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There’s only one thing better than a roaring fire on a wintry night: a roaring fire that needs no tending, requires minimal cleanup, and doesn’t leave the rest of the house freezing cold. That’s what you get with today’s gas fireplaces. Long gone are the anemic blue flames and unconvincing “logs.” Modern versions burn much more realistically, with glowing red embers and tall orange-yellow flames that dance and flicker around ceramic-fiber logs molded from the real thing.
Gas fireplaces come in three types: inserts, for folks who want to retrofit a wood-burning firebox with something more convenient and efficient; built-ins, for those who want a fireplace where there isn’t one now; and log sets, basic burners that sit in existing, open fireplaces. Both inserts and built-in fireplaces are reliable heat producers, filling your room with a mix of warm air and radiant heat.
Log sets are usually more for looks than warmth. With each type, you have a choice between models that vent the flames’ fumes outside or vent-free versions that discharge all their heat, and exhaust, into the house.
On the following pages, we’ll help you pick the fireplace that’s right for you. We’ll also walk you through the key features to look for and explain how to get a unit that generates enough heat for your particular space. So when the first icy night of winter arrives, all it will take is a click of a remote control for you to cozy up in front of your blazing hearth.
How much do they cost?
Expect to pay $2,000 to $5,000 (including installation) for a heat-producing insert or built-in fireplace. Decorative log sets run about $400 to $1,000.
Natural gas or propane?
Gas fireplaces can burn either type. Natural gas is less expensive and produces about 5 percent more heat. Choose propane where natural gas isn’t available.
DIY or hire a pro?
For the safest, most efficient, and best-looking installation, leave the work to a local National Fireplace Institute-certified technician.
How much care?
For about $150, have your certified technician come once a year to clean and adjust the burner, ensuring that you have realistic, soot-free flames.
How many Btus?
A gas fireplace’s heat output, in Btus, should match your room size, climate, and your house’s insulation level.
Wood-burning fireplaces provide great ambience, but they can’t beat the easy, no-fuss efficiency of gas.
• You don’t have to split, stack, season, or haul logs.
• There are no ashes to bag, no smoky smells, no chimney to clean.
• You can start, adjust, and snuff out fires with the touch of a remote control.
• The fire needs no tending and won’t die out from neglect.
• A wall thermostat can control the flame size—and therefore heat output—to maintain a specific temperature setting in the room.
• The fixed glass panels covering direct-vent fireboxes ensure that the furnace- or boiler-heated air in the rest of the house doesn’t escape up the flue, as it does with a wood fire.
• You can get as much as 75 to 99 percent of a fuel’s energy back as heat, instead of the 10 to 30 percent for wood fires.
• Gas fireplaces can go almost anywhere—in an upstairs bathroom, in a basement, or outdoors—without needing a chimney.
These upgrades enhance a fireplace’s convenience, comfort, and good looks.
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1. Variable-flame height adjustment. Allows you to dial in just the amount of heat you need, from a whisper of a flame to a roaring fire. (The best units adjust down to 30 percent of full output).
2. Wall-thermostat control. Automatically adjusts the fireplace’s heat output to the temperature that you set manually or with a handheld remote.
3. Electronic ignition. Eliminates the need for a pilot light, saving up to $10 a month in fuel.
4. LED accent lighting. Adds a realistic flickering effect inside the firebox.
5. Battery backup. Ensures the fireplace will light during a power outage.
6. Built-in fan. Pulls indoor air into the space behind the firebox and pumps hot air out, heating a room in a hurry.
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Gas fireplaces have a wide range of heat output, from about 7,000 to 60,000 Btus. Use this formula to determine which models generate enough heat to warm your room. The formula assumes that your house is well insulated and has tight windows, and that you like the temperature set at 72 degrees F.