Magazine article Sunset

The New Gas Fireplaces

Magazine article Sunset

The New Gas Fireplaces

Article excerpt

Fueled by natural gas, these versatile fireplaces and stoves look like wood-burners but don't all need chimneys

Dancing yellow flames, instant heat, environmental appropriateness, and ease of operation are some of the virtues of the fastest-growing segment of hearth products: natural gas- or propane-burning fireplaces and stoves. They look like their wood-burning cousins and even contain ceramic "log sets" and embers that resemble burning wood. However, these fireplaces don't require you to cut, stack, and load wood, or sweep out ashes. They can be turned on with the flick of a switch, a remote control, or a preset thermostat. And gas costs less per "fire" than cut-and-dried firewood.

Gas-burning fireplaces and stoves solve the problem of poor wintertime air quality that has forced many Western regions to ban the construction of open, wood-burning fireplaces and woodstoves, or limit their use. There's no smoke, because gas burns far cleaner than wood and emits virtually no particulate matter. (Propane is similar to natural gas but burns hotter and requires different-size orifices.)

The best of these new gas fireplaces are "zone heating appliances," which have the energy efficiency of larger gas-fired furnaces used to heat whole homes. Zone heating appliances make sense if you're planning to add a family room or remodel existing spaces. One Canadian company, RSF Energy, recently introduced a fireplace called the Panorama that may do away with the concept of the central heater. The Panorama uses a network of built-in, thermostatically controlled ducts that run from the fireplace to other rooms in a house as large as 1,600 square feet. You can even take this concept a step further with a unit from Heat-N-Glo that houses a small air conditioner with an energy-efficient gas fireplace. It can heat or cool a room as large as 300 square feet.

Some models can be vented directly through walls, eliminating the need for a chimney. This frees homeowners to put a unit in an interior wall, build one into a peninsula, or even place one in the middle of a floor like a coffee table. All that shows outside is a duct that's slightly larger than an outlet for a clothes dryer.

DIFFERENT TYPES, DIFFERENT PURPOSES

Gas fireplace inserts. Install one of these units in an existing masonry or prefab (zero-clearance) fireplace to convert it to a more efficient and cleaner-burning heat source. These units will dramatically change open fireplaces' appearance because they block off the firebox opening and have smaller, permanent glass windows or bay windows with metal trim. Many have built-in fans to help distribute heat. You can use the existing chimney to vent the combusted gases, but it will have to he relined with smaller ducting to ensure good updraft.

The cost of inserts ranges from $1,000 to $2,100, depending on size, BTU (British thermal unit) output, and appearance. Installation, which includes the relining of existing chimneys, can add another $500 to $800.

Freestanding gas stoves. Though they look and heat like wood or pellet stoves, you never have to load a thing. They can be controlled by thermostats or turned on by switches. Choose from colorful enamel or stone-tile surfaces with different metal trims. These units can be vented with tall chimneys or through walls (rear venting), or you can place one in front of an existing fireplace and use its chimney (which will have to be relined). Prices range from $600 to $2,500, depending on style, trim, and venting.

Gas fireplaces. There are three basic models in this category: top vent, direct vent, and unvented. (The unvented models are controversial and not yet legal in some states, including California. See page 104.) With their metal housings, gas fireplaces are similar to the zero-clearance wood-burning fireplaces built into many homes. Some are sold with preinstalled-trim packages that include mantle, tile, and elevated hearth, so you can place the fireplace in front of a wall instead of building it into the framing. …

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