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In the past, fireplaces were always made with a chimney that provided an escape for the carbon monoxide and other toxins that are produced when burning wood or gas. These types of fireplaces are called vented fireplaces. Though vented fireplaces are still very popular, a new option is available. This option is called a vent free fireplace. A vent free fireplace uses special natural gas or propane logs or other materials that do not produce large amounts of soot or carbon monoxide, so they can be safely used without a vent needed to allow toxic gases to escape.
Vent free fireplaces are designed to burn a very clean, very hot flame that results in fewer chemicals released into the air that will be breathed in by anyone near the fireplace. This is a safe and economical alternative for people who do not already have a fireplace and chimney built into the home. Not only is a vent free fireplace an economical purchase for those without a chimney, it is an efficient method of heating even for those who currently use a vented fireplace. An insert or firebox can be installed in an existing fireplace and this will warm the room without part of the heat escaping up the chimney with the carbon monoxide.
There are some things to consider before opting for a vent free fireplace, however. Some carbon monoxide and other chemicals will still be released into the air inside the home. Though these levels have been determined to be safe, some people are more sensitive to gases and toxins and might find they are intolerant to even the low levels of fumes produced and suffer eye, nose, and throat irritation. Also, if other fuel burning appliances are used in the home, there might not be adequate ventilation for all. A guide should be consulted for the specific vent free fireplace purchased to determine the amount of fresh air required in the home to be used for combustion on all the appliances combined.
To be safe, all homes should have carbon monoxide detectors installed. If there is a question as to whether or not enough fresh air is available, a window may be opened, or a permanent hole may be cut in a wall to provide adequate air for combustion without irritation. Vent free fireplaces should be installed by professionals who can assure home owners that adequate air is available in the home.
There's another option that the article doesn't mention: a vent free electric fireplace. They don't produce the real flames of a gas fireplace, but they also don't produce the fumes!
My aunt has one of these and it's quite cute; hers is shaped like an old-fashioned woodstove, but you can also get them that look more like fireplaces.
The electric version can be a nice option for houses that don't have natural gas, or for people that are sensitive to the fumes. Since all you really have to do is plug them in, installation can be a lot cheaper than even a vent-free gas fireplace.
My mother has a vent free gas fireplace in her home. She had always wanted to have a fireplace, but when they were looking to move into their new place, they just didn't see anything on the market that they liked and that had a fireplace.
It was actually their real estate agent who told them about the vent-free option. Guess she was ready for them to buy something, already! The house was already hooked up to natural gas, so adding the fireplace was not too difficult and not prohibitively expensive.
They do have a carbon monoxide detector for safety. It's nice to have something to turn on and feel cozy on a winter's night, plus it give her a mantel to decorate at Christmas!