Nothing beats a fire in the fireplace on a cold night, but wood burning fires can be really tedious, smoky and dangerous, so many of our clients have chosen to use gas fireplaces in their homes instead. There are a lot of factors going into installing a gas fireplace, or turning a wood burning fireplace into a gas one, and I get a lot of questions about our see through gas fireplace, so I thought I’d delve into the topic a little bit today.
In our living room, there was a classic one-sided wood burning fireplace when we bought the house. We loved having a fireplace, but even when burning just a fire log, our house got really smokey and I’d get a headache – never mind having to wait until it’s fully out to go to bed. So when we did the addition of our family room, we decided to turn it to gas. Actually, we made the call before then, when we renovated our basement! While the ceiling was open we ran the gas line across the basement in preparation for someday turning it to gas. When we designed the family room addition, it seemed a shame to not have a fireplace to enjoy in there. But we also did not want to close up the living room side, either – so instead we thought, why not see through!? Back to back fireplaces that are not see through require two flues and a lot of depth, which we did not have, but there used to be a fireplace directly below this one in our basement (thus there were two flues) so see through was an option.
It also connects the rooms nicely and allows for a more open feel.
Now, the real trick to making any wood burning fireplace a convincing gas fireplace is to use just a gas log set, NOT a gas insert! If you already have a chimney and a masonry firebox, it is THE way to go! That is what we have and it feels way more like a real fire than insert fires. We had louvered custom glass doors made for both sides and that allows for excellent venting. Although I will warn you – the see through element is a little louder than I thought – the wind across the chimney seems to reverberate. It doesn’t get super hot, which I like. We plan to turn the large wood burning fireplace in our new house into gas by utilizing a good gas log set!
When it comes to inserts, it’s all about the quality, shape and interior finishes. This is a good example – the brick interior and flush to the ground opening makes it look much more like a wood-burning fireplace. I like kinds that have skinny frames around the fixed glass best. And then it’s all about the mantel, surround and hearth. Many times with inserts, you won’t need a hearth, but they make the fireplace way more convincing to have one! This one we did in Danby marble (like mine) and a gorgeous cast stone mantel from Chesney’s, giving it a more modern touch.
This insert is an example of a traditional, often-seen insert – the thicker metal surround and height off the floor make it a little less realistic (this was existing to the house). A nice large wood millwork mantle makes it feel in line with the traditional lines of the room though. Your choices in gas inserts are determined by the type of venting system you have in place or plan to put in place – there are ventless systems and those that are vented either through a chimney or out through an exterior wall. Read more from This Old House about each type.
We also are planning a vented insert fireplace in our new house so follow along as we get our fireplace game going strong!
Photography by Michael J. Lee
Some options I like:
Vented gas fireplace with herringbone liner
Insert with brick liner
Gas log set
We have one of these gas log sets.