Propane or natural gas fireplaces are among the most popular choices when a homeowner is looking for an alternative to expensive, high-maintenance wood burning fireplaces. During the winter months, you can enjoy the look and feel of a fireplace without worrying about cleaning up the mess from the soot and leftover debris that is created by a wood burning stove. Propane fireplaces throw off a great deal of heat, and they can warm any cold room and take the chill out of the air. They also offer a great alternative to their natural gas cousins for homeowners who may not have natural gas lines already installed. On top of it all, installing a propane fireplace is not a difficult task.
Note: Before you begin, check your local building codes related to propane fireplace installation. Some areas may have stricter codes than others, requiring inspection at various stages of the process.
Step 1 - Pick Your Space
Pick the wall you want to use for your fireplace. An outside wall is the best choice as a direct-vented unit can be vented outside from here, rather than through the ceiling and roof. Additionally, the space under where the fireplace will be located should be made of noncombustible material, or some will have to be added before the fireplace can be finished. The instructions of your specific model of fireplace may have set amounts for the distance your firebox must be kept away from other combustible materials as well, such as the walls and wood framing.
You should keep in mind the dimensions of your space so your fireplace has an appropriate BTU output. A small room, for example, shouldn’t need more than 5,000 BTUs of heat.
Step 2 - Purchase the Fireplace
Take a trip to your local home improvement center and purchase a fireplace. If you do not have an existing chimney in your home, or you intend to block it off rather than use it, you will want a direct-vent or ventless variety. These are the easiest types of fireplace to install when you are looking to spruce up a room in your home.
Step 3 - Review the Instructions
The best place for specific details on installation for your particular fireplace is the manufacturer’s instructions. While our steps will give you an idea of how the overall installation will proceed, some instructions in the manual may differ, and it’s best to follow their recommendations instead. If any of these instructions seem overwhelming, consider a professional’s help for your project.
Step 4 - Cut a Hole
If your fireplace requires a vent (such as in the direct-vent fireplaces named above), you will need to cut a hole from the outside in. You can either do this in the basement and run piping up to your room, or directly from the room wall to the exterior wall. Check your directions for specifics on dimensions and how far the vent and the vent cap must be placed from insulation, doors, windows, and other elements. Most fireplaces will require a seven-inch hole to accommodate the seven-inch pipe. Using a saw, cut through the wall and make your hole to the room.
Around this hole, you will want to install a firestop. This will not only prevent the spread of fire in case something goes wrong with your fireplace, but it will also prevent framing members from overheating. Also, if you have vinyl siding on your home’s exterior where the pipe will exit, attach a siding standoff around the hole to prevent the siding from fading.
Step 5 - Run Piping
If you have chosen to cut the hole in a location other than the room where you are installing the fireplace, then run your piping through to the room to attach it to the fireplace vent.
Step 6 - Add Fireplace Piping
Slide your direct vent piping through the hole from the inside to the outside, attaching it to your fireplace ventilation system as detailed in your manual. It should just slide right on but some models may vary. Secure the piping inside the exit hole later by spackling over the open areas and sanding if it goes straight through the drywall. If you still have some paint from the interior of your room, you can also make a quick patch job over the spackle later as well.
On the outside of the home, cap the end of your vent or install a metal shield to divert the heat away from any combustible elements if they’re too close. Which method you need to use should be specified in your instruction manual.
Step 7 - Add the Propane
There are two options for piping propane to your fireplace unit. The first entails a direct propane line, similar to a natural gas line. This will have to be installed by a professional.
Your second option is to use a propane tank instead. The size of your tank will depend on the amount of use your fireplace will get, but most manufacturers recommend 100-gallon tanks. Home improvement stores do sell in sizes that large and you can take these home and install them yourself somewhere outside the home. Keep in mind that tank sizes over 125 gallons have to be kept at least 10 feet away from the house.
If you’re familiar with how to hook up a gas line to a propane tank, then you will only have to run the line outside of the house and do so. However, if you’re not, it may be best to let the pros hook it up when you have to call them to fill the tank.
Your specific fireplace may also have electrical hookups. Since these will be somewhat unique to your model, consult your instructions as to how these should be hooked up.
Step 8 - Test
Once everything is hooked up, test your fireplace to make sure it is operating properly before you allow others to use it.