What to Expect: Finding Your Perfect Gas Fireplace

So you’re interested in a gas fireplace! First off, let’s make sure we’re on the same page by defining just what a fireplace is. This post deals with gas fireplaces, which can be installed on combustible surfaces and framed with wood studs and drywall for ease of construction. Finishing options are unlimited, and can be as simple as painting the enclosure or cladding it in stone or metal panels

A Direct Vent fireplace burns propane or natural gas with models  primarily for ambiance or ones that serve as efficient, thermostatically – controlled heaters. The burner is completely sealed in a metal case with a removable glass front and customized with interior and exterior options according to your tastes. Metal venting draws combustion air from outside your house, and sends exhaust gases outside so you’ll only get the warmth without soot or smells.

If you have an existing masonry or factory-built fireplace, consider a fireplace insert, which uses your existing fireplace and chimney in place of wood framing. An insert may look and behave much like a fireplace but has a different set of installation requirements. Inserts are not included in this post.

Wooden Sun carries gas fireplaces in a range of sizes, styles, and heating capacities. Our sales associates and skilled installers are happy to answer all your questions – and to ask questions that hadn’t necessarily occurred to you – so that we can recommend the product that will work best in your home. Our self-assessment form goes over many of these questions, and here are a few other things to keep in mind during the planning stages of your hearth project.

First: what are your goals for this project? Are you looking for primary heat, backup or secondary heat, or just a source of cozy ambiance? If you want to simply cozy up a small room, a large fireplace like the Valor H6 may put out considerably more heat than you want or need. On the other hand, if you want to heat a large, open-plan house with vaulted ceilings, a Valor Portrait won’t have the heating capacity you need. If you know what you want your fireplace to do, it is easier for us to show you the most suitable products.

Next is location, location, location. Whether you’re planning a new building/addition, or looking for a fireplace for an existing space, it’s important to keep in mind how much space you have available, not just for the fireplace front, but for framing and venting. Each appliance has its own set of framing requirements, and some require more “surgery” than others to work them into your existing home or new design. If your preferred location is on an exterior wall, we can either build the fireplace framing into the room (a cabinet mantel is a popular choice for an enclosure like this) or out from the side of the house, in what’s usually referred to as a bumpout or doghouse.

The second part of location planning deals with venting requirements. One advantage gas appliances have over wood-burning appliances is the flexibility of their venting requirements. Venting for wood fireplaces must follow the 3-2-10 rule (which states that a chimney must rise at least 3 feet above the point of roof penetration, and at least 2 feet higher than any point on the roof or building structure within 10 feet). However, a direct-vent gas appliance can be vented straight back through an exterior wall with a wall cap (see the “what to bring with you” link from the first paragraph). This saves material and labor costs, making exterior walls an excellent install locations. If the install location is on an interior wall, or you’re faced with zoning or HOA restrictions, vent pipe can be run vertically to exit through the roof of your house (Wooden Sun has run into some challenging installs, but we are able to navigate unusual wiring or other home design setups – an advantage to having highly-trained sales and installation staff!).

The final question for today’s post is the scope of the project. Are you interested in having a stone veneer or a set of steel wall panels installed around your fireplace? Would you like a shelf or cabinet mantel, or perhaps some built-in bookshelves? There are some types of finishing work that can be done in stages once the fireplace is installed, and some that are best put in place at the same time as the rest of the project. Let us know what your design plans are, and we can advise you on the best way to achieve them, and what order makes the most sense.

This blog entry is meant as a starting point for that conversation, and help you narrow down some of your project ideas. Each hearth project is unique, of course, and there’s no way for one post to cover every detail or take the place of a one-on-one conversation with a dedicated sales associate.

Grill Safety & Maintenance

Grilling season is once again in full swing, so it’s time to revisit the subject of grill safety and maintenance. Wooden Sun services both gas and charcoal grills, and we recommend having your grill inspected and serviced by a qualified technician once a year. Additionally, there are some simple safety and maintenance tips you can follow to extend the life of your grill and make sure your outdoor events are safe and fun for everybody involved.

