Homeowners tend to be squeamish about repairing gas appliances themselves — so when they need to repair a gas fireplace, they usually call a pro. That's a healthy strategy, but it's an expensive one since the service bill will often be $125 or more even before the technician identifies the problem and fixes it. The flat service call fee in addition to the repair fee is a fact of life that keeps the appliance repair company in business.
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However, a number of common gas fireplace problems arise from a lack of maintenance, and some other equipment malfunctions occur because of electrical problems that are easy to address. Some repairs related to equipment in the fireplace itself are doable by homeowners with DIY skills, although any problem that calls for disassembly of a natural gas or propane gas valve needs professional attention.
If you suspect a gas leak, you should definitely call a company that specializes in gas fireplace repair. You need a technician certified by the National Fireplace Institute or with similar credentials — or a plumber with a gas-fitting license — to repair a gas leak safely and ensure the leak won't recur.
Vented Gas Fireplace Problems
There are several types of gas fireplaces that fall into two categories: those that are vented and those that aren't. The two vented types of fireplaces are B-vent, which exhausts combustion gases through a chimney, and direct vent, which typically exhausts gases through a coaxial pipe that passes through a wall.
A B-vent model is the one most resembling a wood fireplace and is in fact often installed inside an existing fireplace. Like a wood fire, it creates an updraft that draws air from the room, and it's the type most likely to get clogged from dust, pet dander, and other contaminants in the room air. Consequently, it needs more maintenance than other types of gas fireplaces.
1. Burning Smell
Efficient gas combustion doesn't produce an odor, but both natural gas and propane have a rotten egg odor purposely added to warn you of a gas leak. If you smell that, turn off the gas and call for repair services. On the other hand, if you detect the odor of something burning, it's probably coming from debris buildup that has collected around the gas burner. This is most likely to happen with fireplaces that have log sets.
Turn off the fireplace, let it cool down, and then remove the front cover if there is one and vacuum thoroughly around the log set and any exposed parts of the gas burner. Use a new paintbrush to scare up dust buried deep in the logs so you can get it with the vacuum.
2. Weird Sounds While the Burner Is On
If you hear crackling, popping, or hissing sounds while the burner is on, the burner and log set are dirty. The sound is coming from the combustion of stray materials that have collected on the log set and burner.
Turn off the fireplace, let it cool down, and give everything a good cleaning. If the fireplace has a blower and you hear grinding or squealing noises, the blower needs to be serviced or replaced.
3. The Pilot Won't Light
If you can't get the burner to start, the first suspect is the pilot light. A gas fireplace can have an electronic igniter, but most have a standing pilot, which is a small flame that burns continuously. Standing pilots waste a small amount of gas, but they ensure you can use the fireplace during a power outage.
If your unit has an electronic igniter, you usually hear a clicking sound when it switches on, and if you don't hear that, check the circuit breaker that controls the circuit feeding the fireplace because it might have tripped. You should also check the wire connections on the ignitor because they may be loose or damaged (make sure the power is off at the breaker before touching any wiring).
If your unit has a standing pilot and it won't light or only stays lit for a few seconds before going out, the problem is often a faulty thermocouple or thermopile (thermocouples joined in series). The thermocouple is a thermoelectric sensor that sends a small electric current to the gas valve to keep it open when the pilot is burning. Sometimes, you just need to readjust its position, but if it's worn out, you need to replace it. This isn't as hard as it sounds and can be accomplished using the owner's manual as a guide, but you might need a service call for accurate troubleshooting and repair.
4. The Pilot Works, but the Burner Won't Light
If you see the standing pilot burning or you hear the sound of the electronic spark ignitor but the burner won't ignite, there could be a malfunction with the gas valve, which needs professional repair service.
Before making the call, though, give the burner a thorough cleaning with compressed air because it may just be blocked by soot. If your fireplace has a standing pilot and is controlled by a thermostat, try turning the thermostat all the way up to see if the burner starts. If it doesn't, check the thermostat wiring.
5. The Standing Pilot Went Out
Sometimes, a strong draft will blow out the pilot, and you have to relight it. The procedure for relighting it is fairly standard, although it may differ slightly from model to model, so it's always important to check the owner's manual.
- After making sure the gas line is on, turn the gas control knob to Pilot and push it in.
- Light the pilot with a match or by pressing the piezoelectric spark ignitor (usually a red button) repeatedly.
- Keep holding the button in for about 20 seconds after the pilot lights to allow the thermocouple to warm up.
- Release the gas control knob and turn it to the On position.
6. The Remote Doesn't Work
If your fireplace has a remote control, and it's not working it's likely that you'll need new batteries.
Replace the batteries in your remote. But don't stop there, though, because the receiver in the fireplace also has batteries, and you should change those too. Consult your owner's manual for the location of the battery compartment and the type of batteries you need.
Ventless Gas Fireplace Problems
Instead of venting combustion gases outdoors, ventless fireplaces recycle them in a closed combustion chamber and ideally emit only carbon dioxide and water vapor into the room. The qualifier "ideally" is added here because there's a small possibility of harmful gases, such as carbon monoxide, being emitted. For this reason, ventless fireplaces are illegal in some places.
7. People Experience Dizziness or Nausea
Dizziness and nausea are symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, which is something that needs to be addressed immediately.
If anyone is experiencing these symptoms while the fireplace is on, turn it off immediately, open doors and windows for ventilation, and move to an area with fresh air. If you have a ventless fireplace, you should have a carbon monoxide monitor in the room to warn you of elevated levels. A ventless fireplace that emits carbon monoxide needs to be replaced.
8. High Humidity and Mold
Because one of the byproducts of ventless gas combustion is water vapor, it's common for humidity to rise in the room in which it's situated. In a sealed room without much air circulation, this can result in the formation of condensation on walls and furniture, and mold can grow. This is similar to what happens inside air conditioning ducts in a warm room.
To prevent condensation and mold, you may just need to leave a window partly open to allow air to circulate. If this is impractical or doesn't work, use a small fan to ventilate the area around the fireplace.
Gas Fireplace Maintenance
You probably won't need to call a technician who can repair a gas fireplace if you give your fireplace regular maintenance. A good maintenance routine should include a periodic tune-up by a licensed gas fireplace service technician, who can troubleshoot and fix problems most homeowners aren't qualified to handle. Like any gas appliance, a fireplace needs a little TLC now and then to keep everything in working order and the fire burning bright, and it doesn't take much.
- Do a regular cleaning: Turn off the gas and wait for the fireplace to cool down. Then remove the front cover if there is one and vacuum soot and dirt from the log set, the burner, and the walls of the combustion chamber. You can use any handheld vacuum for this. Wash the screen or cover and the area around the front of the fireplace with a solution of all-purpose liquid soap and warm water. An abundance of soot on the cover or walls of the combustion chamber usually indicates an overabundance of gas and a lack of oxygen, so follow the manufacturer's instructions for adjusting the air-to-gas ratio.
- Look for damage: If you have a ceramic log set or a pile of lava rocks, check them for cracks, and if you find any, replace the damaged rocks or logs. You might see whitish deposits on the glass cover. These are from minerals in the condensation that have settled there, and you can usually remove them by spraying them with vinegar or scrubbing with baking soda and water.
- Check the pilot: After cleaning is finished, turn on the gas, start the pilot, and check the flame. It should be steady and bluish in color. If it's green or orange, the pilot tube may be partially obstructed. You can usually clean it yourself with a blast of compressed air after you once again turn off the gas and let things cool down.