1. A Special Place in the Home
Fireplaces have long held a special place in the hearts of Canadians. At one time an essential source of heat for warmth and cooking, they remain a gathering spot for family and friends, a symbol of romanticism and comfort, and a visually attractive addition to many homes. Fireplaces are so popular that, in most parts of Canada, it is difficult to sell a new or existing home without one.
However, changes in the way houses are built and renovated have made most contemporary homes incompatible with conventional wood-burning fireplaces. Most notably, the increased insulation and improved airtightness of today's homes run counter to the large amounts of air required by conventional wood fireplaces. Such fireplaces are also extremely inefficient (many actually cause heat loss from the home) and produce high levels of harmful emissions, which pollute outdoor air and can have dangerous effects on indoor air quality.
Yet everyone wants a fireplace! What can be done?
The good news is that some new fireplace designs offer a safe, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly alternative to conventional wood fireplaces. One option is an advanced combustion wood-burning fireplace, as described in All About Wood Fireplaces, a free publication also available from Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency.
A second option that is becoming popular across North America – a well-designed and energy-efficient gas fireplace – is the subject of this booklet. In both cases, the new designs can be installed as a completely new fireplace or as a conversion of an existing wood fireplace.
Gas fireplaces have increased in popularity over the past few years. For many homeowners, the attraction of owning a gas fireplace lies in the following:
- the convenience of an on/off switch and an ever-present fuel supply
- the cleanliness factor (gas fireplaces generate no mess in terms of ashes, wood chips, bark, etc.)
- the elimination of chimney cleaning
- the safety of sealed combustion units, which offer little chance for toxic combustion gases to spill into the room
- the environmental benefits as compared with those of a conventional wood fireplace
Although gas fireplaces have been around for a few years, many homeowners disliked their "fake-looking," uninteresting flames. To counteract this negative perception of gas fireplaces, manufacturers have devoted much effort to producing a yellow flame that more closely resembles the flame of a wood-burning fireplace, yet is still clean-burning. As well, other aesthetic improvements have made gas fireplaces much more appealing to homeowners.
However, not all gas fireplaces are created equal. Some designs are extremely efficient, safe to operate and provide a lot of heat. Others can be very inefficient, and vent-free technology can cause indoor air-quality problems.
It pays to be an informed consumer. By knowing what to look for and what to avoid, you can select a gas fireplace that will suit your home's decor, contribute to its heating needs and give you peace of mind.
This booklet can help. It explains what you should look for in a safe, energy-efficient gas fireplace as well as the problems that can be encountered with certain technologies. By spending a few minutes reading this booklet now, you can save yourself money down the road in reduced energy costs, both for operating the fireplace and for heating your home, while enjoying the benefits of an attractive fire.
The information in this booklet applies to both natural gas and propane fireplaces. Many manufacturers sell the same basic fireplace for both fuels, with only minor changes to the burner system.