Long before I was a home inspector, my wife and I remodeled our farmhouse. We had a choice of fireplaces, but the contractor explained that a wood burning firplace would be more expensive than a gas one.
I said; “If I can’t get a real fireplace, I don’t want one.”
Now that I inspect houses for a living, I have changed my mind. Natural gas inserts are just as pretty as wood burning ones, cost less to install (and to operate) and are a whole lot safer.
Besides, at the end of the day, when it’s time to go to bed, one simply needs to flip a switch.
All well and good, but installation of a gas fireplace still involves plumbing of a gas line and venting of the exhaust. This restricts its placement in the room, and even which room it can be placed.
Enter the vent free fireplace, AKA duct free firplace and room venting fireplace.
You can put one literally anywhere you can run a gas line, which is pretty much anywhere in the house. They come in different sizes and a a very wide price range. A quick Google search shows prices from $500.00 up to more than $4,000.00.
Sounds good, but hold on.
As a home inspector in the Twin Cities area, I am very concerned with the presence of hazards, such as eletrical shock and falling.
But two hazards that are very high on my list are moisture and carbon monoxide. Gas fireplaces produce both of these elements. Ventless fireplaces do not direct them outside. High levels of moisture can cause respiratory issues or mold and can cause damage to building components such as window sills. Exposure to high levels of CO can cause long and short term illness and even death.
Nearly all of the states allow vent free fireplaces, but HUD still outlaws them.
California bans them, and Minnesota restricts placement.
The CDC, Mayo Clinic and EPA have all been outspoken opponents, citing environmental and health concerns.
So the bottom line is that while vent free fireplaces can be legally and easily purchased and installed, it appears that the cons seriously outweigh the pros.
Special thanks to my friend Lana Cook from CB Burnet for bringing this subject to my attention.