The Truth about the Ventless Gas Fireplace

A ventless gas fireplace, also referred to as “vent-free” and “unvented” fireplaces are gas fireplaces that are able to be operated without the need of a chimney or other types of ventilation systems.

While this may sound appealing, especially if you happen to live in a property without a chimney, it’s essential that you are aware of the potential safety implications and controversy surrounding them.

How can you tell if you have a vented or ventless gas fireplace?

First thing to do if you’ve recently moved into a new home is to check whether your fireplace is vented or not. It’s incredibly simple to identify a vented and ventless model with ease.

First off – make sure it’s not in operation and the unit is cool to the touch. Then take a look inside, if there’s no opening it’s a ventless appliance. Vented gas fireplaces are easy to identify since they will have a cavity leading to a chimney.

The other main variety of gas fireplace includes direct-vent fireplaces; these are fitted to either a traditional chimney or on the exterior walls of properties. With these, the exhaust fumes resulting from the combustion process are expelled from your home via a two-pipe system. This is regarded as the safest and most efficient way to heat your home with gas fireplace appliances.

What’s the Concern?

Ventless gas fireplaces may seem like an ideal solution if you live in a home without a fully functioning chimney or another appropriate venting solution, but it must be noted that many observers in the industry have genuine concerns about their safety.

Stories of people suffering from headaches and nausea are incredibly common in popular HVAC forums and energy blogs. Equally, it must be noted that many other ventless fireplace users vouch for them and don’t feel the criticism is justified. The industry has done testing and has concluded that ventless gas fireplaces are safe.

Besides that, many ventless models are fitted with safety features such as oxygen depletion sensors and catalytic converters, which some people feel is adequate at mitigating any issues that may arise. Ventless gas fireplace emit a low amount of gas when burning which shouldn’t be too harmful to the user, but again the unit still uses gas which isn’t venting out of the house. 

Personally, I wouldn’t advise anyone to install one in their home and would direct anyone who has recently moved into a new property to get rid of them at the earliest opportunity.

The amount of emails I have received from people concerned about their safety has been overwhelming and I believe the major reason behind many of these messages has been people reaching out to get their doubts confirmed.

Regardless of the warnings and controversy, many people decide to buy ventless appliances and some live to regret it. It might seem like you’re saving a buck or two, but is it really worth it? Here are some of the main complaints we have with unvented fireplaces: 

  • They produce a lot of vapor, which is dispersed into your property; this can lead to dampness.
  • Since a chimney would typically provide efficient drafting, without one the combustion process can be impacted by other factors including house fans.
  • There is a lot of confusion on how to actually use them.

What’s the Alternative?

The obvious alternative to an unvented gas fireplace is a vented gas fireplace that requires a chimney or venting. If you have a pre-existing ventilation system already installed, then this will obviously be the ideal scenario.

Yet, bear in mind, it’s not too difficult to install a chase and cut a hole in an exterior wall – this is a far more cost-effective option and much easier to achieve than building a fully-fledged masonry fireplace and brick chimney.

Perhaps the easiest and most affordable option for installing ventilation for a gas fireplace is utilizing a chimney liner kit. You can easily install these yourself if you have some confidence with DIY, otherwise, I don’t expect a professional fitter in your local area would charge too much.

If you just don’t have the budget for this type of work, then I would probably suggest an electric fireplace insert since they run off electricity, they don’t produce exhaust fumes and therefore don’t require any venting. Other than that, propane and infrared heaters can be effective at heating poorly insulated out-houses and garages.

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