How much of the unvented gas FP warnings are BS?

fscott55December 9, 2008

My dad always told me, whenever you smell BS, brush your teeth. See, the point is, I'm looking, and I'm reading all through this forum and see all these warnings and naysayers who scream DEATH whenever someone asks about unvented gas appliances. We are considering a wood zero-clearance or an unvented FP. We currently have nothing for a fireplace, so everything is stickbuilt. So, no I don't sell unventd fireplaces, I don't work anywhere that does, I have nothing to do with unvented FP's. I'm just a simple man looking for a simple way to heat - but something smells strange here... very strange...

So I'm gonna ask and make a few statements.

Many years agao - what did many folks heat their houses with? Kerosene heaters. We did, big time. What did people cook with? Well first it was wood stoves, then unvented gas stoves for many years. Anyone remember their grandma cooking on that old, unsafe, gas stove? Well heck, she lived to be 94.

The amish folks north of me burn lanterns running on, yup, you guessed it, white gas. They also have a plethora of ceiling mounted "lightbulbs" that burn natural gas, constantly, all day and all night. Ever walk into a real amish furniture store where they have 20 natural gas bulbs burning? They seem pretty healthy to me...

And someting about this "water being poured into the air" like Niagra Falls.... Well, tell ya what, my wife puts more water into the air when she's cooking and watching the dishwasher steam dry the dishes... sheesh.. wanna talk about water in the air and onto the ceilings? I don't see steam coming from unvented fireplaces?

And finally, all this negative talk about how terrible unvented products - how much of it is simply hearsay because you read it somewhere on the internet that unvented is unsafe? I see the same old links being thrown around that have the same old articles and same old stories about how unvented gas appliances destroyed their home, caused mold to grow out of control, put a permanent film on their windows, even killed their cat, and caused a divorce..

Seriously though - everyone I've talked to, my sister, and two co-workers absolutely love their unvented gas FP's, and they have had no problems likw the one's you read on those famous linked pages full of dissatisfied poor souls.

I'm wondering, are the problem truly caused by the unvented gas FP, or does the problem stem from stupid people? Like the lady told me theor other day at Suburban Fireplace, one guy was complaining that his unvented gas FP was putting off soot, come to find out the retardo had a habit of roasting weiners over his fire.....

So where is the statistics on how many unvented as FP units are owned by stupid idiots? I doubt we will ever see any.

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Are you deliberately or accidentally trying to be offensive?
I have "no axe to grind". I do not sell unvented gas fires but I have suffered expense and inconvenience from previously owning two of them.
My carpets and curtains were soiled and they frequently smelled unpleasant. Make your own choices but do not question my motivation or intelligence when I report my experiences.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 5:47PM
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No, I'm just trying to seperate the BS from the BS.

TO be brutally honest, I really wanted a vent-free gas FP, until, that is, I come to places like this and read all the "horror" stories. But since I'm a thinker, I have to question the motives.

Does anyone actually question the fact that if enough BS is spewed on the internet about a particular product, that it will sway potential buyers one way or the other? That's not in doubt, as I read through the forums and see individual after individual being swayed to purchase a DV unit over a vent-free unit - money is always at the root of all BS.

So essentially, I'm reaching and grasping here, to find the truth under all this BS. The people I know, yeah the three individuals I know and have spoken to face to face, not via the internet or read somewhere in cyberspace, all say they love their vent-free FP.

So, it takes a little venting (no pun intended) to bring out the truth behind the curtain of BS. If that means striking a nerve with you or someone else so be it, truth rears its head under the worst of circumstances.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 6:37PM
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i sell unvented gas stoves and if i dont warn people about the drawbacks. i'd have bricks thrown at my windows. my observation is about 60% of my customers love them. the others hate them. Its the first time their friend walk in the room and say "whats that smell?" The answer is your pot roast. smells good untill the smell is burned in the stove and comes out smelling different. or new carpets or even candles. i could go on with more bs if you want.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 8:41PM
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Well, fscott, you raise some good issues.

I worked for years as a repairman for a natural gas utility, and responded to thousands of complaints of possible carbon monoxide problems in people homes.

