Can I Use a Gas Fireplace When the Power is Out?

The popularity of gas fireplaces is undisputed.  Whether it’s natural or LP gas, the realism of the fire in many gas hearth products is outstanding.  Homeowners enjoy the convenience and the versatility of a gas fireplace.

But what about when the chips are down and an ice storm, heavy snows or high winds cause a power outage?  Can a gas fireplace be expected to heat?  A forced air furnace will not operate without power.  Can my gas fireplace?

Before we answer this question, let’s get a better understanding of how your gas fireplace works.

HOW DOES YOUR GAS FIREPLACE START?

When you flip a wall switch, click on your remote control or the thermostat calls for heat, the gas valve on your fireplace will open.  Gas valves generate their own electricity and operate on millivolts, a very small amount of electricity.  That’s substantially less that the 120 volts that are needed for many appliances, rechargers and lamps that plug into an outlet in your house.

PILOT LIGHTS AND MILLIVOLTS

Millivolts of electricity are generated by a small device called a thermocouple.  Basically, a thermocouple is a sensor that measures temperature.  It’s made with two different types of metals.  Several of these thermocouples connected together are called a thermopile.  A thermopile is about the diameter of a pencil and a couple inches long.  A small wire connects it to the gas valve.

Pilot Light with Thermocouple and ThermopileA pilot light, or a very small gas flame, heats one end of the thermopile.  Since one end is hotter than the other, the difference produces a temperature dependent voltage.  That voltage is millivolts of electricity whose purpose is to open and close the gas valve.  (It’s worth noting here that the normal position of a gas valve is closed.  Without being supplied millivolts of electricity, the gas valve cannot open and will remain in the closed position.)

A pilot light has two functions.  One is to generate millivolts in order to open and close the gas valve.  Once the valve is open, the second function is to ignite the fuel as it flows into the burner assembly.

TWO TYPES OF IGNITION SYSTEMS

Hang on, we going to get to the original “will it operate without power” question in just a minute!  But first, a few details and a bit more background information.

For many years, “standing” pilot lights were kept burning 24/7/365 in fireplaces, water heaters and furnaces.  This type of technology has been around for years and has been proven to be very reliable and consistent in its performance.  However, since the pilot is always lit, this is considered wasteful by some.  As a result, electronic ignition was developed.

An electronic ignition system does not utilize a standing pilot light.  The pilot is on, only when the fireplace is operational.  After using a wall switch or remote control, an on-demand, electric source creates a spark and ignites the pilot light.  This type of ignition system is called IPI, or Intermittent Pilot Ignition.

WHICH TYPE OF IGNITION SYSTEM IS BETTER?

Remote control for IPI Gas FireplacesEither type of system, millivolt or IPI will start your fireplace.  In the event of a power outage, the millivolt system will operate normally.  The IPI system will operate normally providing the fireplace has back-up batteries.

Pros and cons of each system?  A millivolt system is a proven technology that’s time tested and very reliable.  It’s a simpler method to ignite the fireplace.  But, is it wasteful?

There are a couple distinct advantages for keeping a pilot light on year-round.  If you live in a damp or humid climate, there’s a very small amount of heat generated by a standing pilot light.  This can keep the inside firebox dry and prevent rust from developing.  A standing pilot light can prevent small, silky spider webs from forming inside the fireplace, that may result in a service call to get the fireplace back in service.

An IPI system is going to be more “efficient” since fuel is used only when you flip a wall switch or click on your remote.  IPI is a more complicated system.  It requires an electric source to create a spark that ignites the pilot light.  If the power is out, the fireplace will not ignite.  However, most gas fireplaces use a battery back-up for an IPI ignition system.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Today, many fireplace manufacturers produce units in both millivolt models and IPI models.  There are some states where IPI technology is mandatory.  Other states will allow either type of ignition.

A standing pilot gas system is less expensive than an IPI system.  IPI uses newer technology and can be more difficult to troubleshoot than a standard millivolt system in a fireplace.  Many service techs would tell you that they prefer a millivolt system over an IPI system in a fireplace.  There’s a lot less to go wrong in a millivolt system.

