FireplacesFireplace technology has kept pace with the times, and modern fireplace models often feature electronic and remote controls, variable settings, and a wide range of decorative options.

But all those features and attractions can prove daunting for first-time buyers. If you’re fixing up a fireplace you’ve had for years, or purchased as part of a residence, the road to perfection can also seem confusing. Keep reading to discover the basics of modern fireplace shopping and buying.

Wood Burning Fireplaces: Ancient and Atmospheric

The classic fireplace image includes wooden logs aflame inside a generously sized fireplace. Yet the modern wood-burning fireplace, while retaining its traditional operation, also includes a variety of decorative and safety features meant to maximize its users’ warmth and safety.

Fireplaces’ great advantage lies in their elegance and charm; however, modern gas and electric fireplaces have largely outpaced them in regards to fuel economy, heat production, and convenience. Still, there’s no mistaking their traditional appeal, and for those with old-time decorative sensibilities their allure is probably irresistible.

Gas Logs, Natural Gas, and Propane Fireplaces Are Convenient, Economical

Fireplaces

A linear fireplace

Gas logs are permanent fireplace installations that swap out an existing or new fireplace’s wood-burning capability for either natural gas or liquid propane. They are also available as part of specially-made fireplaces that are constructed to maximize their warming potential.

Natural gas fireplaces produce almost no exhaust, and can typically run from a house’s existing gas line. Liquid propane fireplaces burn hotter than natural gas, giving them greater heating capacity. However, operating a liquid propane fireplace often means switching out or refilling the propane supply tank. In addition, liquid propane supply service may not be readily available in all areas.

In either case, gas logs should be professionally installed by a licensed plumber or heating technician.

It’s also crucial to make sure your fireplace can accommodate the size gas log set you want. A helpful sizing and measurement guide is available here. Learn more about gas logs by reading our special guide.

The Special Class of Linear Gas Fireplaces

Linear fireplaces measure longer and narrower than conventional square-shaped fireplaces, allowing them to be installed inside walls and above existing structures. Also called panoramic or wide-view fireplaces, linear fireplaces’ viewing areas are usually four times wider than they are tall. Virtually all linear fireplaces will be gas-operated.

Direct Vent and Ventless Fireplaces: Which Is Right for Your Needs?

Choosing between direct vent (or vented) fireplace systems and ventless (or vent-free) fireplaces largely depends on your home or business’ exhaust capabilities. Vented gas logs use chimneys or stovepipe to expel smoke, ash, and other effluvia away from the fireplace’s surroundings. Vented gas log sets are typically less expensive, but also less productive – they emit less heat.

Ventless gas logs and fireplaces are more efficient than vented models, not least because they do not lose heat through their exhaust systems. They also create less pollution than vented models. Despite their advantages, ventless fireplace systems have their drawbacks: they tend to consume more of the oxygen in their surrounding area, and cost more than vented models.

Electric Fireplaces Offer Modern Sophistication, Decorative Elegance

Fireplaces

Many electric fireplaces retain classic Americana design details.

The great advantages of electric fireplaces? They’re incredibly clean and require much less effort to operate and maintain than wood-burning fireplaces and gas logs. Electric fireplaces also require no venting, as they produce no exhaust.

Modern electric fireplaces use LED technology in conjunction with electronic controls to create electric “flames” that are often comparable from the real thing. They’re also available in a wide range of decorative styles, from traditional to ultra-contemporary. Wall-mounted and smaller-sized models also allow installation in many additional parts of the home – bathrooms, guest bedrooms, and others.

You can learn more about electric fireplaces by reading this helpful article.

The Fireplace Inserts Breathes Warm New Life Into Chimneys, Homes, Businesses

In many ways, the fireplace insert combines the best advantages of all other fireplace styles and models while possessing very few of the drawbacks. As the name implies, the fireplace insert is a self-contained fireplace unit that fits inside existing chimneys and exhaust systems.

