Convert a Wood Burning Fireplace to Gas – Install & Maintenance Guide

Whether you’re thinking about installing a new fireplace in an existing home or you’re ready to upgrade from your old wood burning fireplace, a gas fireplace is an excellent option to choose from. Gas fireplaces can provide your home with heat during the winter at a fuel-efficient cost and with a stylish ambiance.

In this guide, we’ll provide you with everything you need to know to choose the right gas fireplace for you as well as some maintenance and troubleshooting tips to get the most from your hearth.

Why A Gas Fireplace?

Efficiency

First and foremost, a gas fireplace has a huge advantage over a wood burning one because of their energy-efficient nature. Wood fires generally convert about 10 to 30 percent of the fuel’s energy into heat whereas a gas fireplace converts 75 to 99 percent of a fuel’s energy into heat for your home.

Ease of Use

A gas fireplace is far easier than a wood burning one to start, maintain, and use. There are no logs to split, carry, take up space, and season. Fires in a gas fireplace don’t need to be tended to and fed with more logs and won’t die out if you leave it alone like a wood fire.

Unlike with a wood fire, there’s no cleaning ashes or smells of smoke wafting into your home.

Gas fireplaces can be lit with the push of a button on your thermostat or with a remote control. You can also adjust them and put them out with the use of your thermostat.

Heat Output

Because your wall thermostat can control the gas fire, you can also adjust the heat output. If it’s too hot, you can easily adjust the flame to your liking. The same goes if it’s too cold. The thermostat will even maintain the temperature setting for you and adjust the fire accordingly.

Additionally, if you choose a gas fireplace with fixed glass panels and a direct-vent firebox, you can ensure heat doesn’t escape up the flue as it does with a wood fire. This translates to even more heat output when you need it and a greater degree of fuel efficiency.

Style

This point comes down to personal choice. You make like the classic look of a traditional fireplace with wood logs. But if you’re after a sleek, modern look then a glass-enclosed gas fireplace may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Fireplace Options

If you’ve settled on installing a gas fireplace, there’s still another step to consider: what kind do you want? There are many different types and styles, each of which has something to offer your home.

Vented (or Direct Vent)

Gas fireplaces don’t produce any smoke or odors, but – as with any fire – they still produce dangerous and toxic byproducts. A vented, also known as a direct vent, fireplace is the safest method of getting pollutants such as carbon monoxide out of your home.

Direct vent fireplaces pull in air from outside your house and into a sealed firebox. Then the fumes from the flame are vented outside of your home through either an existing flue or a pipe which can be installed at the same time as the fireplace.

While cold air is being drawn into the fire box and fumes are vented outside your home, cool air from inside your house is drawn into a separate chamber with a built-in fan, warmed by the heat of the fire, and then the heated air is blown back into the room along with the radiant heat direct in front of the fire.

Vent-Free (or Ventless)

Ventless fireplaces draw combustion air directly from your room, heat that air and then send it back out along with the fumes. The exhaust fumes are a serious disadvantage to ventless gas fireplaces and there is no flue or other pipe directing the fumes out of your home.

These types of fireplaces can be up to 99% fuel efficient because most of the heat stays inside the home, but because possible pollutant in the air are a concern, they are tuned to run very cleanly and are limited to 40,000 British Thermal Units (BTU). Meaning they cannot produce as much heat as other fireplaces.

These fireplaces come equipped with an oxygen sensor to automatically shut off if the oxygen in a room drops below a safe threshold. California and some U.S. cities have banned vent-free fireplaces.

Log Sets

Gas log sets are the least expensive and least efficient type of gas fireplace. All that is required to install one of these is to drill access for gas pipes and electricity in an existing fireplace and then the ceramic logs and burner are hooked up and ready to go.

Most of the heat created by one of these units is lost because your chimney damper must be open the whole time the fire is active so that the fumes can escape your home. Because of this, log sets should really be treated as decorative home design choices and not as an option for serious wintertime heating.

Inserts

Gas fireplaces generally come in two different styles: inserts and built-ins. You can find vented and ventless types of each of these two styles. The real difference between the two has to do with whether or not you have an existing fireplace.

Inserts are fireplace sets within a metal box which can be installed in an existing fireplace. Access to gas and electric lines must be drilled and then hooked up to the box. The box is then inserted into the fireplace.

Direct vent inserts must also be hooked up to the chimney flue of to a new exhaust vent leading outside of the home.

Built-ins

For homes without an existing fireplace, a built-in gas fireplace is the best choice. For vented models, intake and exhaust pipes are created and a mantelpiece can be built for the firebox. The firebox is connected to gas and electric lines and the fireplace is essentially ready to go.

Final Considerations

A gas fireplace can be fueled by natural gas or propane. Natural gas is more efficient but propane can be used if you can’t get natural gas.

Some fireplaces use pilot lights to get your fire started while others us electronic ignition systems. Electronic ignition systems require a battery backup unit to start a fire in the even of a power outage, while pilot lights run constantly and can cost you a small amount each month on your energy bill.

You may also want to think about what aesthetic you want from your fireplace. Most gas fireplaces use ceramic logs to mimic the look of a traditional fireplace. If that’s not for you, accoutrements such as glass pieces or ceramic faux coal, stones, or pinecones can be used in place of the faux logs.

Installing a Gas Fireplace

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The installation of a gas fireplace is best left to professional installers. However, the installation process is as follows.

For ventless fireplace built-ins, you will first need to build a housing (typically a wraparound mantelpiece) for your metal firebox. After the surround has been built, you will need to drill holes in your floor and lay pipe for gas and wires of electricity.

Connect the metal firebox to the gas lines and electrical wires and install in the built-in surround.

