In my current house and the one that I lived in prior natural gas fireplaces were installed in the so-called “living room.” Before these two homes I lived where there was an actual wood burning fireplace and I have lamented its loss for the better part of a decade. I love the visceral thrill of splitting a log just so that the two halves are cleaved cleanly and fall gracefully to either side of the splitting maul’s head. Yes, I can wax poetic about the beauty of splitting wood.
I now live in the world of a wall switch delivering the subtle ambiance of a hearth. However, one thing that has bugged me everytime I fire up the unit is that there is a significant amount of heat about two feet in front of the unit and a precipitous drop off any distance further out. If you have a natural gas fireplace in your home, you understand this issue.
What is to be done? Well, if you open up the access door on the bottom of your fireplace you will see several things:
Normally, the only time you get this view is when you are futzing with the pilot light or adjusting the intensity of the flame inside the unit. See the outlet in the back? That means the fireplace is pre-wired to accept a blower unit. Be sure to check and make sure that the unit is actually wired for electricity as some builders will not run power to the outlet. I just checked using a corded lamp. Good to go!
What’s a blower unit:
For less than $150 you can get a blower unit with a thermostatic on/off switch and a variable speed fan. You can save some money by eliminating either option, but it will cut down on the usability and livability of the blower unit. My fireplace did not have a wall switch to turn it on nor was there a wall mounted dial to control the speed, so all the controls are house in the bottom the fireplace.
Two of the big differences between this unit and lower cost units are the thermostatic on/off switch and a variable speed fan. Cheaper units might just switch on when the fireplace switches on, so the fan runs all the time, or if there is a thermostatic on/off switch it is attached with Velcro versus a magnet, so overtime it runs the risk of falling out of place. The variable speed fan is nice because you can adjust the amount of airflow to your liking.
Installation was a breeze. Slide the unit into place, adjust the tabs that hold the unit in place, attach the magnetized thermostatic on/off switch, and plug it in. That’s it.
What’s the difference? Like night and day. The blower unit is set to turn on at 120 degrees and off at 90 degrees. From the time you turn on the fireplace, it takes about ten minutes for it to get warmed up. Once the blower starts going, you can hear the fan working, hot air starts blowing around the room. It’s not crazy like a box fan turned on high or anything. Just a gentle movement of warm air. After you turn off the fireplace the blower will keep going for fifteen or twenty minutes using up the residual warmth left by the fire.
I think it is criminal that builders are not required to include these blower units with natural gas fireplaces. It turns something that is almost purely ornamental into an appliance that can, at the very least, spread some heat throughout the living area while providing that oh so critical ambiance. Would a winter day really be the same without a fire and some hot cocoa? My daughter would say no.