Many models of fireplace are self-contained, or ventless. This allows them to be used inside the fireboxes (the open areas at the bottom of the fireplace’s chimney) of chimneys or exhaust columns that have become blocked or sealed off by damage.

Fireplace inserts are available in wood-burning, gas, and electric varieties. For a complete guide to their use and maintenance, read our Guide To Fireplace Inserts elsewhere on this blog.

A Glossary of Basic Fireplace Terminology

Fireplaces

We’re sure they’ll have fireplaces in the future.

The firebox is the open area beneath the chimney shaft, or flue, and behind the hearth. The firebox houses the firewood, gas log and/or pipes, and other fireplace machinery or equipment.

The surround of a fireplace is the area immediately around the firebox edges, facing towards the surrounding room.

A fireplace’s flashing seals the open gap between the edge of the fireplace insert and the edge of a surround. Flashing units give a fireplace insert a seamless look that joins with their surround.

The mantel is typically made of wood, marble, or another highly durable material. It fits on the exterior of the fireplace, above and around the surround. By long-standing tradition, a mantel’s shelf is a display space for family awards, mementos, photographs, and keepsakes.

Still have questions? We can help!

Our customer service staff is happy to answer your questions about any kind of fireplace and fireplace installation. Just email them at info@efireplacestore.com for a prompt reply.

Chimney AccessoriesYour fireplace is a crucial part of your home heating capability. But is your fireplace working the best it possibly can?

Many homeowners and fireplace users seldom realize that the fireplace and chimney that have served them well for years may now need maintenance or restoration – or even replacement. Luckily, modern fireplace construction and venting technology, along with innovations in fireplace maintenance and repair, have made keeping fireplaces in their peak condition both simple and affordable.

With winter coming, consider taking the following steps to maximize your fireplace and chimney’s heating potential.

Keep the Chimney Sealed, Not Just the Damper

Chimneys can “bleed” heat if cracks and fissures in their masonry or foundation are left unchecked. Warm air seeps out and cold air seeps inside, finding its way into the firebox and making it more difficult for a fire to heat the surrounding interior room. Moreover, cracks and fissures actually “feed” on themselves. As water seeps in and then expands as it turns to ice, the brick or masonry crumbles and the dilapidation spreads.

Experts recommend getting your chimney checked for cracks and holes at least once a year, either by yourself or by a chimney or foundation expert. The means of sealing your chimney will depend, of course, largely on the type of chimney your fireplace has. A variety of maintenance and repair accessories are available both in stores and online. For more serious repairs, hiring a bricklayer, carpenter, or other contractor will likely prove necessary.

To keep your home warm even when the fireplace is not in use, make sure the damper is closed whenever the fire is completely extinguished. Investing in a damper hook will make this task less time-consuming and physically awkward.

Improve Ventilation With a Chimney Cap

Chimney Pots

A copper chimney pot by European Copper

The tops of chimneys are favorite nesting spots for birds, but those same nests can block the chimney’s flue (the airway above the firebox), hampering ventilation and increasing the risk of fire and smoke inhalation for the house and its residents. At the same time, airborne debris from surrounding trees can blow into the chimney as well, presenting fire and ventilation hazards.

By installing a chiney pot or chimney cap atop your chimney, you’ll block birds and airborne debris without sacrificing ventilation. Many chimney caps also make beautiful additions to a home’s silhouette and exterior decorative plan. Chimney pots and caps range from simple to ornate in both appearance and decorative elements, so you have a wide range of appearance choices.

Watch Out For Creosote

Creosote is the gummy, toxic residue left behind when oils escaping from burning wood coalesce and gel alongside the chimney flue walls. Over time, creosote can literally choke off a chimney’s ventilating capability.

Clean out any creosote by hiring a professional chimney sweep or by carefully and thoroughly using any of the creosote-cleaning tools available at stores and online. As a guideline, The National Chimney Safety Institute of America advices cleaning whenever creosote buildup reaches 1/8 of an inch thick.

