For those who want the comfort of a wood fire, but don’t want to put up with the hassles of firewood, gas logs for a fireplace can be a great alternative. Most of these gas log fireplace inserts are equipped to use either propane or natural gas. This can be a simple and relatively inexpensive way to convert a wood burning fireplace to a gas fireplace.
Gas fireplace logs come in two basic types, vented and non vented.
Vented gas fireplace logs are made to be used with the flue damper open to vent the exhaust gasses outside, the same as you would with a wood burning fire. The advantage is that all exhaust gasses are vented outside instead of into your home. They also typically burn with a yellow flame that looks more like a realistic wood burning fire. This is done by having a flame that burns with less oxygen, which produces a less clean but more beautiful flame.
The disadvantage of vented gas logs is, not only does the exhaust get vented outside, so does much of the heat. This makes this type of fireplace inefficient for heating. Efficiency can be as low as 10% of heat actually radiating into your home, while the rest goes out the chimney.
Unvented gas logs are made to be used with the damper closed. Because they burn so clean, the exhaust can be vented directly into the home, the same as the flames in a gas cooking stove. Since the damper is closed, all the heat is retained, which makes this very efficient for heating your home. Efficiency rates can be up to 95%.
Although it may seem alarming to vent the exhaust into the home, the emissions produced are harmless water vapor and carbon dioxide in small enough quantities that they are well under federal guidelines. In some states they are banned (such as ban happy California) and some people may complain of odors, or triggering asthma. But compared to having a wood fire, or even a candle burning in a room, the emissions in the air will probably still be cleaner from this type of fireplace.
There can be concern with oxygen levels being depleted and carbon dioxide build up, but they come with oxygen sensors that will shut the system down well before levels of concern are ever reached. And this rarely if ever happens. It would have to be an extremely air tight room for dangerous levels to be reached. They are also designed to prevent any unburned gasses from entering the room if it is left on without a flame.
The main disadvantage to non vented or ventless logs for fireplaces is they don’t have the pretty yellow flames that the vented units do. These are traditionally used where heating is more important than looks. But some modern models are starting to have flames that look more realistic along with the glowing coals, while still burning clean. This is why this type of system is becoming increasingly popular now.
Gas logs for fireplace systems should be installed by a professional. They are easy to install into a fireplace, but they also require that gas lines be plumbed into the fireplace. This is where hiring a qualified plumber can save your home and the lives of you and your entire family. You might be able to save a couple hundred dollars by installing it yourself, but an improperly installed gas line that starts to leak could lead to a disastrous fire, explosion and likely both.
People sometimes ask me if you can still burn wood with the gas logs. Not if you value your life and your home.