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Personal: Residential

Buying an Energy–efficient Gas Fireplace

Energy Efficiency Considerations

Canada’s EnerGuide rating system for gas fireplaces can help consumers compare the efficiency of various units. But the EnerGuide label is not an endorsement of any a given model. It is only a guide, showing the energy efficiency performance of the gas fireplace in relation to others.

Figure 1: all about gas fireplaces

Figure 2: all about gas fireplaces

Efficiency Ratings

When purchasing a gas fireplace, you should ask about efficiency first. But you should be aware that many different methods have been used to measure the efficiency of gas fireplaces, and that some of them can give misleading results.

Steady-state measurement Until recently, most efficiency ratings were steady-state measurements – the maximum efficiency the fireplace could achieve operating under controlled laboratory conditions and after running at equilibrium for a long period of time. This measurement does not take into account many of the ways in which heat loss occurs in a fireplace. A steady-state rating is comparable to the good gas mileage a car achieves when cruising on the highway, as opposed to the much lower mileage you get in start-and-stop city driving. With a gas fireplace, the actual operating efficiency of the unit once it is installed in your home will be lower than the steady-state efficiency – in some cases, much lower.

Fireplace efficiency measurement Under federal law, all vented gas fireplaces sold in Canada must now meet the energy efficiency criteria of the Canadian Standards Association CAN/CSA-P.4.1-02 standard, "Testing Method for Measuring Annual Fireplace Efficiency." Testing to this standard produces a fireplace efficiency (FE) rating. The FE rating is a more accurate measurement of fireplace energy efficiency than annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) or steady-state ratings.

The EnerGuide FE rating is the only recognized measurement of vented gas fireplace energy efficiency in Canada and is expressed as a percentage. The higher the percentage, the more energy-efficient the model. Tests using the CSA-P.4 test method have shown that some units operated in the 30 percent range, while the better units ranged from 50 percent to 70 percent.

The FE rating of the fireplace is either on the EnerGuide label or in the product's technical information when multiple models are listed.The EnerGuide label is not normally placed on a gas fireplace. You can find it in promotional materials, such as in sales brochures or on Web sites.

EnerGuide for Gas Fireplaces is industry-managed by the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) through an agreement with Natural Resources Canada. Manufacturers and dealers are authorized to use the EnerGuide mark and label in publications about their products and on company Web sites.

Energy Efficiency Features

Even though a fireplace's EnerGuide FE rating can be a quick reference point for energy efficiency, other features can help you judge whether a gas fireplace is energy-efficient: Here's what to look for:

  • Direct-vent design. This is your best option from both a safety and energy efficiency perspective.
  • An intermittent or automatic electronic ignition system. In many gas fireplaces, a pilot light is used to ignite the main burner when the fireplace is turned on, but the pilot light itself can consume as much as half the gas used by your fireplace every year! Consider a fireplace that has an automatic starter, which eliminates the need for a continuous pilot light. At the very least, buy a model that offers a simple method for shutting off and relighting the pilot.
  • A ceramic glass front. Ceramic glass does a much better job of transmitting infrared heat from the flame to the room than the alternative – tempered glass. Ceramic glass is also shatter-resistant.
  • A quiet, squirrel-cage type circulating fan to force convective heat into the room.
  • A secondary heat exchanger. A well-designed fireplace will have channels around and behind the combustion chamber, through which air circulates and picks up heat from the fireplace before re-entering the room. The best units go a step further by incorporating a secondary heat exchanger that extracts more heat from the combustion gases and transfers it to the house.
  • An insulated outer casing. This prevents heat loss through the walls of the home when a fireplace is located on an exterior wall. (Does not apply to freestanding units.)
  • Good control capabilities. Most gas fireplaces have a variable-setting control or turndown control, which allows you to adjust the heat output by regulating the rate of gas consumption. For maximum energy efficiency and comfort control, look for a model with wide turndown ranges. Some units can be turned down only to 70 percent, but others can go as low as 20 percent of the full load! Some models also have an automatic thermostat control to help keep the room temperature at a more constant level by automatically adjusting the firing rate.
  • Ducting capabilities. Some fireplaces can be connected to a certain amount of ductwork – much like a furnace – which can help distribute heat to remote areas of the home while preventing overheating of the room where the fireplace is installed.