Check out our guide to keeping your chimney creosote free to learn more.

Install A Direct-Vent or Vent-Free Fireplace Insert

Fireplace Inserts

A fireplace insert

As their name somewhat suggests, fireplace inserts are self-contained fireplaces that fit inside the firebox (or bottom) of a fireplace. They offer great energy efficiency potential because their sealed construction allows them to lose much less heat than traditional wood burning fireplaces.

Fireplace inserts are available in wood-burning, gas (both natural gas and propane), electric, and pellet-burning configurations. They are usually either direct vent, meaning they shed exhaust by means of a stovepipe; or vent-free, meaning they are 100% efficient in burning their fuel.

Vent free fireplace inserts also carry the additional advantage of working inside fireplaces whose chimney was removed or whose flue has become significantly obstructed. The insert simply slides into the obstructed firebox.

For more information, please read our complete guide to fireplace inserts.

Convert To A Gas Log Fireplace

Natural gas and propane gas log sets offer a cleaner, lower-maintenance alternative to traditional wood burning fireplaces. Most gas logs are constructed from high-endurance ceramic, and should be installed either by a plumber or licensed gas technician.

Natural gas and propane gas logs each have distinct advantages and drawbacks. Propane gas logs burn almost three times hotter than natural gas logs. However, natural gas fireplaces can run off a home’s existing gas line, while propane tanks require both purchase and periodic refilling. For a complete explanation, please read our complete guide to gas logs.

Install A Wood Stove In a Second Location In Your Home

Wood StovesIt’s easy to think of wood stoves as smaller, self-contained fireplaces. Like fireplace inserts, they are available in either direct-vent or vent-free configurations. Depending on that exhaust method, they’re suitable for use in any room in the home, especially attics, basements, and upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms that are hard to heat through conventional HVAC systems.

Wood stoves come in many of the same fuel configurations as fireplace inserts: wood-burning, gas, electric, and pellet-burning. Like fireplace inserts, stoves also feature electronic controls, including electric thermostats and electronic displays, so they’re much more accurate in their heating than conventional fireplaces.

A second (or third, fourth, et cetera) heat source in your home helps your main fireplace by alleviating its heating tasks. The lessened wear and tear helps delay the need for maintenance. Read our guide to wood stoves, electric and gas, and pellet stoves elsewhere on this blog to learn more.

Invest In New Tools, Equipment, and Parts

Investing in new fireplace tools, a new fire grate, or safety accessories such as hearth pads and gates won’t increase your fireplace’s energy efficiency. However, they will make your fireplace easier to operate and more comfortable to enjoy. They’ll also help improve the fireplace’s safety, both to operate and enjoy.

 

Winter Energy EfficiencyIt seems that winter home heating costs increase a little more with each passing year. Yet many families, especially those living in older houses, don’t realize they’re literally surrounded by opportunities to trim winter home heating and utility bills.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that American families spend nearly $1,100 on home heating and cooling costs each year – nearly half their total energy expenditures. However, experts agree that taking steps now to “winterize” the home can result in steep savings – sometimes as much as 20 percent.

The following energy efficiency tips don’t just work for homeowners. Apartment tenants and mobile home residents can also put these ideas and strategies into action. Just make sure to check with proprietors or property managers first.

Seal Up Your Home, and Seal In The Savings

You wouldn’t set sail in a leaking boat, so why brave winter temperatures in a leaky house? Winterize your home by weather-stripping doorways and windows, sealing cracks and fissures in the window and doorframes and keeping holes in the walls and ceilings shut tight. Small cracks equal big expenses: experts say a one-eighth inch gap between a door and its frame costs as much as a six-inch wide hole in your wall.

Windows, especially single-pane glass windows, are poor retainers of heat. Plastic film storm windows, available at most hardware stores and easy to install, will also trim electricity costs by better insulating your widows and window frames.

Close the fireplace damper when the fireplace is not in use. Unplug outdoor appliances and electronics to keep them from passively absorbing electricity. Consider upgrading your traditional wood-burning fireplace to a more energy efficient fireplace insert.

