It’s common to have some questions about gas appliances — like how they work, if they’re safe, and what to do when you have an issue.
Maybe you just bought a new home with a gas fireplace or you’re considering making the switch to gas. Or maybe you’ve just never given your gas appliance much thought before now.
We’re here to help. Let’s dive into some of the most commonly asked questions we hear regarding gas fireplaces…
How can I make sure my gas appliance is safe for use?
Gas is certainly safe or it wouldn’t be used in so many homes. The secret to gas being safe is making sure that:
- the appliance is installed properly and operated correctly
- the venting system is maintained
- the actual burner unit is maintained
All chimneys should be inspected on a yearly basis regardless of their fuel source, as per the instructions of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) — and that’s what we subscribe to. Gas appliances are no different in this respect, so the first key to making sure your gas appliance is safe for use is to schedule an annual inspection.
But not just anyone should do this inspection…
Gas fireplaces, inserts, and gas logs are basically machines that operate off of electricity, gas, and heat. Things within the system open and close when the heat or an electrical impulse tells them to. So these systems are more sophisticated than wood-burning units and you need a specialty license to work on them in just about every area.
Sure, there are some areas of service that will be the same for wood-burning appliances and gas-burning appliances — we’ll check the venting system to make sure it’s correctly connected and that there are no gaps or obstructions, and we’ll check to make sure you have the right termination cap — but we’re also sending out a gas certified specialist that will actually service the burner unit and make sure all the control valves, the pilot light, and thermocouples are all operating in factory specs.
A gas certified specialist will make sure you’re getting the efficiency you should be by burning gas and that you’re getting the right kind of flames so that you’re NOT getting a lot of soot. And of course, we’ll check to make sure that the exhaust is being properly evacuated to the outside as well.
I smell gas? What do I do?
You should never smell gas by itself. If you do, here are the steps you need to take:
- Shut off the gas going to your fireplace.
- Go outside.
- Call 911.
Most gas fireplaces will have a shutoff valve out in front of the fireplace, to the side, or somewhere else that’s easy to access. Look for this shut-off valve and turn it off.
If you can’t find the shutoff valve but you can easily access the basement or room where you know the main gas shut off is that comes into the home, shut that off and then go outside and call 911.
If you’re not really sure where the fireplace gas shut off is or the main shutoff, your best bet is to leave the house, shut the door, and call 911 from either outside or from a neighbor’s home.
Knowing what to do when you smell gas is important, but so is knowing what NOT to do. Do not turn light switches on or off, as these cause sparks. If you’re smelling gas and you introduce sparks into the equation, you could have an explosion.
Do gas fireplaces need maintenance?
Yes, all gas fireplaces need maintenance and most manufacturers recommend yearly maintenance. One of the reasons you have an inspection and annual service done is to make sure that the system is operating efficiently.
An efficient fireplace will save you money and give you the maximum amount of heat to augment your other heating source. Plus, it takes less money and less fuel to operate an efficient appliance, and an efficient appliance will burn cleaner and be less polluting.
What might cause your gas appliance to be inefficient? There can be a number of causes, but one common one is spiders: For whatever reason, spiders are attracted to the burner and pilot light areas, so sometimes you’ll get spider webs going across there. These spider webs can make the fireplace or log set burn incorrectly or operate inefficiently, and you’ll get soot. Weird, but true!
During a gas fireplace maintenance service, we’ll check for things like this, and work to keep your gas appliance in tip-top shape.
My glass is dirty. What can I do?
If your glass is getting dirty and you’ve had your system serviced by a CSIA certified gas technician or an NFI certified gas technician and you know it’s working correctly, the glass may just be getting dirty because you use the system a lot. In this case, you can probably clean your own glass using the appropriate glass cleaner.
How do you know which glass cleaner to use? Check to see which glass cleaner the manufacturer of your glass doors or gas unit recommends.
If dirty glass is an ongoing problem with your gas appliance, there’s a chance that:
- The system is not burning correctly. Your system may not be burning correctly for any number of reasons, which is why it’s important to have your system checked by a certified gas professional. We’ll pinpoint the problem and make the needed adjustments or repairs.
- Your log placement is incorrect. The ceramic logs in your gas fireplace do not just get scattered into what looks good for you. They are engineered to be placed exactly how they were laid out in the manufacturer’s installation guidelines. If they have been moved for whatever reason, you won’t get the correct flames and you’ll have more sooting and dirtier glass. If log placement is the issue, a certified gas technician can get things back in order.
How do you know if your dirty glass is normal or if your glass is dirty because of an efficiency or log placement issue?
If you’re ¾ of the way through the season and you’re getting some discoloration on your doors, it’s likely normal and you can just clean the glass yourself. If you clean the glass but it gets dirty again after only a couple of days of use, then you probably need to get the system serviced to figure out what’s going on.