Let’s start with the safety precautions:

  • Never use any grill indoors; carbon monoxide can build up in an enclosed space, posing a possibly lethal health hazard to everyone in the home.
  • Grills should never be used underneath a deck or balcony, or directly next to a wooden structure. Keep your grill away from flammable materials, and make sure children and pets stay a safe distance away.
  • When using a charcoal grill or smoker, there’s always the potential for sparks, embers, or hot ash to escape. We recommend a non-flammable grill mat to provide ember protection, as well as to make it easier to clean up food spillage. Wooden Sun carries these grill mats in a few stock sizes, but other sizes, shapes, and colors are available from the manufacturer.
  • When starting a gas grill, the lid should always be open. If the flame has gone out (blown out by the wind, for example), turn off the grill, wait 15 minutes for the gas to dissipate, then re-ignite the pilot.
  • Prior to the first cookout of the season, check the burners and air mixers for spiders and other insects. They are attracted to the smell and cozy spaces under the hood of your grill. Webs can reroute the gas so it comes out and ignites where it shouldn’t. Come by the shop and we can show you where to look, or schedule our techs for a thorough checkup.
  • Before you use your grill for the first time each year, be sure to check the gas line and connections. You can do this by applying a soap-and-water solution to the hose, gasketing, and connector valves. If bubbles form, there is a leak. Turn the gas off immediately and have your grill serviced by a professional before trying to use it again! Any time you are unable to trace and eliminate a gas smell, call 911.
  • Never store propane tanks in an enclosed space like a garage. If you store your grill inside, remove the tank an store it outside.
  • And, of course, always read the user manual that comes with your grill, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding use and proper maintenance of the grill.
This ceramic smoker cover has space for the top chimney vent.

This ceramic smoker cover has space for the top chimney vent.

Covers are available for both freestanding and built-in grills.

Covers are available for both freestanding and built-in grills.

A common maintenance issue we’ve encountered is condensation buildup when a tarp or other impermeable material is used for a cover. There are a wide variety of grill covers on the market with a water-resistant exterior, and some sort of breathable material on the inside. Many are ventilated to allow additional moisture to escape. If you need a grill cover that Wooden Sun doesn’t carry,  give us the dimensions of your grill (height, width including any side shelves, and depth), as well as whether your grill is built-in or freestanding, and we can find a cover to fit.

A few additional maintenance tips:

  • Clean cooking grids and drip trays regularly. Grease and salt speed up corrosion, and pooled grease can easily ignite.
  • In addition to checking for gas leaks, check all valves and connectors for rust and other corrosion. Remove all rust with a wire brush, and apply a rust-resistant paint to the area.
  • After you finish grilling, turn all burners on high for about 10 minutes; this will vaporize most of the remaining drippings and grease.

Enjoy your grilling, and have a safe and happy summer cooking season!

Gas Appliance Repair

Sometimes when we go out to perform repairs on a gas appliance (logs, insert, or fireplace), we can’t get the appliance fixed on our first visit, or we replace a component and discover a new problem. We understand the confusion and frustration that can result from this. Unfortunately, this situation is sometimes unavoidable, for the following reasons:

First, although there are some common problems and parts among gas appliances, there are many, many different brands and systems out there, as well as a great number of proprietary parts. It would be impossible for our technicians to train on every brand and understand how each and every unit is put together. Additionally, many manufacturers will not provide tech support or their proprietary parts to dealers who do not sell their products. While we will work on brands we don’t sell, we cannot guarantee that we can solve your problem in one service call.

Second, even a fairly basic freestanding log set is quite a complex appliance, with several parts that have to work together to give you the lovely flame you’re looking for. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to diagnose which specific component is the problem in any given situation. For example, it may be that your wall switch has failed, but that your pilot assembly is also malfunctioning. However, since the wall switch won’t work, we have no way of diagnosing the faulty pilot assembly. Fixing one problem can sometimes reveal a second, deeper problem, which now needs to be addressed. For comparison, imagine a severe muscle sprain concealing tendon damage or a hairline fracture. The problems are related, but it’s much harder for a doctor to diagnose the underlying injury until the inflammation is addressed. Once we’ve solved the problem of the faulty wall switch, the malfunctioning pilot assembly shows up; it looks as if a new problem is happening, but it’s just that we had no way of knowing about it before.

Our technicians also sometimes encounter the dreaded Intermittent Fault, where a component of your hearth appliance has malfunctioned half the time you’ve been using it, and just happens to be working during our service call (this writer once had a similar problem with her computer, where errors would suddenly resolve themselves the second her computer-savvy friend sat down to take a look, only to reappear as soon as the friend had gone home). This is part of why we try to get as much information as possible when we’re scheduling your appointment; if we can describe the problem, and let the service technician know it’s only intermittent, that gives them additional ideas of what to look for, even if they can’t re-create the malfunction during their visit. Sometimes, though, the source of the problem eludes even our certified technicians, and we require more than one visit to fully resolve the issue.

