This is a relatively common question in hearth product shops around the country. If it’s a wood burning fireplace, the answer is likely “yes”. There are many products designed for this specific application. However, if this is a wood burning stove, the answer is definitely “no”! Read on to get a better understanding of some details when it comes to converting a wood burning fireplace with a natural or LP gas insert.
WOOD BURNING FIREPLACES
A convenient and easy to operate gas insert can be installed in an open-burning masonry or a zero clearance (ZC), factory-built metal wood burning fireplace. A gas insert is a gas fireplace (either natural or LPG) that has been designed to slide into an existing wood burning fireplace. Dimensionally, there are several sizes of inserts, depending on the width, height, and depth of your existing fireplace. Inserts are wonderful heaters, making efficient use of the gas that’s burned. Dozens of optional fronts and media choices can make a gas fireplace insert reflect your tastes and lifestyle.
An electric and gas supply line will need to be installed inside the masonry firebox so nothing will be visible in front of the fireplace or on the hearth. Oftentimes, both the gas and electric lines can be installed from the basement, through the clean out cavity and by removing the small ash dump door located in the bottom of the old fireplace.
Gas inserts provide access holes for the electrical connection and the gas supply line. So, once installed into the firebox, these connections to the gas fireplace insert are usually straightforward.
Two flexible aluminum liners are attached to the top of the insert and installed up the existing chimney to properly vent the gas insert. The damper on the masonry fireplace should be either removed or permanently disabled to prevent any damage to the venting system. The old, existing chimney cap must be removed and a new termination cap for the aluminum liners will be installed.
Occasionally, an old, deteriorated chimney is removed below the roofline and covered-up in the attic area. This should not prevent a gas fireplace insert from being installed. The two flexible, aluminum liners can be installed as usual. The top of the old chimney will be uncovered to accommodate special retro connectors. These adaptors will allow a co-linear (two pipe) system to be converted to a co-axial (one pipe within another pipe) vent system. One 7” co-axial vent pipe can then be installed through the roof, flashed and finished with a vertical termination cap.
After the insert is installed, a decorative panel is used to finish up the project. This panel is intended to close the rest of the old fireplace opening. Typically, made of steel, these panels come in standard sizes or can be custom ordered for larger fireplaces or unusual circumstances. A large opening, a corner fireplace or large uneven rock facings would warrant specially made surround panels.
ZERO CLEARANCE FIREPLACES:
Odds are high that an insert can be installed, if yours is a ZC, factory-built, metal wood burning fireplace from the 70s, 80s or 90s. Getting the electric and gas lines into the firebox can sometimes make this phase of the project a bit more challenging. A hole for the gas and electric lines may need to be drilled through the side or bottom of the existing ZC fireplace, depending where the access holes are located on the gas insert.
Again, the damper should be removed or permanently blocked open. A two-liner system is used to correctly vent the gas insert and to provide combustion air. If the two-walled stainless-steel chimney for the old wood fireplace is in good shape, the two liners would terminate at the very top. Again, the old chimney cap is history, and a new vertical termination kit is used to replace it. If a length or two of the old 8” or 10” chimney has been removed or is missing, it’s likely that transition adaptors, from a co-linear to co-axial venting system described above, can be used.
Although there are standard sizes of surround panels for ZC fireplaces, many are custom-made. This gives the old fireplace a make-over and will cover up old, discolored brass accents or a stained and dirty fireplace face.
WOOD BURNING STOVES:
Freestanding wood burning stoves are not candidates to be converted to gas. They can be replaced with gas, but not converted to gas. There is no gas insert or gas logs that have been designed, tested, and approved to be installed into an existing wood burning stove. This question come up periodically. Do not attempt this. It can be extremely dangerous.
Gas stoves are often used to replace a wood burning stove. The wood stove and black connector black must be removed. Once a gas supply line is installed to the hearth, the new gas stove is placed in the same spot and co-axial pipe installed to the chimney opening. Once in the chimney, the coax pipe is retro fitted with connectors that convert it to a co-linear system. From here, like the other venting scenarios explained above, the flexible aluminum liners are installed up the existing chimney and terminated on top with a new cap.
OTHER POINTS TO KEEP IN MIND:
Everyone can be susceptible to accidental burns. A physical barrier is standard equipment on all gas inserts sold today. However, there are many still in operation that do not have any type of barrier to protect young ones, toddlers, or other at-risk individuals. The glass on a gas fireplace insert gets very hot. Supervise youngsters if a gas insert is operating while they are in the room.
It’s always a good idea to have a carbon monoxide detector and a smoke alarm in the same room as a fireplace. And make sure that the batteries are fresh!
Clearances to combustibles are seldom an issue with a gas insert. But check the requirements to make sure that the mantel, hearth, or any trim is outside the danger zone. If a wood fireplace complies with clearance requirements, you won’t have any trouble with a gas insert complying.
- Operate the gas insert with the glass off.
- Rearrange the logs. Placement of each is very specific and it’s important to keep them where they are designed to be positioned.
- Modify the orifice.
- Keep the screen barrier in place. If damaged, replace it with the manufacturer’s barrier for your model.
- Keep clothing, plastic toys and other flammables away from the front of the gas insert. Three feet is a good rule of thumb.
- Have any service or repairs completed by a professional service tech.
- Keep air passageways, control compartments, burners and the venting system clear and free of any dirt or debris.
IS YOURS NEXT?
Converting an old wood burning fireplace with an energy-efficient gas insert is done every day by your WE LOVE FIRE expert. It’s a common, practical and worthwhile investment in your home. Fireplaces that have not been used in years can be resurrected and enjoyed nightly by you and your family. There are hundreds of old, outdated, inefficient wood burning fireplaces in this area that would be terrific candidates for a gas insert. Is yours one of them?