In that capacity, I packed quite a few people off to hospitals with CO poisoning and shut off or repaired a lot of equipment that was creating a hazard.

Gas ranges can be a hazard due to dirty burners, and I've seen people made sick with carbon monoxide due to a single dirty pilot light. But gas ranges are designed to operated by people who are paying attention to them and will notice odd odors or improper operation of the equipment. That gives people a chance to have defective equipment inspected before it injures them.

With fireplace and other automatic equipment, that's not the case. A gas fireplace, furnace or water heater making CO and venting it into the living quarters may make a person drowsy and nod off to sleep --- forever or perhaps just until they have significant brain injuries. See the difference?

I've testified as an expert witness when a builder installed an unvented fireplace and didn't follow the manufacturers COMPLICATED directions on how to install the gas logs properly. The buyer of the new house wound up in the hospital rather promptly.

IF you READ, UNDERSTAND and FOLLOW ALL the lengthy warnings that come with unvented equipment, I'd say there is a reasonable likelihood that you will be safe. But I've never actually encountered a single person who did that, and for that reason I strongly recommend against installing unvented equipment.

The fad for unvented kerosene heaters seems to be over --- largely due to deaths from CO poisoning, from what I can see. During a cold wave in Seattle a few years ago a number of Vietnamese families using these heaters were killed. Sorta gives them a well earned reputation that other have heeded.

I have no experience with the Amish. My guess is that they have enough experience with their gasoline lanterns to clean and service the burners regularly and to recognize a problem before it becomes a hazard. Because any fuel burning equipment can make CO --- and those lanterns could easily kill people if they are working improperly.

The Amish have a reputation for being smart and practical people. I'll bet they operate such equipment with care and respect. They've probably killed off enough stupid churchmembers to educate the rest about how to protect themselves.

Do NOT take unvented equipment lightly. My suggestion --- read and understand EVERY warning listed on any equipment you buy and decide whether you are willing to follow every warning all the time. If you are --- you are a good candidate to own an unvented fireplace.

You would be the first I have encountered.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 3:56AM
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Thanks for the response there... I do understand the perspective coming from a NG repairmen.

I'm wondering if there isn't a little irrational exuberance over the dangers of unvented appliances however. If I do a search for "unvented" or "ventless" "fireplace died carbon monoxide" on google I actually get only a few news headlines, and most of those are not due to fireplaces, but rather oddities about how a family is heating their home with their gas stove...

However, if I do a search for "killed" or "died" "automobile accident" I get thousands and thousands of nes headlines. 115 people die every day in fatal car accidents....

I guess I'm trying to decipher the real truth and the hearsay. The chances of dying or becoming injured from an auto accident are likely much greater than dying or becoming debilitated from a gas fireplace.

I want to think that the unvented gas log manufacturers spend a little more time in creating safe heating options. Maybe I'm mistaken.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 7:15AM
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Go ahead and get the ventless fireplace. You already know the dangers.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 11:35AM
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You can, of course, dismiss the negative allegations about ventless as worthless internet chatter. That's your choice. But you can go the and read what they have to say about ventless, based on impartial assessments. And you should also make sure that ventless is acceptable in terms of the building codes that govern your house. If you have a serious problem with ventless, and it turns out to be a code violation, the insurance company will not pay a claim.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 1:53PM
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Well fscott, you are certainly entitled to make your own decision on the issue. Unless you live in Canada, where unvented gas fireplaced are banned.

As I described, the biggest issue is proper maintenance and repair. IF you understand and follow ALL the warnings provided with the equipment, it should be safe to operate as I've already said a couple of times. I've just never encountered anyone who qualified by that standard.

Unfortunately, you don't seem to qualify on that standard either from the tenor of the comments you make. Rather than pragmatically and dispassionately looking at the risks and the ways to control them, you have repeatedly aimed to dismiss the warnings and cautions offered.

That can cause injuries or fatlities with any equipment, but unvented equipment is, oh ---- 200 times as risky as vented equipment in my experience, to throw out a number. More, probably.

