Fireplace 2.0

Breathing New Life into a Midcentury Fireplace

Our FireplaceA few years ago we discovered the fireplace flu in our 1964 ranch home was unusable. Cracks in the flu pipe allowed smoke to leak into our attic– and eventually the living room. Yuck.

This discovery was followed by a quote for more than $3,000 to repair it! Double-yuck. Time to explore some options.

The first suggestion was gas logs. The idea of fake wood didn’t really thrill us. We decided to go with a more modern-style burner called Loft by Empire Comfort Systems. I opted for the basic 36″ version and purchased it locally from Jack Wills Outdoor. These can be spruced up with remote control, stainless steel cover and fire glass, beads, or even stone. They are available in various sizes with heat outputs ranging from 8000 to 40,000 BTUs.

Click to learn more...Fireplace inserts like this are available in vented and non-vented styles. The cost and installation involved vary widely between the two. Vented models are essentially self-contained boxes that require venting to the outdoors and a supply of fresh air. Non-vented (also called ventless, vent-free or unvented) install more like a set of gas logs that just sit inside your fireplace. There are advantages and drawbacks to both.

We were interested in the “look” of a fire, but also wanted to gain some warmth benefit. I learned the non-vented burners run so clean there is no need to open the damper. So the warmth stays in the room instead of rushing up the flue. Plus the installation is a breeze compared to the enclosure and vent pipes required for a vented unit.

CO monitor

After installation I set up a CO/gas monitor to make sure there was no excessive emissions fouling the living room. Everything seemed fine until I detected a slight whiff of natural gas near the main valve in the fireplace. Ruh-roh!

Turns out this quite common. These valves are installed to speed up the process of lighting the fireplace. In common use, you typically open the valve for a few minutes and turn it off once the fire is lit. If the valve is leaking you don’t really notice in this scenario.

The gas valve mounted in the wall. Sometimes they're in the floor.
The gas valve mounted in the wall. Sometimes they’re in the floor.

With a fireplace insert or gas logs the gas valve remains open, either all the time or during use. I tried the simple repair of tightening the gland nut, which will often seal the packing enough to cure a leak. No luck.

Fireplace Gas Supply Valve
The gas valve exposed. Tightening that gland nut can often cure a slow leak.

As you can see, replacing the valve would have been a major headache. Eventually I tried an old trick from my automotive days: Hylomar. This gasket sealer from the UK was used to seal threads on  the carburetors of British sports cars. No mean feat! The blue goo remains pliable and is impervious to gasoline… so I assumed it wouldn’t mind exposure to a little methane.

In installed this new valve to save wear and tear on the original valve.
I installed this new shutoff to save wear and tear on the original gas valve.

The Hylomar trick worked, and is still working almost a year later!

Presto! The ventless fireplace comes to life.
Presto! The ventless fireplace comes to life.

Here’s the finished product. We decided not to add the stainless steel panel or glass rock or anything else. The look of the fire “floating” in the space is a look we like so the basic unit pretty much satisfied our need.

Ventless Fireplace Installed

Once lit the heat can be felt in the room almost immediately.

The unit has a pilot so turning on/off is merely a flip of a switch. Optional remotes and thermostats are also available for the gadget hungry. But so far we haven’t found it that burdensome to walk over and flip the switch.

Shop for a Loft Vent-Free Burner on Amazon.

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