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When you’re in the market for new heating products, it pays to learn all you can about them first. With the proper facts in hand, you can make choices that will save you money and help protect the environment.

The EnerGuide rating can help you identify the most energy-efficient products available in Canada. The items in the list on this page will direct you to further information about specific areas related to each subject.

Gas Fireplaces – Introduction

Types
Installation

In a large space, such as a home, a gas fireplace is not an efficient primary heating source. It is better to use an efficient furnace. If you plan to use a gas fireplace as a secondary heat source, however, the EnerGuide label can help you find the most efficient model for your purpose. The EnerGuide label for gas fireplaces is found in fireplace promotional materials, such as sales brochures, or on Web sites.

Gas Fireplaces and Energy Efficiency

Gas fireplaces are popular, both for new homes and for replacement in existing dwellings. However, the efficiency of models currently on the market ranges from 30 to 70 percent when tested to Canadian standard CSA P.4.1-02, "Testing Method for Measuring Annual Fireplace Efficiency (FE).” To compare gas fireplaces properly, look at their FE ratings.

Gas fireplaces, when compared to traditional wood burning fireplaces, offer homeowners many benefits as secondary heat sources:

  • They are easier to use and less work than traditional wood-burning fireplaces.
  • They offer the convenience of an on/off switch and a steady fuel supply. With a gas fireplace, when the gas supply is shut off, the fire goes out immediately.
  • There is no need to clean your hearth, only the glass, and the home doesn’t get the same mess – ashes, wood chips, bark, smoke and other residue – that it would get from a wood fire.
  • Because direct-vent gas fireplaces are sealed combustion units, there is little chance for toxic combustion gases to spill into the home, and efficiency is improved because they use no room air.
  • When vented to the outdoors, they produce much less carbon monoxide and particulate emissions than wood fireplaces.

What Types are Available Today?

Much progress has been made in gas fireplace technology in recent years. What you choose will depend on your situation and personal preferences.

Three basic types of gas fireplaces are widely available in Canada: inserts, zero-clearance units and free-standing designs. Your biggest challenge will be sorting through the wide range of models available to select a unit that is as efficient as possible and that suits your particular needs.

Figure 1: all about gas fireplaces

  • Gas fireplace inserts are meant to be installed in an existing fireplace cavity, to convert a wood-burning fireplace to use natural gas or propane. The gas burner and simulated logs are contained in a special metal housing that fits into the existing fireplace cavity. The unit has a glass front for viewing and a decorative metal trim. Existing chimneys must be relined with an approved vent when a gas insert is installed.

Figure 2: all about gas fireplaces

  • Factory-built (zero-clearance) gas fireplaces are installed when there is no existing fireplace, typically during new home construction or as part of a renovation project. The simulated logs and burner are inside their own firebox, around which is an inner and outer shell. This type of gas fireplace can be installed inside the house envelope, even against an outside wall. The manufacturer's instructions must be followed carefully in regard to proper clearances from combustibles and approved venting materials.

Figure 3: all about gas fireplaces

  • Free-standing fireplaces resemble wood-burning stoves. All surfaces are exposed, so these fireplaces tend to be more effective in supplying heat to a home since heat is not lost up the chimney or in wall cavities.

The glass fronts used on all of these gas fireplaces can be manufactured from tempered or ceramic glass. Ceramic glass is slightly better at transmitting infrared heat into the room. However, its principal benefit is that it can better withstand higher temperatures associated with sealed units.

Installation

Whichever design you choose, it should be installed by a heating professional. And you'll want to pay close attention to how the fireplace is vented. It's both a safety and an energy efficiency issue. More details on installation.

Carbon monoxide detectors

Because modern houses are more airtight and have more powerful air-exhausting systems, there is a greater chance that combustion products – sometimes containing deadly carbon monoxide gas – will linger inside your house and build up to dangerous levels. A certified carbon monoxide detector located close to fuel-fired appliances (such as furnaces, fireplaces, space heaters, wood stoves and gas or propane refrigerators) will signal a potentially dangerous situation that must be corrected immediately.

Symptoms of low-level carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of the flu – headaches, lethargy and nausea. If your carbon monoxide detector goes off, leave your home immediately, call your gas distribution company and seek medical attention.

If you operate a conventional wood-burning fireplace (which can often leak carbon monoxide), install a carbon monoxide detector near the fireplace.