Hardly a necessity in modern times, the fireplace still continues to be one of those amenities that homeowners love to have. Be they traditional wood-burning, gas, or electric, the folks who have these features in their homes find that fewer things go better with cool winter nights and holiday gatherings than a fire in the hearth.
Of the different varieties on the market today, it is the gas fireplace that truly provides the best of both worlds. Easy to start, easy to stop, relatively maintenance-free, and offering the presence of actual flames, gas fireplaces give you a very convincing wood-burning aesthetic without all the fuss. Not all of these units are created equal, however. As Jeanne Huber of the Washington Post puts it, "None involve structural changes, but there are significant differences in aesthetics, energy efficiency, and effects on the air…"
1.Which Gas Fireplace Is Right for You?
Converting an existing wood-burning fireplace into a gas-burning one is relatively inexpensive when compared to a lot of the other projects in the home improvement world, but there's no reason to skimp on comparison shopping and contractor interviews.
While there are significant variations among each of these types (depending on the brand and model you choose), there are three basic varieties of gas fireplaces: gas fireplace inserts, ventless units, and gas logs.
A conventional gas fireplace insert is a self-contained unit that basically pops into your existing fireplace and vents out through the existing chimney. The fire is kept at all times behind a glass guard to keep fumes from entering the home and keep little fingers safe. Easy to install and simple to operate, inserts are a great way to get the fire you want burning without a lot of fuss. Some dislike inserts because the flame is never exposed; others like the appearance of them and actually prefer the idea of flames that are always kept behind glass.
Gas logs--available as kits--are probably the closest option in appearance and operation to a wood fire. Their open design allows flames to be exposed, just like they would be in a traditional fireplace. Though they produce less heat than burning wood, authentic appearance makes gas logs a very popular choice. Note: Many gas log kits require match lighting and do not turn on at the flick of a switch.
Ventless gas fireplaces, unlike the previous two, do not send exhaust to the outdoors and instead rely on their extremely low emissions to keep the indoor air fume-free. They can be installed virtually anywhere with little difficulty, but because even low emissions can build up over a period of time, there are specific instructions for how long a ventless unit can be continuously operated (there may also be specific local ordinances regulating the installation of these units).
2.Can You Install Your Gas Fireplace Yourself?
The answer to this question depends a lot on what the existing gas set-up in your home is like. If the connecting fixtures are already present in your fireplace, installing any of these units should not be beyond the means of the average homeowner. If your existing fireplace is not gas-ready, installing a new line and the proper fixtures may be a job to call in a pro for.
3.How Real Will My New Gas Fireplace Look?
That all depends on the particular unit you purchase. High-quality units can look extremely authentic even up close; older models and those of lesser-quality may not be as convincing. No matter what kind of unit you are dealing with, however, a few little touches here and there can make a big difference. Keeping a stack of real wood logs nearby and a set of fireplace tools will certainly add to the effect. And keep in mind: Fireplaces of any kind look their best in low lighting.
Converting an existing wood-burning fireplace into a gas-burning one is relatively inexpensive when compared to a lot of the other projects in the home improvement world, but there's no reason to skimp on comparison shopping and contractor interviews. Take your time and see what's out there, then talk to a few contractors in your area to see which units their previous clients have been most satisfied with. No matter how nice one of these fireplaces looks in a showroom or on a webpage, if it doesn't do the job you hoped, it wasn't worth the money.