Can A Gas Fireplace Be Used As A Primary Heat Source?

A gas fireplace heats the air fast, burns cleanly, and let’s face it… it looks great doing these things. That said, this, of course, begs the question… Can a gas fireplace be used as a primary heat source? 

In today’s article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the actual specifications and best-practice uses of a gas fireplace so that you can make an informed decision when it comes to planning your heating strategy for this winter.

But, first, let’s start with its role as a primary or supplemental heating source, and we’ll go on from there!

Can a gas fireplace be used as a primary heat source?

While a gas fireplace could conceivably be used as a primary heat source, it will serve you better as a supplemental heating strategy to warm the areas you frequent most with a touch of style. Think of it the same way that you would a standard, wood-burning fireplace.

While you don’t have to clean soot and creosote deposits because the gas burns cleanly, you will still have limits to how far the heat is rated to do.

These may be enhanced with some additional circulation strategies to increase your heating range. Still, if you have a large area to heat, it may be best to use your gas fireplace to supplement a base foundation of central heating.

How do gas fireplaces heat a room?

A gas fireplace heats a room similar to a wood-burning model. Clean-burning gas is used as a fuel, and combustion and infrared heating produce heat that radiates out to fill the space in the area in which your fireplace is housed.

If the gas fireplace is vented, this works to help circulate the air further, extending the reach of the heat, but beyond this, you are getting the heat from an actual flame to warm the room where your fireplace is installed.

Gas fireplace heat output

Depending on the model you have selected, your gas fireplace may produce just a little less or even significantly more BTUs than a wood-burning fireplace.

The typical range is going to be 8000 to 60,000 BTUs of heat produced from a gas fireplace. By contrast, a wood-burning fireplace typically produces a range of 20,000 to 40,000 BTUs of heat in the area where it is housed.

Benefits of using a gas fireplace

Gas fireplaces are aesthetically pleasing, but some practical benefits come with them as well. Some of the best benefits of owning one include:

  • Low-maintenance – Gas is a much cleaner fuel source than logs, so cleaning and maintaining a gas fireplace takes very little of your time.
  • Electric-bill savings – Gases used to fuel your fireplace are inexpensive, so using a gas fireplace in conjunction with central heating means that you can create ‘warm zones’ in your house in the most commonly used areas, making it easier for central heating to ‘take up the slack’ in less-used areas. As a result, your home is warmer throughout at appreciable savings to your electric bill.
  • Clean, continuous heat – With a wood-burning fireplace, you have to keep replacing logs and wait for those logs to ignite correctly. With a gas fireplace, the heat starts as soon as you ignite it and is maintained at consistent temperatures for the entire time that you are using it.
  • Space-efficiency – Wood-burning fireplaces require that you store logs where you may easily get at them, which takes up a lot of space. Also, wood bits get everywhere, so a gas solution gives you a fireplace without all of the clutter.

How much does it cost per hour to run a gas fireplace?

This will depend on the size of your room and the type of gas that your heater uses, but with a small to medium room, you are looking at a ballpark figure of .17 – .32 cents per hour, while a larger room might be .50 cents to $1.50 per hour to heat.

Gas fireplace vs electric fireplace

When comparing gas fireplaces to electric fireplaces, they both have their pluses and caveats. Here are some quick comparison notes that can give you a good idea of how they stand against each other:

  • Range – Gas fireplaces produce more heat in the room where they are housed, though electric fireplaces tend to circulate it better to cover a larger area.
  • Heating medium – A gas fireplace uses an actual flame for heating, whereas an electric fireplace simulates the look of flame but runs much the same as a portable electric heater.
  • Safety – Gas fireplaces use actual flames, so glass doors will be hot to the touch. Electric fireplaces are made with heat-resistant materials and rely on circulating air current, so they are generally safer to touch. Gas may leak, though additives ensure that you will smell it if this is the case.
  • Configuration – Electric fireplaces often offer more granular control of thermostat settings, such as automatic adjustments or daily presets.
  • Cost – Gas and electricity are inexpensive, with gas being cheaper to heat a single room or area. In contrast, an electric model is a cheaper option for wider coverage unless competing with a flueless gas fireplace solution.