Operating costs of a millivolt system is approximately 4.5 therms of natural gas or about 5 gallons of LP gas per month.  Gas rates vary a lot depending on the time of year and regionally.  As this article was written, in the Midwest, this gas usage would equate to about $4.00 - $5.00/month for natural and about $5.25 - $6.25/month for LP.

FINALLY, WHAT ABOUT HEATING DURING AN OUTAGE?

Either type of ignition system will operate in the event of a power failure.  Depending on the size of the gas burner, a substantial amount of radiate heat can be generated from the fireplace. This radiate heat from the appliance will warm the objects in the room.

On the other hand, without power to the house, no convective heat will be felt.    A common question that dealers are asked:  Will my blower fan operate with the power out.  The answer is no.  Fans are reliant on house current and if the power is out your house, regardless of the ignition system, the fan will not operate.

If you want to watch a tutorial on how to light a standing pilot gas fireplace when the power is out, we found this one from Napoleon Fireplaces to be very useful. It will work on most brands using that techonology.

Below is a list of fireplace and grill stores that service Virginia (VA)

Mechanicsville, VA

Hearth & Home Shoppe
8151 Mechanicsville Tpk
Mechanicsville, VA 23111

Visit Store Page

Roanoke, VA

Dixie Building Products Inc.
3342 Melrose Ave NW
Roanoke, VA 24017


For more information, contact your local fireplace and grill store..

