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Ditching the hassle of wood fireplaces is a popular move in Justin Isaacson’s Minnesota market.

“Especially with the aging population in this area, it’s just not a viable option for people to go out and cut their own wood and have to tend the fire to have the warmth,” says Isaacson, owner of Ike’s Fireplace and Ike’s Heating and Cooling in Nevis, Minnesota.

So these homeowners are turning to the convenience of propane fireplace inserts that can be retrofitted into the wood fire box. The gas units eliminate the creosote buildup in chimneys, so homeowners no longer have to worry about chimney fires. They add the convenience of a remote control or switch to start the fire, compared with the arduous task of building a fire and waiting for it to heat up. They don’t require the mess or hauling of wood logs. And they’re even cost-competitive to operate.

“Wood is getting pretty darn expensive, and propane is really a viable option versus many different fuels,” Isaacson says. Except for municipalities with access to natural gas, “For the most part, I think propane is the most cost-friendly option in this area,” he adds.

If your clients are ready to move on from their wood fireplace, Isaacson offers four product and installation tips for a smooth conversion experience.

  1. Opt for a heater-rated unit for air quality and heat output.

Heater-rated gas fireplace inserts are constructed to withstand continuous operation and designed to be used for heating, with ceramic glass and refractory brick to facilitate heat transfer. They use two-pipe sealed ventilation, pulling in fresh air from the outside to burn and then exhausting flue gases through another pipe, so the system is completely sealed. Gas logs offer an alternative but rely entirely on the draft of the original wood chimney to exhaust, providing less-optimal air quality.

  2. Ventilate through the existing wood chimney.

To install a propane fireplace insert, Isaacson first has a chimney sweep come in to clean out the chimney and fire box. He installs a liner kit that includes a termination top, which connects to the combustion air and exhaust pipes. Isaacson typically drops a rope down the chimney, ties the other end to the two pipes, and then uses a two-man team to guide the pipes through a chimney. For challenging chimneys, such as one with a horizontal jog in the middle, he’s used a tennis ball on the end of the rope to bounce its way to the chimney opening.

If the chimney is too dilapidated to be used for wood, then it won’t work for gas, either. Consider installing a built-in gas fireplace in a different location, where it can be direct-vented right out the side wall.

  3. Have multiple options ready for gas line installation.

When bringing a gas line to the new fireplace unit, Isaacson always has a backup plan ready. A particularly challenging fireplace replacement might have several inches of concrete and steel panels around it, so he might employ plasma cutters or impact rotary drills to drill a hole on either side of the fireplace unit. But Isaacson might also consider running the gas line a different way. For instance, it might not be worth cutting through a huge swath of concrete and steel to connect to a gas line in the basement mechanical room. “It might be easier to go right out the back and run a line from behind the fireplace,” Isaacson says. “Have a regulator there and then run that over to the propane tank, and then just have a separate circuit for the fireplace.”

  4. Fireplace surrounds provide a pleasing finished aesthetic.

Isaacson commonly uses the Escape-30 and Escape-35 gas insert fireplaces from Heat & Glo, selecting the largest unit that can be accommodated in the original space. A surround connects to the insert, covering the void area left over between the insert and the existing unit to provide a finished look. Manufacturers typically offer several options for the front and shape of the surround. “You can get custom surrounds where it might be an arch top or a different-size rectangle than just their standard size,” he says. With a fantastic finished look, your client’s new propane fireplace will be a welcome replacement for their messy, bothersome wood unit.