Gas Logs Overview

Gas logs are a safe and appealing alternative to wood. In the past, gas logs were obviously fake. Their plastic look and symmetrical design were dead giveaways when the fire wasn't turned on. When the fire was turned on, the artificial glow further destroyed the illusion.

Today, though, gas logs can look extremely realistic. You can have your choice of oak, birch, pine, fruitwood, or even driftwood to get the effect you desire. These logs can be manufactured from molds produced from real logs, so the look is completely realistic. Knots, indentations, bark pattern, and even axe marks are captured and preserved.

But a realistic look isn't the reason that homeowners turn to gas logs. That look is just the reason they're no longer staying away. Gas logs are obviously more convenient and easier to use than their real wood counterparts. There's no longer any need to purchase cords of wood, cart them home, and find a safe, dry place to house them. You don't have to don gloves and shelve your fear of spiders to get the wood inside the house. And afterwards, there's no mess to clean up. No ashes or charcoal are left behind.

And lighting the gas logs is simplicity itself. Just flip a switch. Your gas fireplace may even come with a remote control so you don't have to get up to flip that switch. You'll have to decide up front whether you want your gas log to burn natural gas or propane. You may want to purchase a gas log that allows you to control the size of the flame. Make sure you get the right size for your fireplace. And check the efficiency rating to make sure you're getting good economy for the amount of flame produced.

There are two basic types of gas logs-vented and unvented. There's also a third type that combines features of the two and is called "partially vented."

Vented Logs

You can get a vented log in any length from 12 inches to 60 inches or more. They provide the most realistic wood fire substitute available. Even under close inspection, you may not be able to tell the difference. However, vented logs are the least fuel efficient. They use up between 50,000 and 90,000 BTUs per hour. For natural gas, that will run you 40 to 80 cents and hour. For propane, expect 60 cents to a dollar.

Unvented Logs

It's harder to achieve a realistic with an unvented log, but that obstacle has largely been overcome. Using a similar technology to your kitchen range, unvented logs can produce a clean, smoke-free fire. Since they don't need venting, the fireplace damper can remain closed, increasing their efficiency. Unvented logs are about 5 times as efficient as vented and, consequently, cost about 1/5 as much. Some states, however, do not allow unvented logs. And the slight odor may trouble people with respiratory difficulties.

Partially Vented Logs

These logs try to give you the best of both worlds for a price that's about halfway in between. They allow you to close the damper most of the way, so there's plenty of heat. But the slight opening provides enough venting to keep fumes and odors going up the chimney and out of your home.