 

What Do Efficiency Ratings Mean, Anyway?

Whether you’re comparing wood or gas appliances, you’ll see an efficiency rating listed in the product information. Between uncertain fuel costs and increasingly strict air quality regulations, more and more consumers are looking for the most efficient heaters they can find. But what do those ratings mean? How are they measured?

The bad news is that there isn’t one standard rating system used by manufacturers, nor are they required to tell you which system they’re using. The good news is that by learning a bit about what the ratings mean, you can put manufacturer claims in context and compare apples to apples when buying a stove or fireplace.

What does “efficiency” actually mean?

In the simplest terms, the efficiency rating on an appliance tells you how much of your fuel will become usable heat in your home. A pound of wood, gas, or pellets contains a certain amount of potential energy; some of this energy will be used in starting and sustaining combustion, some of it will go up the chimney (carrying away particulates and other undesirable byproducts of combustion), and the rest will come out into your home as heat.

Wood Heat: EPA vs. Real-World Performance

Wood stoves and inserts are sometimes advertised with two efficiency ratings: EPA and cordwood/real world performance. EPA testing procedures are focused mostly on particulate emissions, and are very highly standardized. These tests use milled lumber (often pine), precisely stacked, with the stove draft set to its lowest (and smokiest) setting; this is also referred to as a “crib wood” test. While this is useful for determining how much air pollution a stove will generate, it has very little to do with how efficiently your stove will convert firewood into usable heat in your home. Many companies choose to do their own testing with cord wood (usually hardwood) and realistic venting setups, in order to give their customers a more accurate idea of stove performance. Unfortunately, there’s no requirement that companies tell you which efficiency rating they’re listing. For environmental impact, focus on the emissions listing (gm/hr of particulates released into the atmosphere) rather than the listed efficiency rating. For real-world efficiency, a good rule of thumb is that 67%-75% is a good range for quality non-catalytic stoves, with catalytic stoves occupying the 75%-83% range.

(Note: just to make this even more confusing, the EPA is currently in the process of revising its compliance and listing standards. While this process is ongoing, look for “cordwood/actual measured efficiency (CSA)” in your stove literature.)

Gas Heat: Steady-State vs. AFUE/EnerGuide

Gas stoves, inserts, and fireplaces are rated in two different ways. The Steady State efficiency rating, which offers a higher and more impressive number, is taken only once, after the appliance is fully heated up and burning steadily. While this number is technically accurate, it has very little to do with how your stove will perform over the course of its lifetime, and under real-world conditions. We prefer to work with vendors who list the EnerGuide, P4, or AFUE (annual fuel usage estimate) ratings. These efficiency readings reflect performance over the entire burn cycle, from ignition to cool-down, and use realistic venting setups. If you’re looking at efficiency ratings, and seeing numbers in the high 80% range, you’re probably looking at the steady-state efficiency of the fireplace. The more honest EnerGuide, P4, and AFUE rating systems give numbers ranging from around 60%-70%. A 65% efficiency rating is actually quite good, and an 85% rating, although it sounds much better, probably doesn’t reflect an actual increase in real-world efficiency or performance.

To sum up: efficiency ratings can be confusing, and don’t always give a complete picture of how an appliance will perform in your home. However, with a little bit of time and research, you can put those numbers in context when comparing different products, and make a more informed decision about which stove, fireplace, or fireplace insert will be the best fit for you!

 

Spring Inventory Reduction Clearance Sale!! Up to 80% Off!

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Big changes are afoot here at the Wooden Sun! Over the summer, we have plans to remodel our store, bring in new product lines, and expand our work into more outdoor projects! To make room for new products and displays, we’re putting all of our showroom units on sale, at discounts ranging from 10%-80% off our usual retail pricing. From April 15th-May 22nd, come into the Wooden Sun showroom for big discounts on a wide range of gas & wood stoves, fireplaces, fireplace inserts, and outdoor cookers! And be sure to look for our grilling accessories, on clearance from 10%-25% off retail price!

