Gas 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
As 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
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.