My fireplace isn’t working. What can I troubleshoot on my own before calling a professional?
One of the most common reasons a gas fireplace stops working is that the batteries are dead in the remote control. The easiest thing to do is to check the remote control batteries, put a fresh set in, and see if that takes care of it.
If that doesn’t take care of it, and you have LP gas (which comes in a tank and is delivered to your home outside), check to make sure you haven’t run out of gas.
How do you check? Similar to how you would check your gas barbecue, look at the gauge on the tank, and make sure that you have actually liquid propane (LP) gas in there.
If you have gas in there (it’s showing on the gauge), your batteries on the remote control have been changed, but your remote control still won’t turn on your fireplace or log set, then it’s time to call a professional, certified technician to work on your gas appliance.
I hear a whooshing or roaring sound coming from my gas fireplace. What is that?
If you’re hearing any kind of whooshing sound, you could have an air leak or an issue with your gas line. If you don’t have the proper sizing of your gas line, it can either be gas starved or you could get too much air coming in.
Just like the flue has to be sized for the firebox, when you have a gas line from the street coming into your home, that line has to be sized for use.
A lot of people run into this issue when they have a gas generator, a gas fireplace, a gas dryer, and maybe a gas stove in their kitchen, and the line was only engineered for a dryer and a stove. Sure, maybe you could squeeze a set of gas logs or a gas fireplace out of it no problem, but now you’re talking about adding a generator to run the whole house as well. That needs a lot more gas, and you can’t get the volume to run all those appliances.
This is definitely something you should have looked at by an experienced and certified gas technician. Remember, if your gas appliance is not burning correctly, you’re not being efficient, you’re not getting the heat, and you’re wasting your money on gas. Avoid that waste and the dangers that can come with inefficient gas appliances by having yours serviced by a professional.
Why is carbon monoxide so dangerous?
Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, tasteless, deadly, and essentially undetectable using your senses. It does give you flu like symptoms like headache, nausea, and fatigue — but unfortunately, people are typically using their heating appliances in the winter when the flu is common, so many folks don’t think much of it. They simply lay down, and unfortunately, they don’t always wake up.
That’s the problem with carbon monoxide — you don’t know you’re being gassed because it’s odorless, colorless, and tasteless. Without a detector, it’s undetectable in most cases.
What other appliances besides your gas fireplace might actually give off carbon monoxide?
Anything that burns a fuel source gives off carbon monoxide, so carbon monoxide is a concern with any fuel, not just gas.
Both wood and charcoal give off carbon monoxide, so if you’re in a very airtight room and you’re burning wood or you have coal or charcoal embers in there, you can actually put something in your atmosphere that will make you sick. That’s why it’s good to have a carbon monoxide detector, even if you’re not talking about gas appliances.
That said, the reason why carbon monoxide detectors are especially important for gas appliances is that with gas, you have no warning odors like you might with oil, wood, or charcoal.
For example, if you’re burning oil in an oil furnace, the good news is that, even though you’re breathing carbon monoxide, you’ll usually have an oily or an exhaust smell, sort of like a diesel truck going by, but not quite that strong. So that gives you a little bit of an early warning if you have a good sense of smell. With gas, there is no smell to warn you.
Where should I have carbon monoxide detectors installed?
Everybody should have a carbon monoxide detector in their home, and depending on the size of the home, probably more than one. Where should you have these carbon monoxide detectors installed?
- Wherever the heating appliance is. A good place to have one installed is in the room where your furnace is located. If we’re talking about your gas fireplace, you may want to have one installed on the far wall across from the fireplace opening in your family room, living room, or whatever room the fireplace is in.
- In the hallway outside of the bedroom doors. Your heating appliance may not be anywhere near your bedrooms, but if there’s ever a problem and it spreads to the rest of the home, you need to know about it so you can take action. Having a carbon monoxide alarm near the bedrooms helps ensure you’re alerted to the issue, even if you’re asleep.
By having these important areas of the home covered, you’re giving yourself an early warning system and a chance to do something about a carbon monoxide problem before it spreads through the entire home.
Do the dual carbon monoxide/smoke detectors work and do you recommend them?
Yes, the dual carbon monoxide/smoke detectors work and they’re very cost-effective. The truth is, every home should have smoke detectors AND carbon monoxide detectors. So, if you’re going to buy smoke detectors or replace your smoke detectors (which you should do about every 10 years), you should probably consider buying an alarm that is for both carbon monoxide and smoke. That will cover your bases and you’ll only have one unit to install.
With proper care and maintenance, a gas-burning appliance can be a safe and convenient way to heat your home. We hope we’ve answered some of the questions you had about these appliances. If you have any other questions for us or you need to have your gas appliance looked at by a certified gas technician, give us a call. We’re happy to help!