Gas Fireplace Venting

I decided to write this article because recently, I inspected a home with a gas burning fireplace in the living room that created a potentially dangerous situation and I want to share some info with you.  Gas burning fireplaces are generally a vented appliance, although ventless gas fireplaces are sold.  Venting is usually through a sidewall behind the fireplace or up through the ceiling / wall through the roof in most modern installations.  In the inspection I’m speaking of, the gas fireplace was off, with the pilot light out and turned off.

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As a home inspector, I am not required to light or extinguish fires.  This is not within our scope of responsibility.  I personally do operate gas fireplaces, if the pilot light is lit. Sometimes, as a courtesy, time permitting and if deemed safe to do so, I will light a gas fireplace when the pilot is off for a customer to ensure it works, then return it to the off position where I found it.  In this occasion, the customer wanted to know if it works, so I lit the pilot and then the fireplace.  While waiting for the pilot to warm up for a while, I inspected the unit itself.  There was no apparent venting of the fireplace.  Odd, that would be unsafe.  So after a doubletake, I determined there is definitely no venting of this appliance.  I lit the fireplace for a minute or so and placed my combustible gas detector next to the unit.  Within thirty seconds, a strong odor was present, and within a minute, my combustible gas detector was pegged in the red zone and alarming audibly.  Demonstration and confirmation of no venting over, I turned off the fireplace completely and opened up the doors to vent fresh air.
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The point is, always have gas appliances checked out by an appropriate professional such as a chimney sweep or fireplace technician.  This was a 12 year old condo unit with this appliance in place for potentially the entire time.  Gas appliances can be dangerous, and even lethal in the right scenario.  If someone were to decide they wanted to take a nap on a cold rainy day, never having used the fireplace before, and after firing it up, curled up on the sofa in the living room falling fast asleep after just a few moments, this could be a dangerous situation.

Make sure gas appliances are safely operating!  Get them checked out upon move-in, and yearly by a professional.

Thanks for reading and be safe.