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Gas Fireplace Troubleshooting Guide 

Introduction

Gas fireplaces are the most popular fireplaces that we install these days. It’s true that some people are switching from gas to wood stoves or a wood-burning fireplace, but most people are installing gas fireplaces

It makes sense, too! Gas fireplaces provide the most convenient way to enjoy a fireplace in your home. Gas is efficient, convenient, and economically-friendly. Your fireplace is likely the centerpiece or focal point in your living room, so you want it to be convenient to heat your house to keep you and your family warm when it’s cold outside. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do when it’s snowy outside is go out to get firewood. 

The convenience of having a gas fireplace is most likely the reason you chose to have one. Or maybe it was to have a fire that you can control a lot easier. Or maybe it was something to do with safety. Whatever the reason is, and despite the fact that a gas fireplace is much easier to deal with than a wood-burning fireplace, problems do arise, and professional maintenance for gas fireplaces is absolutely essential. 

To an untrained eye, gas fireplace troubleshooting may seem like a daunting task. And even with this guide, I’d say that the best way to tackle suspected problems is to leave it up to a person that has been trained by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and has earned their Gas Troubleshooting designation. This is because it is difficult to find the source of the issue and that’s what makes fixing a gas fireplace so complex. There could be multiple factors causing one issue, so covering your bases and eliminating potential culprits can be time-consuming with some issues easily overlooked.

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Safety First!

The number of injuries and deaths and the amount of property damage caused by fires from gas fireplaces have declined significantly since the early 1980s. A lot of this can be attributed to the safety programs and missions of the CSIA and the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG) to promote public awareness of the dangers of chimney fires. We can also give credit to the manufacturers for creating much safer products. 

But even with heightened safety, we still see more than 22,000 house fires, 20 deaths, and $125 million in property damage each year in the United States. The most common contributor to these fires was not having a working smoke detector, improper handling of chemicals, and not keeping up with regular fireplace maintenance. 

If at any moment while you are inspecting your fireplace, you smell gas and you don’t know where it is coming from, then you need to leave the area and call for help immediately. 

Pilot Light

Most of the problems that we see with gas appliances involve something to do with the pilot light. If you don’t know, the pilot light is the small flame that ignites the gas fireplace burner. Oftentimes a pilot light won’t turn on so you won’t have any flames coming from your fireplace. 

If your pilot light has gone out, the first thing you should check is to see if the gas valve is open. Simply turn the gas supply to “on” and light the pilot based on the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Another problem that you may face is if the gas supply is depleted or turned off. You should see if your gas tank is empty or if your service from your utility company has been turned off. 

If you suspect that your pilot light is out because of a draft, you should check the fireplace vent cap. This is the metal piece that is on top of your chimney. You should check to make sure it is still in place, but also see if there are any holes or gaps in it that will allow air to blow out the pilot light. Keep in mind that if you have a prefabricated chimney with a chimney chase cover that is rusted out, the rust can cause little pinholes that do the same thing. If this is the case, you’ll need to call a chimney company to replace the cap or chase cover or simply fix any holes that are allowing air to come in. 

(Related content about holes in your chimney —–> 12 Reasons Your Chimney Might Be Leaking)

 

The thermopile is an electronic device in your gas fireplace that converts thermal energy into electrical energy and needs to be replaced every few years.  If your pilot light seems like it’s going to light, but keeps going out, I’d bet that you have a faulty thermopile. 

Damaged wiring could be another cause of your pilot light problems. You should look for loose, melted, unconnected, or damaged wiring. Don’t use your fireplace again until a professional has been to your home to repair the wiring for you. 

Finally, your pilot light should glow blue. If it does not do that, then you have a problem. This means that your pilot light isn’t getting hot enough.

Fireplace Burner

If your pilot light is working, but the main burning isn’t turning on, the most common problem that we see is with the thermostat. It’s very common but a lot of people overlook it as a possibility. Simply make sure the thermostat is on and the current room temperature is below the setting on the thermostat. 