Gas fireplace vs. central heating

When it comes to comparing a gas fireplace with central heating, then central heating will be the most well-distributed when it comes to even heating of the home. That said, if strategically employed, a balanced flue gas fireplace is cheaper to run than an electrically powered central heating solution.

Let’s compare a few things to give you a clearer mental picture of how they contrast in performance:

  • Range – A gas fireplace will need glass doors and possibly additional installations, such as a chimney damper or room-to-room fans to help to ensure that you are keeping the maximum amount of heat and circulating it to where it is most beneficial. Central heating uses a network of vents around the house for more even distribution of heat.
  • Heating medium – Gas fireplaces use actual flames, while central heating uses a boiler or radiator medium to heat air, then circulate through the vents.
  • Safety – As mentioned previously, gas fireplaces do get hot, so they aren’t safe to touch, while central heating is just circulated warm air, which is not a problem. Gas leakage and storage are also safety considerations with a gas fireplace strategy.
  • Configuration – Central heating is controlled with a thermostat, allowing for ‘smart thermostat’ options and more granular control.
  • Cost – Gas heating is cheaper with a flueless gas fireplace and additional installations such as a chimney damper and room-to-room fans. Still, without these strategies then conventional heating will have advantages from the perspective of cost.

Gas fireplace vs space heaters

Space heaters are close enough in operation to an electric fireplace, so coverage and configuration will depend on the model. Gas fireplaces are certainly more attractive and safer in this regard. However, you must carefully place a portable space heater to avoid being bumped into and provide optimal heating.

The only thing that sticks out with a space heater is the portability, as you may move it from room to room as needed.

Can a gas fireplace heat a whole house?

Yes, a gas fireplace can heat the whole house. However, while it is generally recommended as an aesthetically pleasing, clean-burning alternative to a wood fireplace that may be used to heat particular areas and take some of the workloads from your central heating, it is generally not used as a primary heating source.

For best results, set a low ‘foundation’ temperature with central heating to lower electric costs while heating the most commonly used areas with your gas fireplace and employing air circulation strategies to raise the overall heat of the house in the process.

How to get more heat from a gas fireplace

There are a few inexpensive ways to increase the overall heat coverage from a gas fireplace. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Firebacks – A fireback is generally a solid piece of metal, typically cast iron, that sits behind the gas flames and absorbs heat so that when you turn off the gas, this collected heat may be radiated out for what is essentially ‘free extra heat.’
  • Chimney damper – Basically a lid for your chimney, without the need to expel smoke from the house, closing up the chimney flue keeps in heat that would usually be wasted.
  • Glass doors – Glass doors further help to contain and insulate existing heat from your gas fireplace.
  • Room to room fans –Installed in doorways, these small fans help create currents of air directed where you most want your heat to go when it is leaving the room.

Safety tips when using gas fireplaces

When using a gas fireplace, there are a few tips and preventative maintenance strategies that can help keep operation both efficient and safe. Here are a few precautions that you should practice with your gas fireplace:

  • Clean the fireplace logs and glass once a month to get out any minor buildups or dust accumulated during regular use and block up ventilation or stiffy ignition if unchecked.
  • A yearly inspection in the fall can help to ensure that no gas lines are leaking and nothing is obstructed. The ignitor may also be tested at this time to ensure that you won’t have any issues once it gets cold and you want to use your fireplace.
  • Test your carbon monoxide detectors, ensure they are up and running, and replace batteries every 6 months. While these batteries may last for years, regular changing helps to ensure that they always have a new and reliable source of energy, which is an inexpensive way to ensure that this is the case.

In Conclusion: Gas fireplaces are best used as a supplemental heat source

Gas fireplaces are great and can save you a lot of money, but the best way to take advantage of this while making sure that the entire house is well-warmed and cozy is to use them to supplement your centralized heating.

Strategically placed, gas fireplaces will create ‘warming zones’ in your household so that the centralized heating has to do less work. This will ensure that these spots in the house are always comfortable while saving you a little on electric costs for heating.

If you still want to use a gas fireplace as your primary heating source, be sure to use strategies like firebacks, chimney dampers, and circulation direction to help to get the most out of your gas fireplace. Like any heating strategy, it’s all about the planning!