Gas log fireplaces are also known as gas lighters. The lighter is a burner installed under the log holder in a regular, wood burning fireplace. The setup is pretty simple; turn the gas on, light the burner and place wood logs in the holder. When the fire gets hot, turn off the gas to the burner. Some lighters have pilot lights, some don’t.
This setup eliminates the hardest part of having a fire in your fireplace, the initial lighting, with all it’s attendant issues such as smoke and kindling.
Is there a downside?
As it happens, yes. Folks have died.
The damper is the issue. In a wood-burning fireplace, the damper can be opened all the way, closed all the way or someplace in between. If you start a fire but the damper is not open enough, the smoke rolling out will let you know right away. But if the flame is a gas one, there is no smoke, but there is Carbon Monoxide, an odorless, invisible gas that is deadly.
So for this situation, the solution is found in a damper clip. These are little clamps that are designed to keep the damper open.
But wait – do I really want to keep my damper open?
Nope. During the heating season, an open damper vents conditioned air up and out of the house, causing a drafty house. A clip will cause a major heat loss all winter, 24 hours a day. It really is like having a hole in your roof.
What to do? Two choices;
- Take out the gas burner. Remember to cap the gas line, not just turn the shut-off valve. Then learn how to start a fire. It’s actually fun and easy.
- Install a gas-burning fireplace with a glass front. The new ones have two pipes that lead outside; one for combustion air to get in, and one for exhaust to get out. And while they are not designed to heat the home, they do produce a comfortable warmth in the room. I used to think that real wood fire was the only way to go, but not any more. There is nothing quite like turning off the fireplace on my way to bed at night, like turning off a light.
So to recap; an improperly installed gas log fireplace is dangerous, and a properly installed one wastes money. My advice is to pick wood or gas, but not both.