19 Responses

  1. Out home has a Majestic ventless natural gas firelog system. I cannot locate any visible batteries as a backup for the firelogs. However, I have the gas pilot flake lit. Today, during an Alabama Power scheduled line maintenance where our house power supply was interrupted for several hours, I flipped the wall switch and the firelogs lit. I am not sure where the electric power to activate the thermocouple came from. Any information, I would just like to know.
    • Dominique Page
      Thanks for your comment! The energy to light your burner came from the pilot flame. That flame hits the thermocouple and it generates the energy in 'milivolts', just enought to power the valve to open when you call for 'heat' on the main burner. Hope that answers your question! Dominique
  2. Thanks for a very good explanation of the different fireplace ignition systems and their pros and cons. I was about to replace my millivolt/pilot based system with an electron energy pilot-less system but now I understand the issues better I my stay with my millivolt system. My only problem is the continuous pilot burns out the sensor every 24 months and requires an expensive service call to replace.
    • Dominique Page
      Thanks Robert for your comment. There may be a way to extend the life of your 'sensor'. The pilot flame can be reduced a little. Maybe it is burning too strong. The next you have it serviced, ask to reduce the pilot flame as low as it can be, yet still providing contact to the thermopile and thermocouple. Thanks again for your comment! Dominique
  3. This is great information. I have a question. If my gas fireplace that has an electrical wall switch is already lit and the power goes out, will the valve shut, thereby turning off the gas flow? Heading into a deep cold snap and wondering if I need to turn it on low and just leave it on. Thanks for any insight.
    • Dominique Page
      Hi Kevin Thanks for reaching out. If you have a wall switch to turn on and off the fireplace, it will still turn it on if the power goes out. The current travelling to the switch is battery powered for some switches or, powered by the thermopile inside your fireplace. If you want to feel more secure, you may shut down the power or the breaker feeding power to the fan of your fireplace. Then, try to turn off and then 'on' the fireplace using the wall switch. Stay warm!!! Dominique
      • One of my coworkers has gas fireplaces in her home that I'm assuming need electricity to turn on at least she thinks so, her power has been out for a day and a half due to an ice storm. What advice can I give her?
        • Dominique Page
          Hi Chelsi The best is to have your coworker watch this <a href="https://youtu.be/NEG-GrMqvG4" rel="nofollow ugc">video</a>. This will work with most gas fireplaces. If your co worker has an electronic ignition fireplace, simply make sure the batteries in the remote and in the receiver are in good condition. The fireplace will turn on the regular way. Stay warm!
      • My fireplace turns on by an electrical switch and will NOT turn on if I don’t have power. Any idea how to light it when electricity is out?
        • Dominique Page
          Thanks for reaching out. The best is to follow the procedure in this <a href="https://youtu.be/NEG-GrMqvG4" target="_blank" rel="noopener nofollow ugc">video</a>. This will work. Stay warm! Dominique
      • My (natural) gas logs are powered by a wall switch. If the power goes out WHILE my logs are currently burning, will they stop burning? Just trying to understand if the disruption of power also does the same to the gas logs while using them. Thanks for all of the great tips!
        • Dominique Page
          Hi Lisa Thanks for reaching out. The gas logs will operate in a very similar way to gas fireplaces. They will continue on when the power goes out. All good! Worst case, if the power is out and the 'fire is out too', you can 'match light' your gas logs after turning on the gas. Stay warm!
    • As a followup to the previous question by Kevin, to be clear, is the wall switch powered by the battery, not by AC current? If so, I guess the batteries need replacement at times and where would I find them? My fireplace unit is by Vermont Castings, B-Vent Series. I am also worried about this winter storm. Thanks.
  4. Our fire place goes out with the power. I do not believe our fireplace is the same as what you have mentioned in your article. I come on with wall switch and also making sure the gas key is also on. When the power goes off so does the fire. Any indication of how we can bypass this system to keep the fire lit? *sincerely texan by natural birth, and currently freezing
    • Dominique Page
      Thanks Aubrey for your message. We're sorry you have to go through this hardship with the weather and the power outages. I am not sure what fireplace you have. If the fire goes out as soon as you lose power, it could be that the fireplace is 'power vented'. Does your 'chimney' have a 'fan' to push the exhaust out? If that is the case, you would absolutely need electricity for your fireplace to work. Otherwise, the fireplace can run without electricity. Some latest technology fireplace may require AA batteries if there is no electricity. If these batteries are 'dead', the fireplace might not be able to run or start. Hope this helps. I also hope everything comes back to normal ASAP!
  5. Have a remote starter for fireplace. Had serviceman to have pilot light come on only when remote pushed, question: If we turn on & power goes off durning this time 1. Is pilot light still on & can't be turned off till power comes back on ? 2. Does pilot light only comes on long enough to ignite the gas & then goes off after fire starts. Bottom line any danger starting up fireplace with our remote & then being at the mercy of waiting for power to come back on b4 can turn off?
    • Dominique Page
      Hi Mike Thanks for reaching out. Is your remote showing letters IPI on it? If so, when the fireplace is 'off', the pilot goes off too. If you have no power, the AA batteries inside your fireplace will give the 'iginition sparks' the energy to trigger the valve to open to feed gas to the pilot. If the batteries are dead and there is no power, you will not be able to start the fireplace. If you put your remote on CPI (instead of IPI), the pilot will run continuously, non-stop. So when the burner goes off, the pilot will stay on. This is the best setting to use in the winter months. There is no danger operating either way (IPI or CPI). For reliability, we prefer the CPI mode, as it will turn the burner without fail even on the coldest days. Stay warm! Dominique
  6. Our power was out. Used the battery back up and all worked well using the remote. Trying to revert back to just the remote now since power has been restored and not using batteries but now cannot get the pilot light to ignite with the remote. We have a Quadra-Fire model # QF 130-C Serial# 0024127532 with the IntelliFire Plus Remote Control The remote works with the batteries but not when the batteries are removed and trying to use to ignite pilot light. Thank you
    • Dominique Page
      Hello Kathy Thanks for reaching out. I am not why this is happening. The happy part is that it worked during the power outage! Maybe it would be good to call the local Quadra-Fire dealer and get their technical advice on this. I am not very familiar with the Intellifire system... Dominique
  7. […] heaters cannot save the day but what can come to rescue is the good old fireplace by companies like We Love Fire. Since the Paleolithic era fire has been in use to produce heat and with the advancement in […]

Leave a comment

Twitter
Visit Us
Tweet
Pinterest
Pinterest
Pinterest
Houzz
Follow by Email