All Fireplaces are Not Created Equal
For the average homeowner, the
process of selecting a gas fireplace may be a complete mystery.
Basically, it all begins with two fundamental questions.
One, how much heat does the space need to provide a comfortable
environment? And two, what do you
want it to look like? Casual
observation will reveal a myriad of similar-looking units that all claim to be
of high quality. But when you start
digging into the details, some interesting facts emerge.
First of all, gas fireplaces
are rated by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as either a
‘certified room heater’ or ‘decorative gas appliance’.
Since Tahoe is subject to rather chilly weather, most folks opt for a
room heater. This goes along with
the logic that, if you’re paying for the gas, you might as well get the heat.
An additional benefit to these fireplaces is they will continue to
operate when the power goes out. As
you may have guessed, this can keep things mighty pleasant in the house during
winter. On the other hand, a
decorative appliance might be fine if you’ve got a lot of money to burn and
aren’t worried about heating your home.
But the distinction does not
end there. When we look at
fireplace design, the heat exchange system in particular, we find even greater
inconsistencies. The heat exchanger
determines how the burning of gas will be transmitted into heat for your living
area. If you fire up two different
30,000 Btu ‘certified’ units, one of good quality and the other a
‘bargain’ brand, you will notice completely different amounts of heat being
generated from each. Both
fireplaces are burning 30K Btu’s worth of gas, but the one with the better
quality exchanger will heat the room much more efficiently.
There are several lesser Btu models on the market today that, due to
their superior design, clearly outperform ones with higher Btu ratings.
That equals less money paid for heat received.
So it pays to do some research. Better
yet, visit a showroom that has the fireplace burning to actually feel how much
heat it kicks out.
Now, how much heat do you
actually need? A qualified Heating
Technician can help you decide what range of heat will work best by factoring in
room size, and age and insulation value of the home.
30,000 Btu’s is usually sufficient for most living rooms unless the
room is large or has vaulted ceilings. At
today’s natural gas prices, a 30K fireplace costs only about $0.42/hr (2007) to run.
Not bad at all really. But
it sure would be nice to have most of that money coming into the house as heat
rather than going up the flue, right? That
bargain brand model might not look so good when the winter bills start rolling
It is also important to know
how the manufacturer’s product is going to stand up to use over time?
What does the warranty cover? Like
anything, to get the most out of your fireplace, it needs to be set up properly.
In Tahoe, gas-heating appliances need to be de-rated for altitude.
De-rating is an adjustment (lowering) of the amount of gas allowed to
enter the burn chamber in the unit. If
you take a unit that was designed to operate at sea level and burn it up in
Tahoe’s thinner oxygen environment, it will be operating at temperatures
hotter than it was designed for (think ‘burnt toast’).
This often leads to failure of the heat exchanger, which in most cases
means the whole stove is ruined and will need replacing (think ‘more
money’). Scenarios like this are
a lot more common than you would think and provide good reason to have a
professional installation done. On
top of that, the Lifetime Warranty offered by quality manufacturers will only be
honored if someone authorized to do so installs the unit.
Some of those authorized few even offer Extended Warranties on the
fireplaces they install, demonstrating a lot of faith in their product lines. They probably deal in quality merchandise.
And finally, what kind of look do you envision in your home? There are hundreds of styles to look at ranging from ultra modern to classic antique cast iron. It all depends on your personal tastes and what works best with your décor. Take your time deciding on a style, because if it’s a quality unit, you’ll be looking at it for a long time. And that’s a good thing.