Consider this common predicament: you are thinking of installing a gas fireplace, but you live in a home that has a single chimney and it already vents a central furnace. Furthermore, you don’t want to tear up your whole house by running a pipe through multiple floors and out the roof. So what is the solution?
If you asked that question just over 30 years ago, the answer would be either move, build another chimney, or forget the fireplace altogether. Fortunately, direct vent gas fireplaces have become so advanced, and indeed so popular, that a practical solution may be right in front of you.
Direct vent gas fireplaces are unique because they can be vented through an exterior wall or through the roof. Whereas a traditional B-vent gas fireplace must vent up a chimney and draws combustion air from the building envelope, direct vent gas fireplaces pull their combustion air from the outside into a sealed firebox. This not only leads to greater installation flexibility but also much higher efficiency rates over the life of the fireplace.
As ubiquitous as they’ve become, both consumers and building professionals alike still have questions about direct vent gas fireplaces. Here are some common questions we’ve come across.
Direct vent gas fireplaces are always enclosed in glass. This design feature aids in their overall efficiency and guarantees that room air isn’t used in combustion. Regulation dictates that all glass-enclosed fireplaces must have a safety barrier and for years that meant bulky screens that detracted from otherwise clean designs. Today, higher-end direct vent gas fireplaces offer a choice between a fine stainless steel mesh screen or a double glass solution known as a glass screen barrier. Check out the comparison for yourself in this short video featuring the Lucius 140 peninsula fireplace by Element4.
A lot of heat from your fireplace may be unwanted if you are in a climate that is already hot to begin with. Most gas fireplace products have adjustable flames and heat outputs. A select few, including Element4 fireplaces, even have built-in thermostat settings. This allows you to set the perfect room temperature and the fireplace will maintain that temperature by automatically modulating your flames.
If you’re looking for a fireplace with no heat output at all, an electric fireplace is the way to go. Electric fireplaces produce beautiful flame effects and their heater function is completely optional. If you’ve never considered an electric fireplace before, check out these modern electric fireplaces.
We will again point to Element4 direct vent gas fireplaces as an example here. They have put together this tool: TV Above Fireplace Installation Guide to ensure that all electronics and even combustible finishing materials can be safely installed above or around your fireplace*. You’re certified hearth installer will take these guidelines into consideration during the installation of your fireplace. However, it’s important to plan for this design element before installing your fireplace to ensure the safety of your electronics or art.
*Not all direct vent fireplace manufacturers allow for a TV or other electronics to be installed above their fireplaces. Make sure to check with the manufacturer before planning a fireplace installation with a TV.
Compared to burning oil, wood, coal, or gasoline, both fuels used in direct vent gas fireplaces, natural gas, and liquid propane, burn significantly cleaner and have less of an environmental impact. Both fuel types do produce carbon dioxide and water during combustion. Liquid propane can produce carbon monoxide while burning if there’s not enough combustion air, but that’s not a problem with a direct vent model as all by-products are vented outside.
With improved efficiencies, turn-down rates to reduce heat output when needed, and electronic ignitions rather than standing pilot lights, modern direct vent gas fireplaces have significantly reduced their environmental impact over the years. However, for an even more ‘green’ choice you may consider an electric fireplace. When paired with renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, your carbon fireplace footprint can be next to nothing.
We can thank the Shimek brothers of Apple Valley, Minnesota for the popularity of gas fireplaces in homes all across the country. Drawing on their fascination with combustion and love of tinkering, Dan and Ron began diving into gas fireplace technology in the late 1970s. By 1987, they received the patent for the first direct vent technology.
What began as a garage innovation morphed into an industry-changing breakthrough. All of a sudden, architects and builders could design and build homes without adding costly and labor-intensive chimney features.
Today, companies like Element4 have taken the idea of a direct vent gas fireplace and completely transformed the aesthetic approach. With clean modern lines, efficient yet robust flames, and an endless selection of design styles, these modern gas fireplaces have been elevated to the likes of fine art.