Ventless gas fireplaces can give off a sulfur-like smell, especially if the fireplace is new or has not been cleaned in a while. Other factors, such as having fresh paint nearby or too much dust, can contribute to more smells when using the fireplace. For best results, service the fireplace once a year.
Don’t worry if you smell gas coming from your fireplace, it’s normal. The odor is one of the biggest drawbacks of owning a ventless gas fireplace. While ventless gas fireplaces are highly efficient and clean, they put off a distinct gas smell that many people find unpleasant.
Ventless fireplaces have plenty of benefits, but the smell is definitely a negative. As a homeowner, you should be cautious of unexplained odors that you are often around. So what exactly is the smell of a ventless gas fireplace?
Do Ventless Fireplaces Have an Odor?
The smell coming from a gas fireplace is very distinct. Often, it is described as smelling very similar to kerosene; like rotten eggs or a mixture of rotten eggs and burnt matches. It is not a pleasant smell, but it is there for a reason. The smell is often described as oily. The smell shouldn’t be overpowering. If it is (and you aren’t using brand new logs), it may be the reason for concern. Some people are more sensitive to smell and may be affected more by the normal output of the gas fireplace.
Additives to the natural gas burned in ventless gas fireplaces help the homeowner know whether there is a leak when the fireplace is not on. Natural gas leaks can be very dangerous, but natural gas on its own is invisible and odorless. This is why the chemical mercaptan is added in to alert your sense of smell that the gas is escaping. Check out this page for some knowledge of safety procedures if you smell propane when your gas fireplace is not running.
Why Ventless Fireplaces Smell
Another thing that adds to the awful smell besides the chemical add-ins would be impurities in the air. The air we breathe is never 100% oxygen. There are other elements and even little particles in the air that we breathe. This isn’t a problem for us, but when the oxygen from your house is used to keep a fire burning, the impurities in your air are exaggerated by the fire. Each particle that is burned away adds to the smell. Here is a list of a few common contributors to that awful gas fireplace smell found in the home:
- Scented spray
- Pet hair
- Cleaning products
- Wet paint
- Cigarette smoke
There are many, many more things that could be found in your house that might make your fireplace smell worse. All of the particles in the air get drawn into the fire, and the fumes get recirculated back into the house since there is no vent or chimney to funnel the burnt products out. The smell reveals to us the particles we breathe in all the time without ever noticing because they are too small to see. And not only the particles but as well as natural gas.
Are Ventless Fireplaces Safe?
Is breathing in natural gas safe? Yes, in minimal quantities that are used by gas fireplaces. Gas fireplaces are designed to use natural gas in safe quantities and shut off well before they exceed their safety limit. It is harmless, though if you are smelling a lot of that rotten egg smell, you might want to turn the fireplace off, open a window, and see if the smell clears out. If it sticks around or gets worse after turning the fireplace off, you might have a leak somewhere of carbon monoxide or other natural gas, which can be potentially deadly.
One way to know something is wrong with your ventless gas fireplace is if the fire is burning yellow instead of blue. If it’s yellow, then it’s likely that the gas and air aren’t mixing properly. At this point, you should turn the fireplace off and get it checked by a professional. It might be tempting to let it go since yellow flames seem more natural for fire, but ventless gas fireplaces are extremely efficient. A blue flame is a sign that all the gas is being converted to heat. Experts also recommend that if you’ve been burning your fireplace for over an hour, you should crack a window to make sure there is enough oxygen.
The additives used are so minimal that they don’t produce the usual effects they would have on humans, but some people still develop itchy eyes or coughing. Safety precautions are put in place with these ventless gas fireplaces, such as shut-off valves if the pilot light isn’t on, carbon monoxide detectors, and ODS or oxygen detection systems that monitor the oxygen levels in the area to make sure they aren’t too depleted. These meters can notify you about changes in the quality of the air well before it becomes serious.
Overall, there isn’t much of a chance that something will go wrong, but safety measures are in place just in case. Even with these safety measures, many states have regulations on ventless gas fireplaces, such as they cannot be in sleeping places, and California has completely banned them. The safety of ventless gas fireplaces is a debated issue. For more information about types of gas fireplaces and safety measures, check out this site.
How to Stop Ventless Fireplaces from Smelling
One thing to remember about the smell of ventless gas fireplaces is that it will be worse when breaking in new logs. Burning new logs usually produces a bad smell for around the first 3-4 hours, depending on the brand of the log. Preparing for it can keep you from being caught off guard, and knowing that it is coming may lessen the impact. There aren’t many tips for getting rid of the smell short of switching to a vented gas fireplace, but there are a few.
The first important tip is to clean. Keeping the grill around the fireplace free of dirt and dust, as well as vacuuming the area, will help reduce the number of particles in the air that get caught up in the fire. It’s also not a bad idea to dust off the logs before you turn on the fireplace. Make sure to use a damp cloth to clean the grill and logs rather than a chemical cleaning spray because those chemicals can also be adding to the smell.
Second, don’t run the fireplace when there is fresh paint around or other substances like that. The fumes from the paint get drawn into the fire and can make the problem worse. Also, ventless gas fireplaces add moisture to the air, which prolongs the drying of wet paint.
Third, service the fireplace once a year. You may not think it is needed, but dust builds up in places you can’t see or reach, and sometimes problems arise that a professional can catch before it becomes a bigger issue. Better safe than sorry.
Finally, if the smell won’t go away, crack a window. It may let in some cold air, but it will also increase the ventilation in the house and give the fumes from the fire somewhere to go. If you have a chimney, open the damper all the way to try to get some airflow in that direction. If you’ve tried all of these steps and the smell is still too much to handle, then a ventless gas fireplace may not be the right option for you. A vented gas fireplace could provide similar benefits but sends the fumes from the fire directly outside.
For more information from a fuel company on why gas fireplaces smell, check out this video.
If you would like to know more about how gas fireplaces work, this article explains the operation as well as some safety features and benefits.