A good place to start would be by getting the owner's manual for unvented equipment you are considering buying. Sit down in the dealer's showroom and read EVERY warning and caution that is given. Ask the sales rep questions until you are sure you understand the warning --- and accept no BS from the sales guy.

If after reading and understanding those warnings, you decide you are willing to follow ALL of them, all the time, then go ahead and buy the equipment.

If they make you queasy or they are too burdensome or complicated, buy vented equipment.

I'd be real interested if you decided to give that option a try.

It's reasonable don't you think? I'm merely suggesting that you read and understand the warnings and cautions the manufacturer provides, and that you decide you are willing to follow them?

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 2:47PM
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Since fscott mentioned kerosene heaters, I did a search on a Seattle newspaper website and came up with the following results:

Lot of articles there about fires being caused by these heaters --- more than carbon monoxide problems.

A few years ago during a cold snap, several different Vietnamese families suffered injuries or fatalities because of these kerosene heaters being operated indoors.

The Seattle Time took the unprecidented step of posting a large warning notice on the front page of the paper-- in Vietnamese, warning of the hazards.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 3:03PM
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Wow. After reading all these postings, I GLAD I have a woodstove!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2008 at 7:31AM
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Kerosene heaters have caused more fires than CO deaths of course. Kerosene heaters were not that much of a threat in older homes that only had caulk in places to keep water out. Most people who used kerosene heaters when they were popular for home heating were used to alternative heating sources and made sure there was ventilation of some sort.

You seem to want to go back to old days when things were more forgiving. Houses were not sealed up near like they are now. I am sure that ventless fireplaces are manufactured to compensate for tighter homes than back in the 80's but there are many different sealing techniques out there. The ventless fireplace you purchase might be fine in your home if all of the warnings and everything are followed. If you helped your friend put one in his home that has Tyvek and spray foam insulation with no CO detector he might be dead in a week.

The warnings are out there.. homes are not the same now as they were back in the days before the big sealing and insulating push. Take an 80's kerosene heater and put it in a better sealed and insulated home and watch the CO detector go off.

You know what I have had it with trying to tiptoe.

I am sure the majority of ventless fireplaces are still designed for 'vented' homes. I am also sure there are some that are designed for very well sealed homes, you might have to add a power vent to change some of the air in the home.

I know someone who has one in a newer home and I can smell it as soon as the door opens even if it hasn't been running for a couple hours. They are 'used to it'.. it feels nice, but it smells and does leave a smell. They are not totally happy with it and it will set off the CO detector if you sit the detector on the floor instead of 2' off the floor or whatever it is supposed to be at. Oh and this is an electric home other than the propane fireplace they had added, oh and no they do NOT sleep with it on as they do not trust it.

I say go buy one, you will love it I am sure! I am sure it is all BS, I am sure it all is a bunch of people trying to naysay and scam others. They are so great that the only reason companies build vented models is for something to write off on taxes.

Everyone in here is full of BS too.

BTW I know of stories where there have been power outages due to storms with newer homes where people used a kerosene heater to keep warm and died from it and the heater was inspected and had no failure. The only failure was the house was TOO sealed up. OH this person I know is an assistant fire chief.

Like anything else you will get what you pay for.. be it vented or unvented.. but with unvented you might 'pay for' what you get eternally.

What am I talking about... I am full of BS.

I wish you luck and hope you realize its not all a conspiracy theory.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2008 at 10:04PM
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99.9 % efficiency on a vent free WOW why would you pay for venting? its the most efficient heater you ever seen. thought i'd throw in what your salesman says, but he's right.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2008 at 10:19PM
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Countryboymo stated:

"If you helped your friend put one in his home that has Tyvek and spray foam insulation with no CO detector he might be dead in a week."

Ok, that's what I'm referring to. Can you please provide a news link where this occurred due to a ventless fireplace? Perhaps, you should be able to provide hundreds of links where people died from ventless gas fireplaces...

    Bookmark   December 12, 2008 at 3:17PM
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Well fscott--- I acted as Plaintiff;s expert witness in the instance I mentioned earlier --- a woman who moved into a new house with an unvented fireplace installed by the builder.

