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Ventless Gas Log Fireplace Decisions When Customizing Outdoors
I had service call for a fireplace that is no longer working installed outside under a backyard patio. The burner and pilot assembly were rusting and needed a good cleaning to be functional. The customer expressed some resentment at the installer who used a less than durable product in his custom built fireplace. What do we build out side when we desire a custom fireplace? Is there a good reason for an installer to place a ventless gas log fireplace outside? If you are considering a custom built fireplace, here are the consideration you must face to make good decisions when designing an outdoor fireplace.
Gas Log Fire Options
Custom built fireplaces were mostly for burning wood but gas logs are getting installed more and more frequently. Many people have started using gas logs in their fireplaces because it is beautiful and practical at the touch of a button. You do not have to know how to stack wood and kindling or how to get it burning well. With a gas log fireplace we just press a button and get a great flame pattern every time. Adjust the dial or remote and instantly you can create a roaring flame or quiet burning embers. Nothing produces the same effect as a wood burning fireplace but many people move away from the wood burning fireplace because it becomes work. The smell and the crackle and pop of burning wood in a fireplace adds a lot of décor and atmosphere. Heat starts off roaring and can be affected by the amount of wood added to continue strong or provide a quiet smolder, but I’ve never enjoyed going out in the cold wearing pajamas to get more wood off the stack. Cutting wood every winter is not a lot of fun and dodging the scorpions and snakes that hide in the stack is downright scary. Buying wood is less fun, storing wood is messy in the yard and attracts bugs that will eventually want to come inside.
Custom Fire Pit.
Using a gas log fireplace has become more popular among home owners because it is simple and produces a very attractive flame every time. Depending on the valve the flame can be closely controlled to create more or less heat and more or less flame. Gas fireplace logs are usually hand-painted to look very realistic. The best-looking wood in the best stacked pattern lights every time in gas fireplaces. Add ceramic pinecones, wood chunk kits and glowing embers and you have a very attractive fire.
The difficulty with gas logs outside is the weather. Remote controlled valves are generally useless for gas log fireplaces installed outdoors because they run on batteries. Batteries get wet – even on a covered patio humidity will get in the battery pack – and they corrode. A low-voltage electrical igition can be wired but the kit costs close to two-thousand dollars plus the installation. Most clients opt for a manual valve that can be controlled with an ignitor and hand valve exactly like a gas grill because there are no parts to corrode or rust in the weather.
Building a standard gas log fireplace is the same as building a wood burning fireplace. Many clients make the mistake of believing gas does not create as much fumes as wood because smoke from burning wood is so visible. Many home owners who have a problem with their flue or with ventilation will decide to but a vented gas log set instead of fixing their flue and problem with the pull. This is very unsafe. Burning gas not only consumes oxygen but produces carbon dioxide. Take a cigarette lighter and hold the flame against a wall. See the black mark caused by the burning gas? That is carbon and it is produced every time a gas flame contacts a solid object. A vented gas fireplace must have good ventilation. A typical chimney generally needs a minimum of ten feet of flue to create enough of a pull to get the gas fumes out of the house. My own personal test when considering a gas log set for an existing fireplace is to light a match while squatting in front of the fireplace. When I blow the match out, the smoke should be pulled into the fireplace if the chimney is doing its job.
Outdoors, a vented gas log still needs defined ventilation. Often a client will believe the fireplace opening should provide adequate ventilation because the unit is outdoors. The chimney and flue are pulling gas fumes and carbon out of the house and when placed outside, the same process is necessary. Without a flue the fireplace fumes will probably not deplete enough oxygen to cause bodily harm but the fumes will flow from the fireplace with the heat and the area near the fireplace will smell bad and diminish the enjoyment of sitting around the fire.
Glass Fire Alternatives to Gas Logs
Vented gas logs are usually preferred over unvented gas logs for the simplicity described and because the logs, flame and additional decorative accents can be added to create flame patterns specific to the taste of the home owner. By comparison, ventless gas logs are manufactured to be used indoors without any ventilation and are designed so the logs sit in a specific pattern made to look realistic.
Ventless gas logs have evolved tremendously in the past couple of years. Ceramic logs have become very affordable, realistic designs are getting more intricate and alternative gas logs have become available. Until recently, the modern trend to create contemporary fireplaces that do not pretend to be real wood-burning fireplaces have not been available to ventless gas log customers. Fireplaces that replace logs with shapes, river rocks or crushed fire glass are now sold for use with ventless gas log burners by Rasmussen Iron Works out of Whittier, California. These advancements make the unvented gas log fireplaces affordable and appealing visually both indoors and out.
Custom Built Ventless Gas Log Fireplaces.
The vent free logs (shapes, glass, stones. Etc) cannot be moved from the manufacturers set pattern because they are designed to minimize contact between the ceramic logs and the gas flame. The design minimizes carbon output. Ventless gas logs also come with an oxygen depletion device that turns off the gas if oxygen becomes scarce and a thermocouple to detect heat. If the pilot light goes out, the thermocouple cools down and shuts off the gas flow to prevent gas leaks. For many home owners this is an affordable option because we do not have to build a chimney and flue or cut through the roof.
The problems associated with building a gas log fireplace outdoors are the same problems whether we use a vented or an unvented fireplace. A home owner desiring an outdoor fireplace must balance the pros and cons of the type of fireplace they build. Faced with the various options and individual strengths, conveniences and problems I have found many clients will choose to install ventless gas logs in their custom outdoor fireplace. We save money by negating the need for a chimney and flue. If we are building a marble hearth, a hundred feet of marble is saved in the chimney alone, add the build out and the expense of cutting into the roof and getting the termination properly inspected for hurricane readiness and it is a bunch of money. A painted or porcelain coated burner outdoors will produce the same result it does with your gas grill, the lifespan of the fireplace is lessened. Ventless fireplace burners are made for indoor use so the moisture in the air will eventually rust the burner. Coverage and cleaning helps and consistent burning will keep the area dry but the indoor burner will not last as long as a vented stainless burner.
Care must be taken by your builder to ensure you purchase a fireplace burner that does not have a battery powered Oxygen Depletion Sensor nor a battery powered valve. The oxygen depletion sensors will stop the valve from allowing gas through to the burner if the batteries corrode or are removed. The thermocouple is attached to the valve and must be operational and hot to allow gas flow to the burner. This safety feature is mounted in close proximity to the pilot assembly so the pilot will keep it hot. If the pilot goes out, the thermocouple stops gas from continuing to flow to the burner. In normal use, this can save your life. Outdoors a thermocouple is still necessary to prevent a gas leak and if the placement of the fireplace is not properly thought out and the area gets a consistent draft, the thermocouple will stop gas flow when it should not do so. I have had many service requests from home owners who believe there is a manufacturers defect with their outdoor ventless gas log fireplace because it turns itself off. An educated installed will suggest proper placement of the fireplace and will adjust the mounting of the sensor, pilot and thermocouple to resist malfunctions due to wind blowing the pilot away from the thermocouple.
An outdoor fireplace is usually a luxury item. Usually (and especially here, in Florida) the fireplace is custom built because it will look amazing in your backyard. Rarely will someone build a custom outdoor fireplace because they need a good functional heater on the patio. There are patio heaters for a fraction of the expense that do a superior job of heating an area. The fireplace is part of a design that adds value and enjoyment to the backyard. The ease of use, simplicity in installation and physical beauty make vent free gas logs a good choice for most designs. Even if the burner needs to be replaced every seven years it is a safe and attractive solution without complicating the area or driving up the expense.