Don’t waste money by heating areas of the house that don’t get a lot of activity. Shut the doors and vents to unused or seldom-used rooms (guest bedrooms, basements, et cetera). This will better convey heat to high-traffic areas. Open all the curtains and blinds of south-facing windows, to better allow sunlight to heat your home naturally.

Adding insulation to your home, especially your attic, also helps you save big. You can also add insulation to other unfinished space in your home such as basement walls, crawlspaces, ceilings, and utility closets.

Dial Down the Thermostat and Dial Back The Utility Costs

Fireplace InsertsSetting your thermostat to 68 degrees or lower in cold weather months can quickly add up to energy savings. The California Energy Commission reports that you’ll save up to five percent on home heating costs for every degree you lower your thermostat within the 60- to 70-degree range. At night, dial back the thermostat to 55 degrees, or turn it off, to save up to 20 percent on heating costs. (To prevent overuse of backup strip heating, dial heat pumps back no more than two degrees.)

Installing programmable thermostats takes the constant supervision out of monitoring your home’s temperature level. Make sure the thermostat is properly installed in a part of your home that’s heated, so it can accurately monitor home heating levels.

Old Man Winter Is Hard On Old Furnaces and Heaters

If your home’s furnace or heating system is more than ten years old, the EPA recommends getting it a thorough inspection by a licensed heating expert or contractor. You should also check your heater’s air filter every month to make sure it stays clean, and replace it when needed.

Winterize Your Water Pipes and Hot Water Heaters

Save up to seven percent on your electricity bill by dialing your hot water heater’s thermostat down to 120 degrees. You can save even more by wrapping or insulating the pipes running from the hot water heating unit to the wall. Wrap the heating unit in an energy-saving heater blanket or jacket (available at most hardware stores). Consider buying a newer, more energy efficient heater: most water heaters have twelve-year life spans; older units will likely need servicing or replacement.

Drain a bucket of water from your hot water heater before the cold weather truly sets in. This will remove sediment and granular matter that accumulates inside the pipes and “prime” your heater for the months ahead, making ti run more effectively.

Save on laundry costs by washing your clothes in cold water, and running only full loads. Running cold-water laundry loads decreases the washer’s energy usage by 75 percent.

Take shorter and cooler showers; install low-flow showerheads to slash hot water expenses as much as 16 percent.

As with the window and door gaps, save money by caulking or sealing all cracks, fissures and openings.

Invest In A Wood-Burning Stove

Winter Energy EfficiencyDownsize your home heating utility bills altogether by investing in a vent-free or direct-vent stove. Usually powered by wood, propane, or natural gas, direct vent stoves use double-walled stovepipe to funnel exhaust away from the home’s interior, while remaining much more energy efficient than conventional (or B-vent) wood-burning fireplaces.

Vent-free fireplaces are self-contained (as the name implies, no venting is needed) and almost 100% efficient. Both direct-vent and vent-free stoves make excellent heating choices for bedrooms, family rooms, and basements. Electric space heaters may also offer opportunities for greater energy efficiency in parts of the home that are difficult to heat through conventional means.

Look for ENERGY STAR Products

Energy experts recommend investing in appliances, electronics, and heaters with the ENERGY STAR certification, which are certified by the EPA as using 20 – 30 percent less energy than comparable, non-certified products. Visit the official ENERGY STAR website for more information.

Gas LogsGas logs are gaining popularity among homeowners looking for a lower-maintenance alternative to wood-burning fireplaces but who still want the warmth and elegance of real flames. They make a clean-burning, energy efficient home heating solution, and modern gas log design and construction allows for dozens of design choices.

Gas Log Basics

In their simplest definition, gas logs are permanent fireplace installations that go inside a custom-made or converted fireplace and operate using either natural gas or liquid propane as fuel. Most gas logs are constructed from ceramic materials that are molded and tested to resist very high levels of heat.

