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  • Writer's pictureSteven Haase

What to Consider When Choosing a Gas Fireplace Insert



Types of Gas Fireplace Inserts

Gas fireplace inserts can be divided into several types according to how they are vented. They can also be separated by their gas use: either natural gas or propane.

The majority of gas fireplace inserts are designed for natural gas, but not every location has availability. The solution is a propane fireplace insert (also called a Liquid Petroleum Gas or LPG fireplace insert). Propane actually burns hotter than natural gas, but it’s more expensive and needs to come in bottles or a bulk tank. Natural gas is piped directly to your home, so it is a cheaper and more convenient option.

In fact, the majority of gas fireplace inserts that can use propane are called dual-fuel. They are primarily manufactured to use natural gas but are also compatible with propane or come with a conversion kit if needed at the time of installation.


Fireplace Inserts vs. Traditional Fireplaces

While traditional fireplaces have undeniable charm, there are many reasons to upgrade to a fireplace insert. Although they look attractive, open fires are remarkably inefficient and a huge amount of energy is wasted as the heat goes up the chimney instead of into the room. Soot and smoke can cause staining and ash has to be cleaned up regularly. Removing hot ash is a fire hazard.

Fireplace inserts provide an enclosed combustion chamber with a heat efficiency rating of between 70 percent and 99 percent. That compares with 5 percent to 10 percent for a traditional fire. This means more of the heat generated warms the room, and bills are reduced. A gas fireplace insert is also very easy to keep clean.


Vented vs. Vent-Free

While gas insert fireplaces are usually divided into vented or vent-free, there are actually two types of vented models: natural vent (also called B-vent) or direct vent. Natural vent fireplaces use an existing chimney and thus are a convenient replacement for traditional fireplaces. However, the majority of these are open, rather than closed inserts, and are less efficient. A direct vent is more common and can vent horizontally as well as vertically. As a result, they are ideal where there is no existing fireplace.

Vented systems must vent to the outside, which can be impractical. A vent-free insert, also known as a ventless gas fireplace insert, solves the problem. They are easier to install and more efficient (because no heat is lost through the vent). However, they do release potentially harmful carbon monoxide into the room. To ensure they are safe, a device called an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS) is fitted. This shuts the fire down if levels become dangerous. Nevertheless, it’s important to check local building codes because some states restrict or ban their use.


Heat Efficiency and Coverage

Heat efficiency ratings of gas insert fireplaces depend on vent type. Vented models are usually between 70 percent and 85 percent efficient, while vent-free models can be up to 99 percent efficient. In terms of heating performance, the BTU (British Thermal Unit) rating should be checked. This tells you the actual heat output of the fire.

Given that the usual recommendation is for 20 BTU per square foot of living space, it is a simple task to work out the coverage of a particular model. However, while this is a good general guide, some models quote lower or higher figures than the average.

An air circulation system is also a factor. Some inserts include a blower that helps push heat into the room, spreading warmth more rapidly. On other models, it may not be standard, but provision is made for one to be fitted.


Features

A variety of additional features make individual models more user-friendly.

  • Electronic ignition is standard, but the type varies. Some require a household supply, but both millivolt and piezoelectric are self-contained, push-button systems.

  • On some gas inserts, a thermostat can be set. The fireplace will then turn itself on and off to maintain a balanced room temperature.

  • Remote controls are available on some models. Functionality varies. Some can be used to set a thermostat, others offer variable flame control which can be set for both heat output and visual preference. Advanced models beginning to appear offer control via smartphone app or integration with home automation systems like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

  • Ambient lighting is another possible extra, designed to enhance the mood of the room.

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