In short, we do not recommend that you buy a fireplace over the internet, so we do not sell over the internet either.
For highly technical products like fireplaces, the internet is a great source for information, but professional installation is always recommended, and usually required by law.
There are companies that will sell you a fireplace online, but we do not recommend buying any technical products from someone that is not close enough to drive over to your house and fix it. The risk of getting the wrong product or having warranty issues is too great without professional assistance before, during and after your purchase. With a pair of shoes, it just might mean having to send a package back to the place you got it, which can be a hassle. With a fireplace, it might mean killing your family or burning down your house.
Have we ever seen a job done by an amateur plumber/neighbor/cousin that "does this all the time" and was illegal and dangerous? Yes we have, too many times. I have pictures.
Have we ever seen a house burn down because someone thought they did not need professional help after the fireplace was installed? Absolutely. I have pictures.
Most technical issues, particularly installation and warranty issues, require in-home technical diagnostics. Find a local source for your products. Get professional installation.
We use a rule of thumb to help us size heating systems (fireplaces, inserts & stoves) that says that you need 3 BTUs per cubic feet for primary heat and 2 BTUs per cubic foot for supplemental heat. This works well for this part of the country (the South), but you may need something with a little more "oomph" in more northern climes.
Multiply the square footage of the area you want to heat by the ceiling height to get the volume of the space in cubic feet. Then multiply the result by 3 if you need primary heat or 2 if you only need supplemental heat. This is how many BTUs you will need to heat the space in wintertime. Anything with a BTU output less than what your little math problem came up with will probably be unsatisfactory. Most appliances have adjustable output (variable flame height for gas, adjustable air control for wood), so getting one with a higher BTU output isn't usually a problem, so long as the maximum output isn't more than triple what you need.
A lot. Some non-EPA rated woodstoves require a lot of clearance to combustibles for installation - up to three feet from a wall. Hearth protection will be required. Unless your floor is a concrete slab, you may need an VERY large hearth pad under the stove in your family room to be safe and legal. All wood stoves require either a lined masonry chimney or a class "A" chimney sized properly for the flue outlet on the stove. If you do not already have a properly sized chimney at least sixteen feet tall, it will cost you some money to re-line/build/install/modify a chimney that will be safe and legal. Some chimney installations cost several thousand dollars to do properly. Before you spend $75 on a woodstove, "count the cost" (Luke 14:28) to make sure you can complete the installation within your budget. Talk to us or another National Fireplace Institute certified wood specialist to find out what you will need to do the job right.
Wood pellets are a very "green" alternative to burning cordwood. Pellets are made from reclaimed waste products and burn very cleanly with little ash, so they are ecologically smart in several ways. One of the downsides to using pellet fuels in our climate is that the appliances are designed to operate – burn – at optimum rates to maintain the efficiency, and, generally, it is not generally cold enough here in the coastal Carolinas to be able to operate pellet stoves continuously at these rates. The other disadvantage – and this is subjective – is the fire is not as pretty as a typical wood fire. All that being said, wood pellets and other "biomass" fuels like cherry pits, corn, coffee husks, etc., are coming on strong as options to fossil fuels or electricity for heat.
In short, no. Sorry. Here is the long version: with an open fire, as the wood fire burns and builds up a good ember base, you will get some nice radiant heat right in front of the fireplace. Unfortunately, at the same time, a properly drawing fireplace will pull large volumes of warm room air toward the fireplace and up the chimney. We generally rate the net efficiency (gain minus loss = net efficiency) of an open fireplace at zero to ten percent. There are some heat exchangers that will help, but you still be pulling a lot of air out of the house and you may not appreciate the appearance of the heat exchanger. On the other hand, EPA-rated fireplaces, inserts and stoves can have efficiencies of seventy percent or better. EPA-rated fireplaces have operable glass doors that keep you from sucking so much heat out of your house. Just so you know, the EPA rating is not about effeciency, just pollutants, so there is such a thing as an EPA-rated fireplace that is not very efficient but very clean burning. The efficient, open fire is the Holy Grail of fires. Someday someone will figure it out.
We always recommend a vented system if you can manage it. However, here in the Southeast, we have pretty mild winters, so it is unlikely that anyone is going to use an unvented fireplace for primary heat, which is not recommended. So this is about the best place to install an unvented fireplace. Unvented fireplaces are 99.9% efficient.