The name “gas log” is somewhat misleading. Most models are in fact very carefully sculpted and detailed to resemble the wooden logs of a traditional wood-burning fireplace. However, other models are made to resemble decorative stones, crystals, and ultra-modern geometric ornaments. These “contemporary” gas logs function just as effectively as traditional gas log models but offer different design options.

The Pros and Cons of Natural Gas and Liquid Propane

Gas log sets run on either liquid propane or natural gas, and each has its own sets of advantages and drawbacks.

Liquid propane burns nearly three times hotter than natural gas, making it a powerful home heating solution. Because most models run on fuel supplied by tanks situated outside the home, it makes a great heating solution in areas where piped-in natural gas service is not available. However, propane gas log sets are more expensive than natural gas sets, and usually require contracting with a propane retailer to refill or replace tanks.

Natural gas log sets are very clean-burning. Because the natural gas used is lighter than air, the exhaust dissipates during combustion. And because many homes are pre-equipped with natural gas service, installing or maintaining external fuel tanks may not be necessary. However, natural gas lacks the same heating capacity as propane. Finally, service may also not be available in all areas.
Installation of either set should be attempted only by a plumber or licensed gas technician. Local ordinances and regulations may also determine whether you can have propane or natural gas log sets in your home.

Vented and Ventless: Two Kinds of Exhaust

Gas LogsAs their names imply, vented and ventless exhaust systems take opposite approaches to dealing with combustion by-products. Vented gas log sets use chimneys or stove pipes to funnel smoke and ash, carbon monoxide, and other debris out and away from the firebox. Ventless (or vent-free) gas log models are almost entirely self-contained.

Though less expensive than ventless models, vented gas log sets produce much less heat than vent-free models. They do, however, produce a more traditional-looking yellow flame. Ventless gas logs are more fuel-efficient and powerful than vented models, partially because they do not lose some of their generated heat through the exhaust vent. They produce less pollution than vented models, and can be used inside a fireplace or even inside a self-contained cabinet. However, they will deplete oxygen in the rooms where they’re used, so carbon monoxide and oxygen level monitors are required for their operation. Ventless models are also illegal in California and some other areas.

How to Choose The Right Size Gas Log

When deciding on a gas log set to function inside an existing fireplace, it’s vital to make sure the gas log is not too large for the firebox. The logs themselves should have two inches of clearance on either side between their ends and the firebox walls. In addition, fireplaces should be a minimum of twelve inches deep to safely accommodate most gas log sets. The logs should not be longer than the rear firebox wall.

The fireplace should also be large enough to allow room for the control systems, as well. A helpful sizing and measurement guide can be found at our website.

Understanding Gas Log Control Systems

Gas LogsGas log systems usually use one of three control types:

The simplest type is the manual on/off switch. An operator opens a gas control valve and strikes a match to ignite the flames, which are regulated by opening or closing the valve. Though simple to operate, they cannot work with propane gas logs or ventless models – only vented natural gas sets.

The second type, the manual safety pilot valve, resembles the operation system of a hot water heater or furnace. A pilot flame is lit by hand and used to regulate the fuel reaching the logs. The pilot light can be turned off in warmer months to save on fuel costs. Though safer, pilot lights offer limited flame control and cost more than manual switches. Propane gas logs must include a safety pilot light.

Millivolt pilot valves, also called remote-ready pilot valves, function much like traditional manual safety pilot valves with one important difference. They can be connected to an external control source such as a wall switch or remote control device. In fact, some of these remote control devices are sophisticated enough to allow control of flame height, intensity, and other gas log features. Millivolt pilot valves are more expensive than other control systems, however, and take up the most space within the firebox.

The Broad Range of Gas Log Accessories

Gas log accessories include everything from extra logs, stones, and other decorative elements meant to enrich the set’s overall aesthetic effect. In addition, many varieties and kinds of tools and cleaning products (soot remover, carbon remover, et cetera) are available, as well as remote control system upgrades and extras.