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Gas Logs Buying Guide

On a chilly fall or winter evening, it's hard to beat the warm and cozy feeling a fireplace brings. While it would be a big task to add a traditional fireplace to an existing home, new gas log systems have been developed to allow fireplaces to be created easily.

Gas log fireplace

Built-In or Freestanding Gas Logs

Unless you're building a new home or an addition to your home, adding an all-brick fireplace and chimney would likely be expensive. Fortunately, you have other choices. A prefabricated fireplace is an excellent alternative and is more energy-efficient than a traditional fireplace.

There are two types of prefab fireplaces: built-in and freestanding. Built-in prefabs look very similar to traditional fireplaces. Freestanding units have lightweight construction and easy-to-assemble components, and they come in a variety of sizes, shapes and finishes.

Both freestanding and built-in units vent through insulated metal chimney components that run through walls, ceilings and roofs.

Caution

Remember to always check with your local municipality about codes and fire regulations before installing.

Gas Logs or Wood

Fireplace

For a traditionalist, nothing can replace a wood-burning fireplace, but they do require constant attention. In addition, they can be messy and can pose a potential fire risk. Plus, unless you live where you can readily chop up some wood, it's not always convenient to keep a stash of dry firewood handy.

Gas logs have many advantages. They're maintenance-free, come in a variety of styles and are easy-to-install. They also pose fewer fire risks and put out twice the heat of wood - on a night with 20 degree temps, that sounds pretty nice.

Vented vs. Vent-Free Gas Logs

Fireplace

When shopping for gas logs, you'll need to choose vented or vent-free logs. This decision comes down to many factors, including looks versus efficiency, local building codes and fireplace placement.

With vented logs, you'll enjoy a large, realistic-looking flame that operates with an open chimney flue or damper. These logs, which simulate a wood-burning fire, are more decorative than they're an efficient heat source because much of the generated heat goes up the chimney.

Vent-free logs, which operate with the chimney flue closed, won't give you that roaring fire effect. The flame isn't as realistic or as high as you'll find with vented logs. But they are an efficient heat source - 100% of the heat generated stays in your home. You'll often see vent-free logs referred to as vent-free heaters because that's essentially what they are. Most sets have a thermostatic control that helps maintain a consistent room temperature. Vent-free heaters add moisture to the air, so it's important to install them in a room with proper ventilation to avoid formation of mildew.

Vent-free heaters aren't permitted in bedrooms, bathrooms or recreational vehicles, and must be installed in an area where curtains, furniture, clothing or other flammable objects are at least 36 inches away from the perimeter of the heater. Vent-free heater installation isn't recommended in high-traffic, windy or drafty areas.

Caution

Before installing any gas log system, check your local and state codes. In some areas, vent-free heaters aren't permitted.

Measuring BTUs when Choosing Gas Logs

Measuring BTUs to Heat a Room Chart

BTUs (British thermal units) are used to measure heating power. Before you can determine the amount of BTUs you'll need to heat an area, you need to know the size of the room and the height of the ceiling. Use these charts to determine the BTUs you'll need to properly heat a room with an 8-foot or a 10-foot ceiling.

Natural Gas and Liquid Propane Gas Heat

There are two types of gas logs: Liquid propane (LP) and natural gas.

LP gas contains more carbon than natural gas and burns nearly three times hotter. To get LP gas logs up and running, you'll need a tank positioned outside your home. Check for local LP gas dealers. If you choose LP gas, a tank will be installed at your home, and you'll contract with a dealer to have the gas tank refilled.

Natural gas is a lighter-than-air gas that dissipates when released into the air. It doesn't burn as hot as LP and other gases, but it costs much less. Natural gas logs must be hard-piped to an appliance from buried gas service lines.

If you have a natural gas water heater, oven, clothes dryer or other gas appliance, you're already set up for a gas log set. If you don't have natural gas service, check with your local natural gas company before purchasing a log set. If natural gas service isn't available in your area, you'll need LP gas logs.

General Fireplace Safety

  • Keep an approved fire extinguisher within easy reach of your fireplace.
  • Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Never use gasoline or charcoal lighter fluid to start a fire.
  • Keep flammable objects at least 3 feet from the fireplace.
  • If you have a wood-burning fireplace, properly dispose of ashes in a metal container.