The Ventless Fireplace: Weighing the Pros and Cons

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Nothing feels as good as the cozy glow of a warm fire on a stormy winter day. While wooden models are the age-old standard, most new fireplaces today run on gas, which removes the messy ash and soot that wood fires leave behind. Traditional gas fires, like their cousins, need a hood to remove harmful fumes from the house. If possible, an existing chimney is used to power a new one. In a house without a chimney, the high cost of installing the vent can permanently override the project.

However, there is an alternative: the ventless fireplace.

Ventless fireplaces are designed to burn gas more efficiently than ventilated versions, resulting in far less fumes and no smoke vent. But not everyone is a fan of these new fireplaces – in fact, some states have banned them – so read on to understand important information to help you decide whether a ventless fireplace is right for your home.

Know the difference: ventilated and ventless chimneys

The two types of gas fireplaces work differently. ON traditional ventilated gas fireplace (see example on Amazon), powered by either natural gas or propane, has two vents that lead to the outside of the house. The intake opening draws fresh air into the chimney, while the exhaust opening safely removes the fumes from the combustion process. Depending on the quality of the fireplace and the scope of the renovation, you will pay $ 3,500-8,000 or more to buy a ventilated gas fireplace and have it professionally installed. Keep in mind that most communities require a certified gas contractor or licensed plumber to install and connect gas lines. So this is by no means a DIY project.

ON ventless fireplace (see example on Amazon) contains a regulator that creates a fine mixture of gas and air so that the gas can burn cleanly. This significantly reduces the fumes associated with traditional gas fires. According to federal regulations, ventless fireplaces must be tested to make sure they are working as intended. Ventless fireplace burners are tested in national laboratories and must meet federal safety and health standards before they can be sold to the public. Expect $ 1,000-5,000 to buy a ventless fireplace and have it professionally installed.

Many of today’s models have built-in carbon monoxide (CO) detectors and oxygen detection sensors (ODS) that can be used to monitor the air quality in the room. Since a ventless fireplace does not have a fresh air intake, the fire burns the oxygen in the room. If the oxygen drops to an unhealthy level, the oxygen detector automatically turns the fireplace off. If the CO detector detects carbon monoxide, it also automatically switches the fireplace off. Manufacturers often advise homeowners to keep a window open while the fireplace is in operation, but this is not always possible in cold weather.

A note on fuel: Ventless chimneys run on either natural gas (NG) or propane (LG). While you can look for models labeled NG or LG, virtually any gas fireplace can be converted from one type of fuel to another by installing a converter. Your plumber can convert any fireplace you choose to the type of gas you are using in your home.

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Look at the controversy

Despite the testing and safety precautions, ventless fireplaces have a long list of critics. States like California and Massachusetts have banned the installation of ventless chimneys, and the devices are not allowed in HUD enclosures. Individual municipalities can also ban them. So check with your local building authority before buying a fireplace without a vent.

While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not specifically record deaths or injuries from exposure to the carbon monoxide gas generated by ventless chimneys, approximately 15,000 Americans (all means) suffer from CO exposure and nearly 500 die annually.

According to the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI), while ventless chimneys greatly reduce toxic fumes, they do release a small amount into the home, increasing the risk of exposure to carbon monoxide. In addition, ventless fireplaces produce water vapor as a by-product of the combustion process, which can lead to high humidity in the home and an increased risk of mold growth.

The pros and cons of ventless chimneys

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Advantages and disadvantages

advantages

  • Installing ventless chimneys is more cost effective than installing ventilated chimneys because no modifications are required to operate a chimney.
  • Ventless fireplaces do not produce soot or ash like wood-burning fireplaces.
  • Ventless fireplaces can be placed in any room in the house so that extra heat can be added exactly where you want it.
  • The flames produced by ventless fireplaces create just as much ambience as those produced by ventilated fireplaces.
  • Ventless fireplaces are more energy efficient than ventilated fireplaces because no heat escapes from the fireplace and you save money on gas utility bills. A ventilated gas fireplace uses more gas to produce the same heat because some of its heat escapes through the fireplace.

disadvantage

  • Although there is far less fumes than ventilated gas fires, there is still a small amount of fumes emitted into your home.
  • In some areas, ventless fireplaces are not permitted. If you install one that violates local codes, you may be asked to remove it and you may be fined for non-compliance with building codes.
  • When the gas burns, it creates a small amount of water vapor, which makes your home feel damp or muggy.

Follow guidelines for safe operation

If ventless gas fires are legal where you live and you choose to install them, you will reduce potential hazards by carefully reading and following the manufacturer’s instructions. The following tips will also help keep you safe.

The pros and cons of ventless chimneys

Photo: istockphoto.com

  • Arrange the gas logs only as recommended by the manufacturer. Your user guide will tell you the correct configuration.
  • Once a year, check the condition of the logs, replace any cracks, and clean the logs as recommended in your manual.
  • According to the manufacturer’s instructions, test both the CO and ODS detectors (if equipped) at least once a year to make sure they are working.
  • Install additional CO detectors in your home. Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless. If the detector on your fireplace is broken, the other detectors will let you know if there is carbon monoxide in your house.
  • Have your ventless unit professionally serviced by a fireplace annually in the fall to make sure your fireplace is in good condition before the winter weather arrives.
  • Keep flammable fabrics such as curtains, upholstered furniture, blankets, and papers at least three feet from the fireplace, and warn young children not to touch the surface, which can get very hot.

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Get free, no-obligation repair estimates from licensed HVAC technicians in your area.

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