For direct vent systems, you will need to cut a hole in your wall leading outside of your home to connect your ventilation intake and exhaust pipes if you do not have an existing fireplace. Then you will build your built-in furnishing.

Create access lines and wire to gas and electricity and then connect these lines and the venting pipes to your firebox. Install this firebox in the built-in furnishing.

If you do have an existing fireplace, you will need to buy a firebox of the appropriate size to fill the empty space in the fireplace. Drill access to gas and lay electrical wires. You will need to create a hole in your chimney for an air intake pipe. You may widen the hole to include the exhaust line or you may vent the exhaust through your existing chimney.

Once, this is complete, connect the gas line, electrical cables, and ventilation pipes to your firebox and install in your existing fireplace.

Mounting a TV Over Your Fireplace

With the ubiquity of flat screen televisions, mounting a TV over a fireplace has become a very popular interior design choice. If you like the look of an over-the-hearth television, there are a few things you need to consider first so that you can get the most out of your screen.

Heat Damage

Electronics and heat don’t mix well and the heat rising from your fireplace could cause damage to the electronic components in your TV. Electronics operate best at lower temperatures and as the heat rises around your TV, delicate components could begin to fall apart causing shorts and decreasing the lifespan of the device.

This heat damage may even void the warranty on the TV. If it’s damaged by heat from the fireplace, the manufacturer may refuse to repair or replace it. Before mounting your TV, you should check if the warranty is voided by heat damage or even by mounting it above a fireplace in the first place

If you still like the look of a TV a fireplace, there are a few things to consider. Fireplaces with a mantel acting as a heat shield, with a strong blower, with a low heat output, or any combinations of these features may be safe for mounted electronics.

You can check if your fireplace is too hot for a TV by taping a thermometer in the location where you would like to mount the screen. Make sure that the temperature in that spot doesn’t reach or exceed about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It may be possible to mount it if the temperature is below that threshold.

Neck Strain

A TV mounted above a gas fireplace is well above eye-level and may cause the viewer neck strain as they crane their necks to get a good look at the screen. This poor posture can lead to stiffness in the neck and prolonged viewing in this posture may also cause headaches and other muscle pain in the body.

People who don’t arch their necks to view TVs placed at this angle may instead look up at the screen with their eyes only. This may prevent the pain from poor posture but can dry out the eyes and strain eye muscles.

One solution to this problem is to use a full motion mount for the TV. With one of these mounts, you can easily pull the TV down to viewing level when you’re using it a move it right back to its place above the mantel when you’re done.

This solution does have a drawback though. When you move the TV down to eye level, that places it directly in front of the heat from the fireplace which exposes it to heat damage. You could get a tilting wall mount so that the TV isn’t directly in front of the fire, but that doesn’t do as much to mitigate the neck strain.

Poor Viewing Angle

The color, picture quality, and resolution of a TV all depend on the viewing angle. Today’s digital televisions are designed with a limited viewing angle which look great when you’re in the sweet spot, but don’t do as well when you’re looking at it from the wrong angle. When you look at your screen from the wrong angle, the image will appear washed out and dull.

Once again, the solution to this problem is to mount your TV to the wall with a full motion mount so that you can get the most out of your display. However, this solution will put your screen at risk of heat damage because it is directly in front of the heat from your fireplace.

Troubleshooting and Maintenance

General maintenance for a gas fireplace is fairly easy since the burn a fuel which doesn’t leave much residue or any ash. To ensure proper operation, you should have your fireplace inspected once a year by a certified technician to make sure the burners are clean and operational.

Some additional issues may crop up between those inspections so we’ve made a few notes on how to troubleshoot your fireplace.

How Big Should the Pilot Light Be?

If you have a gas fireplace with a pilot light, you may need to inspect it from time to time to make sure it is operating correctly and to adjust accordingly. The pilot light should be blue without much, if any of a yellow tail above the burner and touching the sensors if your pilot light has one.

Adjusting your pilot light so that it burns blue is a fairly simple task. Some fireplaces have a high/low button you can press to get the flame just right. Others have a screw you can adjust clockwise or counterclockwise to make the flame smaller or larger respectively.

Fireplace Shuts Off Intermittently

Your pilot light may be dirty. Turn off the gas flowing to your fireplace so that the flame goes out. You can attempt to clean any dust or other obstruction from the pilot light. If any issues persist you may need to call a professional to see if there is a larger issues to be fixed.

Electronic Ignition Issues

To troubleshoot any electronic ignition issues, first press the ‘on’ button on your fireplace’s controls or remote. If you hear a clicking noise, that means the electronic ignition system is attempting to signal the burners to ignite.

If you do not hear clicking, check your circuit breaker to see if the fireplace is receiving any electricity. Or if your system runs off a battery then that battery may need to be replaced.

Check the gas flow. Your ignitor may be working but the fireplace may not be receiving any fuel for a flame.

Check the ignitor’s thermocouple. Wait until your fireplace is cool and then test to see if the thermocouple is tight. If it is loose, you may need to tighten it up.

Can I Remove The Glass From My Gas Fireplace?

If your gas fireplace has a glass door in front of it, you should not remove this glass while the fire is active. In a direct vent gas fireplace, the firebox is a sealed chamber full of pollutants and chemicals such as carbon monoxide which must be vented outside of your home. Removing the gas allows these chemicals to escape into your home and put you at the risk of poisoning.

If you have a ventless gas fireplace, you still should not remove the glass. Although ventless fireplaces do allow some of the chemicals to waft into your home and have an oxygen sensor to shut the system off if the oxygen in the room starts to deplete, you will still be opening yourself directly to the fumes and chemicals from the fire.

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