At the same time as we bid a fond farewell to our old inventory, we’d like to welcome the Kamado Joe line of ceramic grills and smokers to the Wooden Sun family! Every Kamado Joe cooker comes standard with cooking racks, rolling cart, grill lifter, and ash tool, so you can get started grilling right away. These grills will also be included in our sale, at 10% off retail.

No Power? No Problem!

Early 2015 brought us a lot of winter storms, and winter storms always bring at least one big power outage. Out in the country, it can be days before you get your power back, but you’ve got to stay warm in the meantime. Fortunately, Wooden Sun has your winter heating needs covered.

Valor G3Valor gas fireplaces and inserts are designed to function without a fan, and therefore without the need for electricity. In addition to the convection heating you get from all gas fireplaces and inserts, Valor has some of the best radiant heat technology in the industry. While few Valor appliances are large enough to heat your entire home, they will easily keep a few rooms warm and cozy while you wait for the power company to do its thing.

Regency Hampton H300Wooden Sun carries a variety of wood-burning stoves and inserts, to heat anywhere from 600-3000 square feet. While inserts often work best with blowers, they’ll still put out quite a bit of heat without the fan, so you don’t lose your heating capability when the power goes out (your faithful blogger has a wood insert with a very noisy blower, and she can get a great deal of heat out of the appliance without having to resort to the fan).

WiseWay pellet stoveWe’re also very excited about our most recent addition, the Wise Way brand of gravity-fed pellet stoves. While other pellet stoves rely on electric motors and augers to get the pellets from the hopper to the burn chamber, Wise Way pellet stoves have a simple gravity-feed system, which means you can still use your stove when the power goes out. Note: the zig-zag portion of the stove is actually the outlet from the burn chamber, which means that you can see the fire through the window on the side as it streaks upwards!

 

 

Common Gas Fireplace Problems: You Probably Don’t Need to Panic

Following up on our recent post about how to address concerns about wood stove performance, here’s a post about your gas stove/insert/fireplace. Since the direct vent gas appliance is a closed system, drawing air from and venting to the outside, there’s much less variation from home to home and appliance to appliance. However, there are a few issues that can crop up with gas units, so here are some common service requests we get, with a couple of troubleshooting steps to try on your own:

My Fireplace Won’t Turn On

At the beginning of each fall, we get a lot of service requests from people trying to turn their gas fireplaces on for the first time in several months, only to find that those fireplaces won’t start. The first, and most obvious question: how are the batteries? Your gas appliance may have batteries in both the remote and the receiver, so it’s important to read your owner’s manual to figure out how many sets of batteries you need to check. It seems obvious, but we’ve gone out to fix several malfunctioning gas appliances, only to discover that the only thing the customer needs is new batteries. It’s worthwhile to keep a battery tester around the house to help you determine whether or not that pack of AAs in the kitchen drawer is still good.

If the batteries in your remote and/or receiver are good, the next step is to make sure the fireplace is getting fuel. If you have a propane tank or natural gas line, are the tank and valves set in the on position? Your gas appliance should have a valve in the firebox, or a key in the wall or floor nearby, and the propane tank will have a knob on the tank outside that opens or closes it. For problems with a natural gas line, contact your city utilities office, and for propane, contact your propane company.

And if you can get your fireplace going, but it keeps turning itself off suddenly, check to see if you’ve left it set in thermostatic mode. We often have that problem in the showroom over the summer, particularly with units we don’t turn on very often; we’ll set the remote to act as a thermostat over the winter, and then in the summer, the fireplace keeps automatically turning itself off!

The Glass on My Fireplace Looks Smudged

Each time you start your gas fireplace, you’ll notice some condensation on the glass. This is a normal part of the startup process, as the water vapor in the air inside the firebox begins to evaporate. This condensation will dissipate within a few minutes, as the firebox heats up and the flames turn yellow. Over time, you can get some buildup on the inside of the glass (residue from that startup condensation), but this is harmless, and easily cleaned off during your annual maintenance call.

My Fireplace Smells Weird

When you start your gas fireplace for the first time after it’s installed, there will be an “off-gassing” period as the residual factory paints finish curing. This, again, is harmless; open the window for your first couple of fires, and the gasses should dissipate fairly quickly. When you then start your fireplace, stove, or insert for the first time each year, you’ll get a slight odor for that first fire or two, as small amounts of dust that have built up over the summer burn off. This shouldn’t last very long; if it lasts more than a couple of hours, or if you start to smell gas or plastic, shut your fireplace off and call your local certified gas appliance expert.