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Gas Log Fireplaces
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

?Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? translates, in inside the home, to roasting chestnut candles and ?crackler? sound generators adding the finishing touches to the well-fashioned fireplace, one that today is, more likely than not, burning gas logs instead of real firewood.

?People go to gas logs just for convenience (some are equipped with remote controls),? said Pam Rogers, co-owner of Tontine. ?They look so realistic. They?re really affordable. People think they?re expensive; but you can start at $100.? And because the gas flame does not throw off sparks, everything else around the gas fireplace?the mesh screens, windows, doors, and tools?all are accessories and decoration.

Essentially, gas logs are sets of fireproof refractory materials with steel reinforcement that come in many patterns and styles and can resemble burning wood piles such as evening crossfire, prestige oak, bonfire, evening lone star, etc. for traditional looks. Or choose the fireball for a set of contemporary round balls; these products are all offered by Rasmussen, established in 1907 as one of the oldest manufacturers of fireplace equipment.

?Vented? gas logs are all the rage, making up 90% of all gas log sales, according to Rogers. Vented gas logs are designed for use in fully functioning wood burning fireplaces with the damper wide open. Logs come in units measuring from 12 inches up to 60 inches with 24 inches considered the standard length. Homeowners should size the logs to fit the fireplace properly so that the logs are no bigger than the back wall and still allow 3 to 6 inches of lateral clearance space in the front of the fireplace. Also, the fireplace chamber should have a minimum depth of 12 to 14 inches or 16 to 18 inches for see-through fireplaces.

Getting the wood fire started with the smoke drawing up into the chimney can sometimes be rather tricky. Generally, gas logs can solve the problems although in see-through fireplaces, even gas logs don?t always work, according to Rogers. Then, alternative methods, such as closing off one side of the fireplace with glass doors, may solve the problem.

Gas logs fires exhibit many of the characteristics associated with wood burning fires. For instance, the vented gas logs generate yellow flames and heat output that?s comparable to a similar size wood-burning fire. Also, burning gas logs requires a standard masonry chimney or prefab metal firebox with the exhaust outlet going directly overhead to the roof. And because gas flames leave deposits of carbon and soot on chimney surfaces just like burning wood flames, periodically cleaning the chimney is a necessary maintenance requirement. Both wood burning and gas burning flames require open flues and open glass doors for proper ventilation. Once the fire is over, however, homeowners can shut off fireplaces that were burning gas logs as soon as the valves cool down to stop further heat loss in the house. Fireplaces with dying wood embers must stay open, sometimes all night, before the ash cools down for the damper to be closed off.

Thus, the use of gas logs is for convenience and aesthetics, not for additional heat, according to Rogers. In fact, the amount of heat generated by a fireplace is more a function of the size and structure of the fireplace, itself, rather than the type of combustibles inside it.

If you want a heat source, use the unvented or vent-free gas logs as an insert inside wood-burning fireplaces with the damper closed. Vent-free gas logs can also be placed outside the fireplace as a separate firebox cabinet approved for installation without a chimney. In fact, vent-free gas logs are somewhat like a gas appliance/space heater and are popular where the weather turns cold, according to Rogers. In Dallas, the vent-free gas logs are less popular than the vented gas logs because of their less realistic looking aesthetics. Electric fireplaces are somewhat similar to the vent-free gas logs and are primarily used in homes without gas hook-up.

Built-in gas fireplaces are rarely found in Dallas. People often confuse them (or the term, gas fireplace) for gas logs that go in wood-burning fireplaces, according to Rogers. However, the gas fireplace has its own plumbing and metal ventilation system?one that can course directly overhead to the roof or make a 90-degree turn allowing the exhaust to exit the house in a horizontal plane. Consequently, a gas fireplace can accommodate storage space for such things as a TV or decorative shelves above the mantel, something that?s impossible over a wood-burning fireplace.

It?s important to note that gas-burning fireplaces cannot be converted into wood-burning fireplaces. On the other hand, converting a wood-burning fireplace from real wood to vented gas logs is a simple, reversible procedure requiring a professional to install the proper gas plumbing and qualified service personnel, such as Tontine, to install the gas logs, according to Rogers.

Candles on fireplace candleholders provide another alternative fashion statement for the wood-burning fireplace, especially when the weather turns warm, and a fire seems unnecessary. The candles can sit on decorative inserts inside the fireplace or on fireplace screens and become small ?tealights? in front of the fireplace.

In fact, fireplace d?cor has evolved a cyclical fashion all its own, according to Rogers. Ten years ago antique brass was the rage in fireplace accessories; brass became popular five years ago; and today, the iron look leads the market. Iron screens like the Texas Star offer a decorative impediment to keep small children and animals away from a gas log fire. Add mesh screens for wood burning fires.

Very popular today are burning wood fires outdoors in the yard in fireplaces, fire-pits, and chiminea. The chiminea can be purchased all over Dallas including the grocery store. They are known to ward off mosquitoes when burning pinion wood. The built-in outdoor fireplace units, such as the stainless steel, wood-burning fireplace?healitor, Out42 outdoor fireplace, which comes with optional weatherproof doors, are also popular. And healitor makes approved fire pits, where truly on a cold winter night, you can sing, ?chestnuts roasting on an open fire?Jack Frost nipping at your nose.?

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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