Builders and designers like unvented fireplaces because you can put them just about anywhere and not worry about how you are going to vent the fireplace. Unvented fireplaces are a "no-brainer". Unvented fireplaces also tend to be less of an investment. The equipment is not very expensive and installation is easy. Unvented fireplaces are hot, fast, cheap and easy. We keep trying to talk folks into something else, but they keep coming back for more unvented fireplaces.
For the most part, people that have had issues with unvented fireplaces either had a bad installation or were more sensitive to the related odors than others. Unvented fireplaces can cause indoor air quality issues. People that are more sensitive to indoor air quality concerns should not have unvented gas appliances installed in their home.
Many people mistake the odor related to ventfree/unvented/ventless gas fireplaces for raw gas. Obviously, while the gas logs are running, there is a flame that is burning the gas in the fireplace, so it is very unlikely that there is any raw gas coming out. HOWEVER, if you think you smell gas, please call your gas company or fireplace supplier and have them check it out.
There are many factors that can make the odor worse with an unvented fireplace.
New gas logs have an odor associated with curing or "burning in" the paint on the burner and gas logs, which can be pretty bad. After a good long burn on "High" for 3 or 4 hours of continuous operation, the smell usually subsides.
Ceramic fiber logs tend to have a stronger odor than refractory logs, and the smell takes a longer time to go away. On some logs, the smell never really goes away. We try not to sell any cermaic fiber logs!
There are many different things that can affect the smell of the gas logs. Unvented gas logs are pulling combustion air from the room, so any impurities in the room air will affect how the fireplace smells.
Perhaps the worst case scenario is when someone smells an odor from their fireplace and uses air freshener to mask the odor. The airborne chemicals in the air freshener then compound the problem.
A similar thing happens when someone repaints a room. The off-gassing from the new paint will make the odor worse than usual.
Finally, there is a possibility that something really is wrong. If a log gets out of place, or there is a gas pressure issue or some other malfunction, you may get an aldehyde smell, which is a strong, sour smell that may even burn your eyes or cause a metallic taste in your mouth. If this happens, DO NOT USE YOUR FIREPLACE. Along with the bad smell, it is very possible you are getting CARBON MONOXIDE. Call us or another authorized servicer to fix the problem immediately.
CAUTION: ALWAYS REMOVE YOUR FIREPLACE GLASS PRIOR TO LIGHTING YOUR PILOT
STEP 1: Locate gas supply valve (typically behind louvers, below glass opening - may be red or blue).
STEP 2: Open valve by pivoting handle to be parallel to gas line.
STEP 3: Locate pilot assembly with spark igniter (located behind and below logs in the firebox - typically in the bottom center).
STEP 4: Then locate red or black igniter button.* Push igniter to verify spark at pilot area.
STEP 5: Locate the black or green valve control knob (knob with the words "ON", "OFF" and "PILOT" on it). Push in and rotate counter-clockwise until the word "pilot" is in the 6 o'clock position.**
STEP 6: While pressing and holding in the valve knob (in "PILOT" position - it should press in about 1/4"), press the red piezo button repeatedly (once per second) until the pilot ignites. If the pilot does not light, wait 5 minutes and try again. Once the pilot is lit, continue to hold the valve knob in for 30 seconds, then slowly release.
STEP 7: If the pilot light goes out, contact your nearest dealer for service. Remember to shut the gas supply valve off (picture #1). If it remains lit, press the valve knob in slightly and rotate counter-clockwise until the word "ON" is in the 6 o'clock position.
STEP 8: Finally, turn the unit's ON/OFF switch (or wall switch or remote control) to the "ON" position to start your fire. Make sure you put the glass front back on the fireplace prior to burning your fireplace. Make sure the glass is securely clamped on, at all points, prior to replacing the front.
STEP 9: Enjoy your fireplace!
* If you do not see a red or black spark igniter button, you do not have a manual ignition system. If power is actively supplied to your fireplace, simply turn the on/off button, wall switch or remote control to "on" to ignite your main burner.
** Note: Some valve assemblies may be inverted in their brackets. If yours appears to be the mirror image of picture #4, then the word "PILOT" will be in the 12 o'clock position to light the pilot, and "ON" will be set to the 12 o'clock position to turn on your main burner.