Dear Jim: I plan to install a gas fireplace for additional heat in a large family room. I want an efficient one but one which also has realistic flames. Is a direct-vent design my best option? – Jeff W.
Dear Jeff: New gas fireplaces are very efficient, probably more so than your existing furnace, and they produce substantial heat output. Most models should be able to easily produce enough supplemental heat to keep even a large family room comfortably warm. The heat outputs are only slightly different when set up for propane instead of natural gas.
You obviously have done your homework because a direct-vent gas fireplace is the best design for your needs. This is particularly true if you plan to install it yourself because a direct-vent fireplace does not require a tall chimney. You can do the entire installation except for the gas line connection. Many local codes require a qualified installer, licensed plumber or pipe fitter to do this.
Direct-vent fireplaces draw the outdoor combustion air and then exhaust the flue gases back outdoors. The combustion process is totally sealed from the room air for efficiency and comfort. A concentric multiwalled vent pipe is used. The warm exhaust gases go out the center pipe and combustion air comes in the concentric pipe around it. This preheats the incoming air.
There have been significant advances in the gas log designs to create realistic flames. On some models, it is difficult to distinguish the gas flames from real wood log flames. Since the glass front is sealed, you will not hear much of the sound of the burning flames though. Visit several fireplace dealers to observe the flames for your personal preference.
The heating capacity from a direct-vent fireplace can be as high as 40,000 Btu per hour. In order to keep your family room from overheating, select a thermostatically controlled model. Some models have two-level burners so the gas logs can be fired at a lower heat level during mild weather. When comparing heating capacities, pay attention to whether the specifications are for the gas input or the actual output heat capacity.
Some models have a built-in or optional blower. For your large room, this would be a good option. If your area experiences power outages, select a model with millivolt controls and a piezoelectric igniter or battery backup. A thermocouple in the flame produces millivolt electricity to keep the controls operating during an electricity outage. Room air still will circulate through it without the blower running.
Since you are going to install the fireplace yourself, select a zero-clearance model. The fireplace cabinet has double walls and insulation so it can be placed near lumber in the wall. This greatly simplifies the installation process. Always maintain proper front clearances when it is running.
The following companies offer efficient gas fireplaces: Central Fireplace, 800-248-4681, www.centralfireplace.com; Heat-N-Glo, 888-427-3973, www.heatnglo.com; Hussong Mfg., 800-253-4904, www.kozyheat.com; Lennox, (800) 953-6669, www.lennoxhearthproducts.com; and Travis Industries, 800-654-1177, www.travisproducts.com.
Dear Jim: During summer and fall, we have a musty smell coming from the furnace-air-conditioner cabinet. The smell goes away during winter. What is causing this and how can we stop it from happening each year? – Jane B.
Dear Jane: The most likely cause of the smell is blockage in the drain from the pan under the cooling evaporator coils. If water and dirt build up in the pan, it will mildew and create an odor. It also can cause it to rust.
Turn off your furnace and shut off the electric power to the unit. Remove the side cover and clean out the pan and the drain line. It would not hurt to wipe it down with a cleaner that kills mildew and mold.
Send inquiries to James Dulley, Bangor Daily News, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.