Installing a new gas fireplace - or converting an existing fireplace to burn gas - is one of the better investments you can make in your home. A study by the National Association of Home Builders found that more than 75% of home buyers look for at least one fireplace in their new home. Adding a fireplace, as compared to many of the upgrades you can do to your home, typically returns your full investment and can actually add as much as 6-12% to your home's value. Higher end finishes - like new tile or marble - will provide the most return so consider the overall style of your fireplace project to reap the most benefits from adding a fireplace or to your remodeling project.

With so many options available, it helps to know the style and type of fireplace that provides the best return and the most benefits for your home.

Let's get the easy part out of the way first. Do not choose a vent-free model for your home. Vent free (aka ventless or unvented) means there's no chimney or vent to carry away the fumes and moisture produced by the appliance so it would be more accurate to call them "room vented" because that's where the nasty stuff produced by burning gas goes. People with certain health conditions will find them intolerable and unsafe for them to be around; you may actually have to pay somebody to remove it when you eventually sell your home.   LEARN MORE ABOUT VENT-FREE GAS APPLIANCES.

CONVERTING AN EXISTING FIREPLACE TO GAS

GAS LOGS
So we've established that you want a vented gas fireplace. Do you want a decorative gas fire, like gas logs, that provides an open fire? If your only fireplace is in your formal living room that you only sit in when you have guests over - such as during the holidays - then vented gas logs may be your best option. Vented gas logs are not efficient because any open fire is going to draw heat out of your home; while the gas logs do produce heat, the chimney with an open damper will usually suck the heat out of your house at a faster rate than the gas logs can add heat to it. Gas logs simply offer a gorgeous large fire at the touch of a button and create the perfect ambiance. Vented gas logs will use the most amount of gas to provide that blazing flame, but you'll find that is still less expensive than buying firewood in most areas. Expect to pay $1000 to $2000 to have gas logs installed.

GAS COALS
Gas coals are the best option for an open fire in a small coal burning fireplace. Most gas log require a fireplace at least 15" deep, and a coal fireplace is generally too small for a set of gas logs. Gas coals simply use  ceramic "coal" instead of ceramic logs. They also are a more vertical fire than gas logs because coal fireplaces - unlike wood burning fireplaces - are generally taller than they are wide. Gas coal burners, being smaller than gas logs, also use about half as much gas. Just like vented gas logs, a vented gas coal basket is not going to add an appreciable amount of heat and should be chosen just for their convenience, good looks and historical accuracy. Prices, like gas logs, average $1000 to $2000 installed.

GAS INSERTS
Simply put, a gas insert is heater that's installed into your fireplace. Gas inserts are available in an enormous array of styles these days, so there's a look that will perfectly suit your decor. Great looks are just the beginning of their attributes. Even small gas inserts can heat 800 sq ft or better while larger models may be able to heat 2500 sq ft or more depending on your home's layout. They have a glass window to keep the chimney from drawing the heat out of your house, and nearly all models these days are direct vent, meaning they use outdoor air for combustion and vent the fumes to the outdoors. Most models these days provide thermostat control, meaning you set the room temperature you want and the fire either modulates the flame height or turns the fire on and off, like a furnace, to maintain that temperature. Your room won't get overheated and you'll stay comfortably warm. The better models operate without the need for electricity, meaning they work in a power outage. 

A gas insert can easily serve as the primary source of heat for your home, while using 50% to 90% less gas than gas logs and up to 75% less gas than a gas furnace. Larger homes with many rooms will be harder to heat with a gas insert on a full time basis, but many of our customers report saving loads of energy dollars on home heating. Another bonus: most gas inserts work when the power is out, but be careful to ask if the model you're considering offers this feature as it's not universal. Should a power outage occur, your gas furnace will not work because the fan can't move the hot air through the ductwork, but your gas insert will keep right on going. Costs to install a gas insert will average $4000 to $6000. Not having to leave your home while the heat is out during a big snow storm is priceless, but check the efficiency rating on the model you're considering, and stay away from models that are less than about 65% efficient.

GAS FIREPLACES (adding a fireplace where there isn't one)

This category of gas fire will cause the most confusion for homeowners, mostly due to efficiency ratings, so check those numbers carefully. Gas fireplaces are tested and listed as either a DECORATIVE APPLIANCE or as a ROOM HEATER. This is a government classification and is required to help guide consumers in making the right buying decision.
  • If the manufacturer only tells you the gas consumption - say 30,000 btu's - then you're looking at a DECORATIVE APPLIANCE. It sucks down gas and isn't going to provide any appreciable heat. This is too often the case with builder grade fireplaces, where the goal is to find the least expensive option to a new home. He may pay as little as $800 for the fireplace, but tack on $5000 to $10,000 to the price of the home. Usually he could spend just $300 more for a heater-rated fireplace that uses the same or less amount of gas.
  • BTU input x Efficiency = Heating Output. Look for a manufacture that tells you how much gas the fireplace consumes AND it's efficiency rating OR tells you the BTU output for a heater rated fireplace
A heater rated gas fireplace will usually have a thermostat feature that turns the fire down or off when the room gets too warm, so look for this feature. Most will also operate without electricity so that your fireplace can provide most, if not all, of the heat you need should the power go out.

Most fireplaces available now are direct vent models and offer very flexible venting options, including installing a horizontal vent that exits right through the exterior wall for an unobtrusive design. The vent pipe is double walled; combustion air enters the fireplace from outdoors through the outer chamber and the gas fumes exit through the inner chamber. Now with gas fireplaces being able to be installed most any where, some models can be power vented to enable them being installed in previously impossible locations, but be aware that a power vented fireplace will not operate if the electricity goes out.

There is an enormous variety of gas fireplaces available now - you can pick from most any size or shape you can imagine in a wide array of finishes to suit your home's style. Keeping in mind that you'll usually need a chase constructed - the walls that the fireplace is built into - so installing a gas fireplace where there wasn't one will generally start at $5000 to $6000, with prices varying widely depending on the wall finishes, mantel, etc. that you choose.

PRO TIPS
  • Always choose a VENTED gas fire for the best looking fire that's safe to use around everyone
  • Shop for high efficiency models; they'll cost less to operate and provide the most heat for the amount of gas burned
  • Look for models with thermostat control; this will keep you more comfortable and save on gas consumption
  • Stay away from trendy finishes that may look outdated in a few short years; you'll grow tired of it and it will likely turn off future potential buyers
  • Have your gas fire installed by a professional