A Fireplace Without a Vent? – On the House

A Fireplace Without a Vent?

By on February 12, 2014
vent-free fireplace

Have you ever dreamed of installing a fireplace in a certain space in your home only to find it impossible due to restricted access for the chimney?

Installing a fireplace isn’t a particularly complex challenge if you live in a one-story home where the chimney can be installed through the ceiling and roof to safely exhaust toxic gases. However, where there is living space above, the location of the fireplace is dictated strictly by where a chimney can be run. Since it is neither practical nor desirable to run a chimney through the middle of a bedroom, design flexibility is limited.

While it is true that direct-vent (through-the-wall) fireplaces have improved design flexibility, they must still be vented and, therefore, must be installed within close proximity to an exterior wall. Unfortunately, this doesn’t do the trick for folks who want to install a fireplace somewhere in the center of their home or in a newly finished basement. Thus, the task can be virtually impossible, if not cost-prohibitive.

Just when you were ready to throw in the towel, technology comes to the rescue with a fireplace that doesn’t need to be vented. You read it right — a vent-free fireplace. Sound far-fetched? Not once you’ve had the opportunity to look one of these over as we did at a recent national building products exposition.

A vent-free gas-heating appliance operates without a chimney, flue or vent, so it can be installed just about anywhere even on an inside wall. In contrast, installing a traditional wood fireplace is a major (and costly) construction project.

Our first reaction to this technology was one of great skepticism due to concerns for indoor air quality and the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning. However, we learned that vent-free heating products operate so efficiently that potentially harmful fumes are not a threat. Moreover, since 1980, vent-free gas heating appliances have been equipped with a safety-pilot system called an oxygen detection safety pilot, or ODS. The ODS automatically shuts off the gas supply in the event that the oxygen level in the room falls to 18 percent.

Vent-free technology doesn’t end with fireplaces. Space heaters, stoves, fireplace inserts and gas logs are also available. A vent-free gas stove can be easily mistaken for a wood stove, but costs considerably less to install and operate. And with a vent-free gas stove, there’s no flue, no wood to chop and haul, no soot and no ashes to clean up.

A vent-free gas fireplace insert can be installed within existing masonry or factory-built fireplaces. Inserts offer the high heating efficiency of vent-free gas logs, but also offer a blower for improved heat distribution.

Imagine converting your old inefficient masonry fireplace into an attractive and fuel-efficient supplemental heat source. All you need is a gas or propane fuel source, vent-free gas logs, a closed fireplace damper and you’re off to the races.

Aside from greater design flexibility, modern vent-free gas heating appliances have several other advantages. They are cost-effective, have low operating costs and are 99 percent energy efficient.

A vent-free fireplace looks essentially like the zero-clearance prefabricated metal fireplaces that have been in wide use for the last couple of decades. However, unlike their prefabricated cousins, you cant burn wood in these new kids on the block. Vent-free fireplaces and supplemental gas heating products operate on natural or propane gas. Fabricated ceramic logs mimic with great success the look of a natural wood fire.

However, don’t attempt to heat your entire home with a vent-free heating appliance. Keep in mind that vent-free gas heating products are a supplemental source of heat and cannot be used in lieu of a furnace or other means of “whole-house” heating.

Innovative as it may be, vent-free technology isn’t for everyone at least not yet anyway. While most states allow installation of residential vent-free gas heating appliances, a handful of states still prohibit their use. Very often, this is because a states building codes haven’t caught up with vent-free gas technology. Also, keep in mind that counties and municipalities may adopt different codes than that of state agencies, thus, consult your local building department to determine the current code and restrictions that may exist.

If your home shows symptoms of inadequate ventilation (moisture on the inside of windows, mildew, and shower or bath humidity lingers), additional ventilation may be required prior to adding a vent-free gas appliance. Also, if you have an extremely tight new home, talk with your builder or a vent-free fireplace dealer to make sure that your home is properly ventilated. In addition, homes in higher altitudes (4,500 feet above sea level or higher) may experience nuisance pilot outage and flame shutdown due to lower atmospheric pressure.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) maintains a strict national safety standard for vent-free gas heating appliances. When shopping for vent-free gas products, always be sure the model you are considering is design certified to the ANSI Z21.11.2 standard by a nationally recognized laboratory.

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