Most of the problems with your fireplace burner, though, will require you to go beyond basic troubleshooting and hire a professional. Here are some of the most common problems that we see with fireplace burners: 

  • If you see that your wiring is damaged, faulty, or unattached
  • If the pilot light orifice is dirty. The orifice is where the flame emerges. If it is dirty then it won’t operate properly
  • The thermocouple may need to be replaced. The thermocouple is a device that keeps the pilot gas tube open while the pilot is lit

Soot

Soot as a problem usually surprises a few people. Isn’t soot just something that comes with burning wood? Not necessarily! A soot problem in your gas fireplace is not immediately obvious, but it is something that you should check frequently. 

You can take a white piece of tissue or a paper towel and wipe across the length of the front ceramic log. If you see small black ash-like powdery clumps or the towel picks up a dark grey or black substance, then you most likely have a soot problem. 

This is typically caused by two common problems: 

  1. Your logs aren’t positioned correctly. This results in unburned gas and causes excess soot deposits on the logs. You just need to have a professional come out to your home to reposition and clean your logs. 
  2. Or your burner ports are clogged. This causes an unbalanced and incomplete burn. For this, you’ll also need to have someone come out to clean the logs and the burner ports. 

Those two problems are the most common that we see, but we do come across a few more such as: 

  • Your damper is closed. Be sure that your damper is completely opened
  • Your chimney is clogged. You need to be sure that your chimney isn’t clogged with some type of debris or even a bird’s nest. This is a huge reason to make sure you have a functional chimney cap. 
  • Your combustion screen is clogged. You should check the combustion screen and clean it based on the manufacturer’s instructions.

Is Everything Clean? 

If your fireplace isn’t clean it can result in less than average flame height, parts of your fireplace breaking down, and even gas leaks. You should dedicate a few minutes a couple times a year to keep everything clean so that you can increase the lifespan and efficiency of your gas fireplace. 

Before you start to clean your fireplace, remember to turn off the gas. I recommend waiting a few minutes after turning the gas off so that you can allow the gas to leave the pipes and for the fire chamber to cool off. From here, all you need to do is brush away any collected dust or debris from the logs. Be sure to use a softer brush with this because the logs are usually pretty fragile so you don’t want to scratch or crack them. 

It’s also fairly common for the glass doors on gas fireplaces to fog up with a cloudy haze. All you need to do in this case is clean the fireplace doors with a special gas fireplace glass cleaner

Unpleasant Odors

Your gas fireplace should never smell like gas. This is a similar smell to sulfur. If you do smell gas, immediately call the fire department and your gas provider. 

But luckily, the other odors that you may smell are pretty common and typically easy fixes.

  • If your glass doors aren’t properly sealed then that will allow odors to escape into your home. Be sure that your clips and glass fasteners are firmly in place
  • Dirt, pet dander, and even dust can make its way inside the internal components and inside the burner. You guessed it – this stinks
  • The smell could also be coming from some of the things that you place next to the fireplace. There are a lot of different objects that are placed on the mantel or near the gas fireplace that start to stink when they’re heated. 

Strange Noises

Did you hear that? Usually sounds coming from your gas fireplaces don’t raise any red flags. However, every time you hear a new sound, you should check it out. If you hear a sound and experience an operating problem right after, something happened and you need to have it checked out. Here are a few of the most common causes of gas fireplace noises that we see: 

  • Your burners might be dirty if you hear a rumbling noise when the burners are on. As before, call a chimney company to come out to clean those burners
  • Your flames may need to be adjusted if you hear a roaring sound that occurs when your pilot light is on. 
  • Your gas fireplace’s fan or blower may cause a grinding or shrieking noise. Not all fireplaces have this feature, though. Thankfully, newer gas fireplace blowers are a lot quieter than the old ones.

Final Thoughts

Whatever the case might be, if you are ever worried about your fireplace, you should call your local chimney company. At the very minimum, you should be sure to have your gas fireplace cleaned and inspected every year by a CSIA chimney technician. 

If you are getting a new gas insert, you should have your heating appliance installed by a gas chimney professional so that you know the appliance is safe and will operate properly. 

At Patriot Chimney we have a few CSIA certified experts with gas appliance troubleshooting designations. In fact, we’re the only ones in the area (within a 75-mile radius from Roanoke) that have this particular designation. 

See for yourself —–> CSIA Search Results for the CSIA Installing & Troubleshooting Gas Hearth Appliance Designation

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