Year after year, fireplaces are rated as one of the top amenities desired by home owners. The romantic flames, soothing heat, and dramatic ambience generated by a fireplace are not only personally appealing, but add to the value of your home. In fact, a high quality, energy-efficient fireplace has one of the highest investment returns of any addition. So what can you do to make the most of your hearth investment? How can you keep the embers of your fireplace glowing beautifully each time you turn it on?
For starters, your gas fireplace—like your furnace and water heater—should have an annual service and maintenance check by a certified technician. This is recommended by manufacturers to ensure optimal performance. A good time to schedule the service is in the summer or early fall, before the traditional burning season begins, lest you run into the rush of people doing so at the last minute.
The technician inspects several items, including the operation of the pilot flame or electronic igniter, the valve pressure, the heat-exchange area, the log positioning, and the overall tightness of the electrical connections. They sweep or vacuum the firebox and general burn area to remove any soot (or other by-products) and replace any ember material. Due to discoloration caused by the flames, the interior of the fireplace will be repainted, and the glass front or doors removed and cleaned. When this is completed, a 20 to 30-minute test run burns off excess paint and offers a final look at the overall operation of the unit. A gas sniffer will also detects any gas leakage.
Your operation manual should include instructions on how to do some of the maintenance yourself. To clean the glass, for example, use vinegar and water—or a non-abrasive household glass cleaner. If the glass accumulates a white fog (caused by dirty fuel or foreign chemicals in the unit), it may be necessary to use a specially formulated product recommended by your dealer or manufacturer. Thoroughly rinse any cleaner from the glass before relighting the unit. Periodically vacuuming the valve cavity area (where the gas controls are) will keep the controls dust-free, which helps ensure good electrical connections.
Logs and Embers
Although the logs and embers in your gas fireplace should last indefinitely, the embers may lose some of their brilliance after a year or two of use. These can be replaced or freshened with new embers in the service maintenance check, or you can do it yourself. Made of an inert mineral fiber, the embers are non-combustible and non-toxic, so they are safe for handling. The finer and thinner the ember, the more authentic the glow. Embers are even available that give different colors, if you like.
Just as embers can have different looks, so can your fireplace logs. Enhance the look of your gas fireplace as a whole by getting a log set with an authentic look. Some sets are made of full logs, some are designed to look like split wood, but no matter which type you choose, remember that you usually get what you pay for when it comes to appearance.
Unless they are dropped and broken, the logs should last a lifetime, although they may require a brushing to remove any built-up dust. Once made of concrete, logs are now made of a ceramic fiber, which means the flames can touch them without any carbon buildup or soot on the glass. What results is a fire with a brighter glow and a more realistic look.
Surrounds, Scents, and Cracklers
Decorative interchangeable surrounds are also on the market, allowing you to modify the look of your fireplace in minutes. Alter the traditional scheme of your room to a country, Southwestern, Colonial, or contemporary look by replacing the tiles or other material in the surround. Or complement your redecorating efforts with a new color.
What else can you do to enhance the appeal of your gas fireplace? How about adding an electric crackler to echo the sounds of a wood-burning fireplace? Or a scent burner or disc to simulate the aroma of a real fire? These accessories are now available at a low cost from some manufacturers and are still being perfected for a more realistic effect.
Home Heating Options
Because of their tremendous heating ability and efficiency, gas-burning units continue to increase their share of total sales in the industry. With an efficiency rate of 70 to 80 percent and an operating cost of about 16 cents per hour, you can’t beat their comforting advantages. In some homes, the gas fireplace heats so well that it serves as the primary source of heat. For under $200, you can boost the circulation of this heat with an optional blower or fan kit. If you choose this enhancement, turn the fan on only after the unit has warmed up (approximately 15 minutes).
Remote controls with timers/thermostats are a bonus feature that can be purchased for your fireplace to give it some added efficiency and appeal. The fireplace can not only be turned on from any place in the room where you can see the transceiver, but if you're using it as your primary heat source, you can set the remote to switch it off when the appropriate time has passed or when your ideal temperature has been reached. Waste less fuel and don't worry about having to monitor the fireplace yourself.
Venting and Safety
As far as the daily operation of your gas fireplace, new industry standards for direct-vent units are making them even safer and better equipped to handle high wind conditions and the high temperatures within the unit. One such standard requires a special 30-second lockout safety pilot to guard against the accumulation of a large amount of gas in the combustion chamber, in the event that the pilot light goes out. If the pilot light should go out in a unit with a standing pilot, a cooling of the thermocouple causes the gas valve to close, minimizing the amount of gas that gathers in the firebox before fuel is shut off to the main burner. Previously taking over two minutes, the gas is now shut off in less than 30 seconds and will not flow again until the pilot light is relighted.
Under normal conditions, your gas fireplace can be left on indefinitely, without safety concerns. It is, however, equipped with a high-temperature limit switch that automatically turns the fireplace off if it exceeds a certain temperature.
What do you do when you won't be using your fireplace for an extended period? To conserve fuel, the pilot can be turned off during a vacation or off-season, or, depending on your location and climate, it can be left on to minimize corrosion and prevent the entry of mites and spiders.
Because a gas fireplace is a sealed combustion system, the potential for danger to your family is remote. Like any other gas appliance in your home, the fireplace is carefully engineered and built for years of effective, safe operation. Each unit comes with step-by-step safety and lighting instructions and must meet industry safety standards. As with any appliance, proper maintenance and upkeep—outlined in your installation/operation manual—will allow your gas fireplace to perform well for many years to come.
Content provided by HomeStyles.com
Wayne McCarthy, plumbing and HVAC professional contributed to this article.
Sources: Heatilator, Heat-N-Glo, Temco Fireplace Products, Fireside Corner, HPA (Hearth Products Association), GAMA (Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association, Inc.), Remodeling