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Tech

How Does a Ventless Fireplace Work?

Not sure what kind of fireplace you want for your home? The Home Matters experts answer the questions you have about ventless fire places and their home solutions.
 

No flue? No chimney? No problem, at least when it comes to ventless fireplaces. If you have always wanted a fireplace in your home, but you don’t wish to go through the expense and trouble of constructing a firebox and chimney, a ventless fireplace may be an option to consider. Before you purchase a ventless fireplace system, be sure to do your homework as there are many important considerations, issues as well as a wide variety of options.

Ventless, or vent free, fireplaces are low-cost alternatives to traditional fireplaces with flues and chimneys. Many of these freestanding units are easy to install and more energy efficient than their traditional counterparts because heat is better contained and does not escape out the flue and up the chimney. While ventless fireplaces may heat more efficiently, the units require good ventilation. Most ventless fireplaces are powered by natural gas, propane, electricity, or alcohol-based gels. Newer models may have a convenient automatic ignition feature, as well as an automatic thermostat to help control the heat output.
 

Installing Ventless Fireplace



You may or may not need professional installation help with a ventless fireplace, depending on the type you choose. In general, gas and propane models require professional installation, and are usually the most expensive models to purchase and install. Electric units usually require no professional installation assistance, as long as there is an electrical outlet nearby to plug in the unit. Gel powered ventless fireplaces are often the least expensive options and do not need professional installation, but you do have to purchase the gel products or canisters to operate the units. Regardless of the type of system you choose, make sure to do your research and select the right ventless fireplace size for the room. For gas-powered units, you can refer to this chart to estimate the number of British thermal units (BTUs) that you may need.

In addition to the many pros of ventless fireplaces, there are some potential cons to consider. According to The National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI), ventless fireplaces may release unburned combustion byproducts directly into living spaces. Manufacturers install an oxygen-detection sensor (ODS) (or carbon monoxide detector, or both) in ventless fireplaces that will automatically shut down the appliance if oxygen levels in the home become dangerously low. However, if the sensor fails, potential harm to occupants could result. NACHI recommends having ventless fireplaces thoroughly inspected before use.
 

Ventless Fireplace in a living room



Some ventless fireplace proponents say that newer units use catalytic-converter technology that cleans hot air as it leaves the combustion chamber, and that if ventless fireplaces are properly installed and serviced, they should work well and safely. Some experts caution that ventless fireplaces are not recommended for people with respiratory issues, asthma, or allergies. In addition to possible air quality concerns, water vapors released from ventless fireplaces may contribute to mold and mildew growth in a home. Keeping an eye on room moisture levels is a good idea when ventless fireplaces are in use. You can purchase a hygrometer, which measures humidity levels, at most hardware or home stores. Adequate room ventilation can help minimize moisture buildup.

Ventless fireplace systems are regulated by law, so be sure to check your state and local codes for any restrictions that apply to your area before you purchase and install a ventless unit. For example, ventless fireplaces are banned in the District of Columbia for use in bedrooms and bathrooms. In addition, ventless fireplaces aren’t recommended for high traffic or drafty areas. You’ll also need to check with any condominium or building governing associations to see if ventless fireplaces are allowed, and find out whether any permits will be required.
 

Feet by a ventless fireplace



Just because there is no flue and chimney with ventless systems does not mean there is no maintenance required. When operating a ventless fireplace:

• Always install and operate your ventless fireplace strictly according to the manufacturer’s directions.
• Take the same safety precautions as you would around a traditional fireplace, including supervising children when the fireplace is operating and keeping paper, draperies, and other flammable items away from flames. Remember that the fireplace components and surrounding areas retain heat, so avoid touching hot areas with your bare hands.
• Keep a working fire extinguisher within easy reach, and learn how to operate it.
• Make sure the logs are inserted and positioned correctly.
• The log set and components of ventless fireplaces should be inspected and cleaned at least once a year, and possibly cleaned even more often if the fireplace is used frequently.
• Ventless fireplaces powered by gas and propane should have their oxygen and carbon monoxide monitors checked and adjusted annually for safety.
• If you notice unusual noises or odors coming from the fireplace, turn off the unit and consult a professional.
• And, check the fireplace sensor frequently to make sure that it is free of dust and other particles that might impede or prevent its optimum operation.

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Ventless fireplaces may not have the dramatic, leaping flames and popping sounds of a traditional, wood-burning fireplace, but they also don’t have the ashes to clean and the logs to haul inside. If you think a ventless fireplace might be the right choice for your home, whether for heating or aesthetic purposes, consider all your options and weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. If you’ll need professional help for the installation, it’s probably a good idea to talk to your contractor first before purchasing a ventless fireplace to make sure that the unit you select is compatible with your home or cost-effective to retrofit. Your contractor may also be able to offer some brand and model suggestions based on their experience with similar units.

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