The defect was that the gas logs weren't installed according to the quite complex instructions in the installation manual. Instead they were installed according to the intuition of the installer, a way that looked good and seemed like it would be OK, even to me.

However, with that arrangement of the logs, about 50PPM CO was produced in the room air of the house, and the woman wound up being treated in the hospital for CO poisoning. She wasn't killed, and presumably suffered no permanent brain injury, but she did have symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and was treated for that.

After measuring and documenting the results of the original installation of the logs, I spent 15-20 minutes of painstakingly interpreting the complicated and obscure instructions on how to properly install the logs. When that was done correctly, the CO given off by the fireplace was negligible.

I've suggested that if youy want to buy unvented equipment, you make a point of carefully reading and following ALL the warnings and instructions provided by the manufacturer, all the time. Is that unreasonable?

Unfortunately, you strike me as a person who is stubbornly convinced of their own judgements, based on little more than your own willfullness. Even if you were to read those warnmings and instructions, I would expect you to ignore them whenever it didn't suit your biases.

So it seems to me that you are exactly the kind of person who should not buy unvented fireplaces ---- and exactly the kind of person likely to do so.

Good luck with that decision, which I expect you to make. You may wind up needing it.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2008 at 8:44PM
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It is all BS remember? Go buy one and sleep in the front room basking in its warmth. They are harmless, you will love it.

I am not going to prove that there is more risk in having a ventless heater be it kerosene or anything involving a flame in a well sealed house without a possibility of low air quality issues compared to a more leaky home.

Most homes that are extremely sealed have fresh air units to circulate some fresh air into the home and that is even with all electric homes. If there can be air quality issues in an all electric I bet people in that situation should skip the fresh air unit and put in a ventless fireplace. That would clean the air right up and have something to actually enjoy. Your a genius!

    Bookmark   December 12, 2008 at 9:15PM
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There was a terrible ice storm this week in Albany, NY about 60 miles from here. There are over 200,000 people without power as I type this.
Now everybody knows a gas kitchen stove is an unvented stove. People were using their gas stoves to keep warm. Some brought in their gas grilles to fire up and keep warm. So far over 300 people have been hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisioning.

We get our TV stations from Albany, so I sit there and hear this news. No BS. These appliances are not meant to be used to heat a home. The fire department says to always have some ventilation.

Oh well, gotta throw another log in the woodstove.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2008 at 7:31AM
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We just put in a vent-free in our family room. I LOVE it. No gas smell, no problems. My house smells worse and is dirtier after a wood fire in the LR. I get more gas smell from my range top. I did my research, got my permits, called my contractor and plumber, and now I'm toasty warm.

If you're considering one, do the research and make sure it will meet your town's requirements to get your permits. Have qualified pros install it. Buy a CO detector and put that in nearby, just in case, and keep a window cracked (some folks do anyway). I hope you'll be as happy as I am.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 8:43PM
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What's a "fresh air unit"? I have built an all electric home and had an insert in one of the fireplaces, and now live in a home we had built 6 years ago here in VT. I have never heard of a "fresh air unit". And the home is very well insulated. It has to be when the temps can go to minus 40.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2008 at 7:34AM
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Just out of curiosity Tamster, have you read and do you understand the list of warnings and recommendations for operating your fireplace?

    Bookmark   December 17, 2008 at 12:40AM
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I should have used the term heat recovery ventilator. It is a device used to change some of the air in the homes that are tightly sealed and try to keep from trading temps or humidity with the outside in the process. Home sealing and building techniques have changed a bunch in the past even 10 years. There are foams and other sealing/insulating things that can be done to even a 100yr old home that could cause air quality issues.

How many changes have there been to ventless appliances in the past 10 years to compensate for this? Oh yeah some have air quality sensors and other features but not all of them!! It would suck to have a ventless unit and then later realize the air is crummy and have to install a HRV to change some of the air in the house. Blah..

Here is a link that might be useful: Heat Recovery Ventilator

    Bookmark   December 18, 2008 at 9:47PM
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