A ventless fireplace is an attractive way to save money on heating…but it does have its drawbacks.
When it comes to saving on winter energy costs, it’s hard to beat a ventless fireplace or heater. Unlike the classic gas-fired space heater, these are basically enclosed gas fireplaces that offer all the charm and beauty of a traditional fireplace without losing all the heat up the chimney.
These inexpensive gas-fired appliances are highly efficient, much more so than most furnaces and other heating appliances. When properly installed and serviced, there’s almost no waste to vent. Most of the wastes are completely burned up in the heating process, converted into harmless air and water vapor.
The Fine Print
While these fireplaces are much safer than traditional gas heaters, given that the flame is safely enclosed, it’s possible for ventless heating appliances to malfunction, so you do need to remain vigilant.
For this reason, they’re illegal in California, as well as some municipalities scattered elsewhere across the country. Be sure to check your local building codes before you install one.
The worry here is the fact that these fireplaces vent their combustion gases directly into the room’s air supply. Under normal circumstances, the amount of said combustion gases is minimal, and completely harmless. But if the fuel gas doesn’t combust completely, it could form carbon monoxide (CO).
CO is a poisonous gas that’s both colorless and odorless, and can kill you within moments. If it doesn’t kill, it can cause extreme flu-like symptoms: vomiting, disorientation, nausea, and the like.
But the truth is, CO poisoning from ventless systems is vanishingly rare, especially in units manufactured after 1980. That’s when it became mandatory to include an Oxygen Depletion Sensor (ODS) with each unit. The ODS automatically shuts off the unit if oxygen levels fall below a certain point.
Installing a ventless heating device in your home is a savvy way to save a little money, while enjoying all the benefits of a crackling fireplace. They’re much safer than space heaters, gas or otherwise, as long as you’re aware of the safety concerns and are sure to address them properly.
Just make sure the unit was built after 1980 and includes an ODS, and that the room in which it’s installed has good ventilation. As long as your ventless fireplace is professionally installed and regularly maintained, you should have nothing to worry about.