Should You Swap Your Fireplace for a Ventless Firebox?
This is an issue of debate, because many experts say they’re safe, while quite a few other disagree. State laws vary significantly on this issue as well. In fact, ventless fireplaces are banned in some places, so if you install them you could face liability issues as well as the possibility that your insurance will not cover any damages resulting from them.
Traditional vented gas or propane fireplaces exhaust their fumes outside of the house, and have an intake vent to pull fresh air into the fireplace for combustion. Ventless fireplaces do not have any intake or exhaust vents, and instead use a regulator to attempt to burn more cleanly. They also have a blower to circulate air.
Pros and Cons
While they are easier to install, less expensive, and are efficient in terms of not letting heat escape through a chimney, there’s a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning with ventless fireplaces.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that you would not know is accumulating unless you had a properly working, highly sensitive detector in the room with you to alert you before it causes you to become ill and lose consciousness.
Additionally, ventless fireplaces can cause or worsen respiratory diseases due to the toxins they release along with the reduction of oxygen in the room. People with asthma or allergies may notice an immediate issue, while others may not notice the cumulative health effects until much later.
How Ventless Fireplaces Work
Although they’re designed for “perfect combustion,” which produces only water and carbon dioxide, in real world scenarios any fan, candle, draft, or lack of proper maintenance can lower the available oxygen for combustion and produce deadly carbon monoxide.
These fireplaces sometimes come equipped with an automatic shutoff if carbon monoxide or low levels of oxygen are detected. But they must be in perfect working order, meaning properly installed and maintained, as well as properly operated without human error, to ensure this.
Ventless fireplaces can also cause soot to accumulate on walls and ceilings, and increase humidity from water vapor that’s released. This can cause damage to the structure of your home over time, as well as mold growth. Some manufacturers of ventless fireplaces recommend keeping a window open when using the fireplace to allow humidity to vent, but if you still need a window open to allow it to vent, then it seems like a vented fireplace may be a better idea in that case.
FYI, you cannot convert ventless fireplaces into vented fireplaces because they are not designed for vents.
Many models of ventless fireplaces do NOT come with carbon monoxide detectors! It’s crucial to select one with a detector and automatic shutoff for safety if you do decide to install a ventless fireplace. Be sure to have additional detectors installed as well – especially a monitored detector.
Also, it’s important to know that most carbon monoxide detectors do not sound an alarm until concentrations reach almost double the recommended levels of carbon monoxide by the World Health Organization, and are sustained at that level for ten hours!
Why Are Ventless Fireplaces Considered Potentially Unsafe?
Ventless fireplaces do not have anywhere to vent their emissions outside, so any emissions accumulate in the room. These can include carbon monoxide and nitrous dioxide, for example. They also use the air in the room for combustion, and reduce the air quality inside the home.
These devices can present a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, which is an odorless gas that causes around 500 deaths and sends approximately 50,000 people to the hospital every year in the United States. It can poison pets just as easily, and even if there’s a detector with an alarm, that won’t help a pet who’s trapped with the poisonous gas. People who are asleep or have been drinking may not even notice an alarm or any changes to how they feel before it endangers their life.
In a study by the University of Illinois of thirty homes with ventless fireplaces, half of the homeowners did not follow proper operating instructions, and carbon monoxide levels were above safe EPA guidelines in 20% of those homes. So there’s a lot of room for human and mechanical error, and increasing the potential for carbon monoxide exposure in a home or rental property is very risky.
Ventless fireplaces, as well as ventless gas logs and heaters, are banned in a few countries and in some U.S. states and cities. Please check with your local municipality to see if there’s a ban on ventless fireplaces in your specific area.
Ventless fireplaces are banned from all HUD housing in every U.S. state!
While there are some advantages to ventless fireplaces, the fact that they’re banned in many places has lead us to steer clear of them in our properties. Perhaps in the future there will be safer options. As always, do your own careful research to evaluate the pros and cons before you decide if a ventless fireplace is right for your property.