A Handy Guide to the 8 Types of Gas Fireplaces
Thinking about buying a gas fireplace? We break down the different types and give you the tools to choose the perfect gas fireplace for your home.
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Gas fireplaces offer the warmth and glow of natural flames without the mess of storing wood and cleaning out ashes. The popularity of gas fireplaces has grown in recent years, spurred by a desire for convenience and programs encouraging the exchange of old wood-burning stoves for more energy efficient gas models. (Check out the Woodstove Changeout program from HPBA.org for more information.)
The key traits of gas fireplaces are the way they vent combustion gases and their physical structure. The first element to consider is the venting, as that choice is often determined by your home’s layout or local building regulations.
Natural Vent (B-Vent) Gas Fireplaces
Natural-vent gas fireplaces, a.k.a. B-vent fireplaces, draw air from inside the home to feed the flames, then vent combustion gases up through a chimney. In this way, they function like a traditional wood-burning fireplace. This makes them a good choice for converting existing wood-burning fireplaces, and for wood-stove-style standalones that use a metal chimney to maintain a rustic aesthetic.
Natural-vent fireplaces can also pull off classical elegance, such as this Keystone Deluxe model from Empire, or a more modern look, like the customizable B46 Ascent model from Napoleon.
Direct Vent Gas Fireplaces
A direct-vent gas fireplace uses a single exterior opening to expel combustion gas and draw clean air in. Unlike natural-vent fireplaces, direct-vent fireplaces can be vented horizontally as well as vertically. That flexibility makes them a great choice for spaces that lack an existing fireplace opening and chimney.
Because you don’t need the home’s interior air to feed the flame in a direct-vent fireplace, they typically have a sealed glass front. This can slow heat transfer, so many models come with a blower that pushes hot air from the fireplace into the home. But that doesn’t have to be a drawback. The clean lines of the Tahoe model from Empire Direct make the glass front feel like a feature, not a limitation.
Ventless Gas Fireplaces
All flames produce dangerous gases, and every fireplace needs to deal with these in some way. Ventless fireplaces burn extremely cleanly, reducing any dangerous remnants to a low enough level that a vent isn’t necessary. This makes them far easier to install than most other fireplaces. They’re especially energy efficient because you’re not paying to heat air that’s released outside the home.
However, before purchasing a ventless fireplace, be sure to check your local building regulations. Do not skip this step. Ventless fireplaces are not permitted in all areas, and there may be regulations on the size of the room in which they can be installed. (Larger, open spaces allow any combustion gases that escape to dissipate harmlessly.)
Ventless standalone units are especially popular with renters, who favor easily-moved propane burners like this stand-alone model from Pleasant Hearth.
Once you understand the kind of venting system you need, it’s time to decide on the look you want for your new gas fireplace.
Gas Fireplace Inserts
Gas fireplace inserts slide into wood-framed or existing fireplace openings. Available in a range of styles and prices, inserts are a good choice for homeowners with a wood-burning fireplace they aren’t using, or for those unwilling to sacrificing floor space.
Insert prices range from high-end models that cost thousands of dollars all the way to budget units, like this 36-in. model from Pleasant Hearth.
Standalone Gas Fireplaces
Unlike inserts, standalone fireplaces are not intended to be inserted into a wall. Instead they stand on feet or a platform, and their decorative surround is meant to be enjoyed from multiple angles.
Standalone units can be vented or ventless. Keep in mind that a vented standalone will need to be placed against a wall or soffit to allow vent access. Standalone fireplaces come in multiple styles, from those mimicking wood-burning stoves to mantel-wrapped units like this ventless model from Duluth Forge.
See-Through Gas Fireplaces
A see-through gas fireplace features a flame visible from more than one side. When placed inside a partition or a wall, it allows you to see through the fire into the next room. It’s like an insert with a glass front and rear.
Most see-through fireplaces are ventless, considering the difficulties of running a vent line from an interior wall. Of course, anything can be found for a price! This Montigo 38-inch see-through unit is direct-vent, so you’ll need to factor in the vent installation cost on top of the purchase price.
One variation on a see-through gas fireplace is a “peninsula” unit. Installed at the end of a wall, these models have glass facing on three sides. They make a dramatic statement, but their unusual design makes them a better choice for new builds, as they can be difficult to retrofit without extensive work. Here are a few tips to light a gas fireplace.
Fireplace Log Sets
An artificial log set nestled in a masonry firebox offers the most traditional appearance of any indoor gas fireplace. With a steady gas supply, flames will dance along the logs, mimicking the look of real wood. Most log sets are adjustable, allowing you to change the layout of the logs and clean off any soot buildup relatively easily.
Intended to be set inside existing fireplaces, log sets are almost always natural vent using the existing chimney. Make sure your fireplace and chimney is clean and functional, hook up the gas line and you’ll be enjoying your fire in no time.
Another plus: Prices are affordable because you’re not paying for the ornate body of a standalone unit, or even the surround of an insert. An excellent entry point is this log set from Pleasant Hearth.
Of course, no list would be complete without the outdoor gas fireplace. A popular choice for gathering with friends on chilly nights, an outdoor gas fireplace or backyard fire pit brings light and heat to the evening celebration.
Models are available that use cleverly designed wood to mimic the look of wood burning fire pits. Others don’t try to hide their nature, and feature flames that dance over glass, marble or rock.
While some outdoor fireplaces are powered by natural gas, the most popular units tend to use propane. You’ll notice that many of them are perfectly-sized to hide a standard propane container. A great example is this 60,000 BTU 42-in. fire pit table from Bali.