Convert ventless propane fireplace to vented? P

deanie1February 1, 2010

We have recently purchased a home that came with a ventless propane fireplace. Every time we turn it on it smells terrible. I have also read on these forums that ventless fireplaces are not all that safe. Can you convert a ventless to a vented? If so, what would have to be done and what would the approximate cost be?

If anyone has any other ideas I'd love to hear them. I want a fireplace, but one that doesn't stink and a I would like it to throw out at least some heat too.

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You would need to go first to a dealer that sells/installs fireplaces and fireplace inserts, and talk about your particular situation. He or she will come to your house and look over your system, see how the ventless system was installed, and give you an opinion on what can be done.

Assuming you have a fireplace (either prefab or built on site) with a real chimney, it should in principle be possible to remove the propane logs system you presently have in there and replace it with something else. But a lot depends on the condition of the chimney. If it has been sealed shut, it will not be possible to determine its condition without unsealing it. That could be messy, and then you might get the bad news that the chimney has cracks in it, or whatever, and needs to be relined.

I would strongly urge you to consider a direct vent insert. It is the gold standard for safety and energy efficiency. Since a disagreeable smell is an issue for you (it would be for me), direct vent will probably eliminate that problem because it is a sealed system, and no fumes go into the house. Since direct vent systems include two vents that go up the chimney, it may not be necessary to reline your chimney, even if it has cracks in it. But direct vent systems are expensive.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2010 at 6:06PM
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Thanks, haus proud. I didn't think "ventless" systems had chimneys. I don't think our house has a chimney -- at least not one that I can see. What then?

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 8:16PM
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Some direct vent units (fireplaces or stoves) can be vented horizontally, so you do not need a chimney, provided you are putting the unit against an outside wall. Go to google and search direct vent. that should get you started on the various options you might consider.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2010 at 8:52PM
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Generally direct vent fireplaces/stoves use a type of double walled pipe that serves to bring in combustion air through the outside pipe wall and vent exhaust out the center. This system can be vented through an outside wall just like haus proud said or through the roof. Through the wall applications will need a forced draft unless the pipe goes up the wall on the outside of the building rather than just terminating outside the wall. Most applications that vent through the roof can just depend on gravity for a natural draft. Other considerations are the distance of the vent from windows and doors and height from the ground and/or roof. These vary depending on your local codes. Personally I would forget about converting your existing ventless to a vented. It sounds like a nightmare to redesign & fabricate and could possibly cost you more than installing a new system. JMHO!

    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 7:09PM
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Thanks haus proud and bikesr2tired. Unit is not on an outside wall. How about converting this ventless FP to electric? Could I just rip out the whole thing and buy an electric one without the decorative surround and use the surround that is already there?

    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 9:35PM
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You can do that, but don't expect it to do anything that will ever come close to what a gas unit can do. You will also have to do have some heavy duty electrical work as well.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 7:37AM
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Since your fireplace is not against an outside wall, that does pose complications. A direct vent fireplace would be complicated and costly to install. But you might consider a direct vent gas stove, either cast iron or soapstone. These are free-standing units that have to be some distance from combustible surfaces (the wall behind and on either side of the stove), and they have to stand on a noncombustible surface such as brick, tile, or slate. There would be a chimney that goes up from the rear of the stove to the ceiling, through the ceiling, and continuing on through the roof to the outside. If yours is a 2-story house, the cost would of course be higher than if it is a on-story house, and you'd have to figure out where the chimney would occupy space in your upper floor(s), peferrably in a closet where it would not be seen. A friend of mine had such a system in their 2-story house, but it was planned before construction, whereas yours would be retrofitted. All of this sounds complicated and expensive, and probably is, which is probably why the previous owner put in ventless.

Although electric would not give you the kind of performance you get from gas, I would not dismiss it. Some electric units are pretty good. Just stay away from gas ventless.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 8:31PM
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Thanks guys. I never thought of a gas stove. It is a one-story so maybe that would work. Do these tend to have the overwhelming stink of propane as does the fireplace we have now? I would think not since the fumes go outside, right?

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 5:36PM
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You would do very well with a free standing direct vent stove and because your house is a one story you should be able to vent directly through the roof. If properly flashed you should have no problems with roof leaks either and because you can vent through the roof, you won't need a forced draft which means that the stove will be absolutely quiet.

A direct vent stove is completely sealed from the inside so you will never have any smell! As stated previously they get all of their combustion air from the outside so your living environment is completely isolated from the firebox. All you are going to get is tons of heat and lots of ambiance! I have a natural gas unit and I LOVE it! Of course what you want to spend is up to you, but I recommend a good quality stove with an adjustable flame feature. I'm kind of partial to the cast enameled stoves. The one I have is a Hearthside and I recommend it highly. I've had it for about 10 years now and never had a problem with it. Also you will want to look at a stove that can be fitted with an external Piezoelectric thermostat. A setup like this means that you will have heat even when the power is out.

Let us know what you decide.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2010 at 3:58PM
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I would also recommend that you get a remote thermostat. They charge too much for them, but they are definitely worth having. After a trial and error period, during which you try out different locations for the thermostat and different temp settings, you will settle in on the one that works best for you. Then you can relax and enjoy your fire. Without a thermostat, you will find that the system tends to get too hot and you will manually shut it off for a few minutes, then turn it back on, etc. The thermostat takes care of that for you.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2010 at 8:12PM
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