even coastal driftwood design elements.

Finally, there are tons of extra options you can install, from LED lighting to add additional flicker and enhance the appearance of your flames to glowing embers which will look like genuine wood chips, and even scents that you can add to offer a realistic wood-burning aroma.

Emberside glowing embers

Gas Logs vs. Gas Fireplace

The difference between a gas log set and a gas fireplace is important to understand. Gas logs are designed to go directly into an existing fireplace. They replace wood logs with a gas flame setup and can be used in most wood-burning setups. Gas fireplaces, on the other hand, are standalone units that use their own burners and their own artificial log setups in a firebox. They do not take gas log sets. If you’re not sure which is the best option for you, always talk to a professional installation service before making a choice.

Outdoor Gas Fireplaces

Outdoor fireplace setups come in an infinite number of varieties from oven-type setups to outdoor hearths and gas-powered fire pits. They require an entirely different approach from indoor gas setups, as they’re highly decorative and specially designed for use and display outdoors. Never try to install an outdoor fireplace inside the home!

Pre-fabricated kits for firepits are very easy to install, while more advanced custom varieties require more knowledge and care. Overall, an outdoor gas firepit, like an indoor model, is much cleaner burning and more efficient than a wood-burning setup. It reduces your carbon footprint and doesn’t require the fuss and muss or maintenance of a wood-burning setup.

Like indoor fireplaces, outdoor firepits can be shut off by flipping a switch and closing a valve, which also reduces the hassle and danger of running them.

These fireplaces offer a number of benefits to your outdoor relaxation and entertainment. They are outstanding for providing warmth for fall gatherings. They look great when holding gatherings or other social events, adding ambiance and elegance, as well as a sense of campfire fun. Many units can be used for open-fire cooking. They’re ideal for repelling bugs in the warmer months, and they add value to your home.

Outdoor fireplace

These firepits can extend the use of your pool or patio outdoor space into the colder months of the year and serve as a focal point for your outdoor entertaining. They make your yard look more elegant, adding to the landscape design. For these reasons and more, they can be an inexpensive way to increase the sales appeal of your property.

Choosing Your Outdoor Gas Fireplace or Firepit

A dizzying array of gas firepit and outdoor fireplace options are available, from those that are filled with river stones, to those filled with gravel and sand — even lava rock versions and those that use gas log setups that incorporate actual glowing coals while the fireplace burns. They come in rustic, realistic, old-school looks, as well as ultramodern aesthetics

You’ll have to make a number of choices before you buy your firepit or fireplace. Consider where in your yard is the best, safest place to locate a fireplace. How far it is from the home will also play a role in determining whether you need a propane tank or you need a gas line run from the house. Consider the sense of aesthetic style you’ll want to present in the outdoor oasis you create.

You’ll need to choose from two major types of fireplace or firepit. The first is a fully custom DIY setup. This gives you absolute freedom of design but is more expensive and time consuming. You’ll need to purchase materials and custom design and build your fireplace. It requires some level of knowledge or a higher cost in hiring contractors to do the work for you.

The second is an easily-built modular firepit system. These setups remove the stress of custom design, hiring contractors, getting materials and requiring extensive construction knowledge. They come in a wide range of looks, styles and functions, so they should suit any design aesthetic you want.

Outdoor Firepit Options

Another option for outdoor firepits is to enhance their look with lava rocks and fillers. While some use similar options as indoor fireplaces like realistic logs, led accents, and glowing embers, more ultra-modern aesthetics will use things like lava rock, river stone, and even gravel or sand fillers. These filler materials can be made from wide variety of natural materials, and will really complete the look of your fireplace.

Rocks

Staying Safe with Your Outdoor Fireplace

Just like with your indoor setup, there are safety considerations regarding an outdoor firepit or fireplace. When assembling it, be sure that you build it on a stable, fireproof and level space. It’s a good idea to use a concrete slab or a brick base for stability. Be sure that the surface can withstand at least 800 pounds of weight (or more, depending on your specific setup kit requirements).

Never, ever build one of these fireplaces on grass, which can catch fire. Keep it a safe distance from fences, electrical systems, landscaping and structures, and make sure you obey all local ordinances regarding open flames outdoors.

When using these fireplaces, never leave the flame unattended, and always be sure you have a fire extinguisher rated for gas fires on hand. Keep family and guests at least three feet from the flames and clean and maintain it regularly. When not using it, cover it to protect against the elements. Make sure, however, that it’s cool before covering it!

Maintenance and Troubleshooting

Maintaining and troubleshooting your fireplace is something you should do every six months at least, with every three months being a better option. It’s a simple process of disassembling your log set, vacuuming out any dust or particles and using a green, natural cleaner that won’t burn or cause fumes to get any soot, grime or dirt out of the fire box. Again, vinegar and water or baking soda mixed with water or vinegar can be great options for this.

cleaning products

Be careful when disassembling and reassembling that when you put everything back together, it fits properly and is completely secure. If you have a vented system, you should have a chimney sweep over on a regular basis just to be sure there’s no contamination in your vent.

If you notice your gas logs aren’t staying lit, you’ll need to perform a step-by-step method to correct the issue. The issues could be a bad or clogged pilot valve, a bad thermocouple or heat sensor, a bad control valve or another problem. While many problems are easy to fix, others require a more expert touch. Never be afraid to call a professional who can help diagnose and repair issues to keep your fireplace running strong.

Emberside Gas Log Fireplaces

If you’re looking to upgrade or replace your existing gas log set or to buy a new vented or ventless gas fireplace, Emberside can help. Check out our complete collection of accessories, gas logs, outdoor living options and replacement sets and get in touch with us for advice, help, or to place your order today!




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