Letters From Vent-Free Gas Fireplace Owners

If you’re considering a vent-free gas appliance, you should first read these excerpts from letters written by vent-free owners, downloaded from the Internet. We’ve edited out the names of specific manufacturers and retailers wherever they appeared in the original text .

Letter # 1: Serious Health Problems
My Name is Kim, I am trying desperately to locate other people who have suffered the long term effects of CO. My Family of four was poisoned for over two years, before we found out why we were all so sick. My five year old daughter was having many illnesses, eventually led to seizures.

This all stemmed from a ventless gas fireplace we installed in our basement. Three months after it was installed my daughter had her first seizure. Husband began having severe headaches, trembling, memory loss, and numerous other ailments. Neurologists diagnosed daughter as epileptic!!!!! They now know they were wrong.

This began in January 1995. Husband still on oxygen every day, and medication, and extreme memory loss, and other problems. Daughter is having no more seizures, and last EEG done three months after gas shut off, was normal. First normal EEG in two years.

We have been through it all!!! If anyone knows about CO, it’s me and family. I have found a support group based in the United Kingdom that is helping us deal with this mess. And we are in search of other people who need our help. We are also trying to find a way to inform the public about this silent killer.

Would you be able to help us in any way? Your concern could save a life. We have had a forensic scientist in our home doing tests on fireplace, and the final result was determined that you cannot put a combustible gas in an airtight home and not vent it.

I have done much research on this situation and talked to toxologists, chemists, and other specialists, and not one of them can believe we are still alive, they are all behind us all the way. I’ll be waiting to hear from you. Thanks, Kim.

Letter #2: Headaches, Odor, Unacceptable CO Levels Date: Monday, March 30, 1998 23:38:16
We are a young couple with four children and live in a small community in Ohio. In 1996, we built a new home and moved in in late October. In November, we decided to try out our new vent free gas fireplace.

Neither myself nor my husband are familiar with gas appliances, so we called the owner of Retailer Fireplace Sales. Retailer is where we bought the unit. He had what he called a startup package for around $40. We were surprised at the charge since nothing was mentioned at the time of the sale, however we decided it would be best to know how to use it properly.

We asked the representative of Retailer about using a CO detector. He told us they really aren’t necessary because the unit has a built in sensor that will shut itself off if the level gets too high. He also told us to let the unit burn for 4 to 5 hours to get the initial smell and burn off from the logs.

We did this, but still noticed an odor even after 10-12 hours. We called Retailer again and were told to burn the unit for 100 hours. This seemed extremely long, but we did this over a series of 2 months.

In early January, we were still experiencing the odor and also seemed to notice a listlessness in our children, dizziness and sometimes headaches, while running the unit. At this time we still did not have a CO detector, so we have no idea how high the reading got at this point.

We finally decided to go out and buy a CO detector. Within half an hour of turning the unit on the warning alarm sounded. We called Retailer again and now he says that these detectors warn you way before there is a problem, so he still says we do not have a problem. We decided to buy another one and have one on the first and second floors. The upstairs would alarm within half an hour and the downstairs within 2-1/2 hours.

Again, we contacted Retailer and he told us the CO detectors we bought are too sensitive and to call the Manufacturer , to see what they recommend. They recommended a different brand with a digital display. So, we go out and buy our third CO detector.

We now have two different brands of CO detectors in a loft area overlooking our great room. The great room measures 17×20 and has a 17 foot cathedral ceiling and this is where the vent free fireplace is located. The great room is also open to a kitchen/dining room and a 2-story entrance. So, it is a very roomy and open area. The following is an example of one days CO level readings:

Time Reading Description
7:50am 7 Turned fireplace on
8:05am 9
8:20am 11 Upstairs CO detector alarm
9:40am 13
10:15am 14
10:50am 15 Downstairs CO detector alarm
11:20am 16
12:00am 17
12:30am 18
1:20pm 19
2:00pm 21 Noticed dizziness
2:20pm 22
2:45pm 23 Headache starting – turned unit off

It took until 8:00 am next morning to get the detector reading below 10. These levels are not considered very high, but being exposed to these on a daily or every other day basis which we were in trying to get this 100 hours of burning time in, may become harmful, especially for our young children.

On another day of recording the readings, we got the following results:

Time Reading Description
10:00am 0 Turned fireplace on
11:05am 10
11:45am 12
12:25pm 14
2:00pm 20 Turned fireplace off

We called the fire department out and they felt we had a problem and should call the gas company. The gas company came out and they too felt we had a problem. Their representative told us any reading over 10 is unacceptable in a residential home.

He also told us he was “red flagging” the unit, which he explained to mean that he had checked out all other possible sources of CO and determined the cause to be the vent free gas fireplace. This would let the gas company off the hook if something would happen to any of us.

Throughout this whole process we had over 30 phone calls to Manufacturer and Retailer . Retailer was not willing to do anything except tell us to talk to the manufacturer. Manufacturer did try replacing the logs, they tried replacing the whole guts of the unit and the logs.

The old unit was then to be sent back for testing. Manufacturer instructed Retailer to install the new burner and logs and return the old unit. I checked on the results of this and every time I was told that they had not received the unit from Retailer .

They also tried new brick panels too. We still got the same results and every time they sent something new we had to go through the initial burn off process again.

Finally, after one year of frustration, Manufacturer suggested we try something new called a catalytic converter unit. They were going to send out technicians to check out the other unit and install this new catalytic converter unit.

Well, here’s another problem. We have the old unit enclosed in a brick front that goes all of 17′ in height. I do not want to have to go through the expense and the mess of having the old one cut out and then the new one put in and still have the possibility of having problems because it would still be an unvented unit.

We have done too much research in the meantime and know that we want nothing but a vented unit that has a vertical pipe running all the way up and through the roof. We only wish we knew all we do now before we started building. We are going to go through the expense and the mess and have this unit installed, but we want nothing to do with any gas appliance that is unvented.

We have since this time talked to several people in fireplace sales and gas appliance installation and none of them are recommending the vent free units. We sure would not recommend one. We only hope that this information may persuade a person who is thinking of buying a vent free unit. Please think twice about it because we have also had moisture problems as well. Which is a totally different story.

Letter #3: Soot All Over The House Date: Thursday, October 14, 1999
Hello, Found your webpage..and was so thrilled..have some questions..

We purchased a vent-free fireplace from a local distributor 2 yrs ago..and its been nothing but a nightmare…soot, soot and more soot. I have been told its the fact that its vent-free, or its the manufacturer..which is Manufacturer …whatever…they have not been able to fix the problem..so we have a beautiful fireplace..I won’t use, because it ruins the walls, curtains, etc.

We have decided the only solution to our problem is to go with a vented fireplace, but will not buy from the same folks, and very skeptical about buying through a place like Lowes, etc. This can be a costly addition..and don’t want to have to go through this repeatedly..

Our source of fuel is propane..we also use this with our furnace. We have decided we better go to a vented fireplace, so am looking for suggestions. The fireplace we have now says..max. 22, 000 btu..if that will help with size, etc. I would appreciate your assistance. Thank You, Jean.

Letter #4: Condensation Nightmare Date: Monday, May 15, 2000
We could contribute a letter about the no-vent wall gas heaters. Despite a science background, I failed to consider the water production from burning propane when I left the (installed by builder) gas heater on (low) in a mountain cabin during winter months to thwart freezing and supplement electric units.

Well the pipes didn’t freeze, but all windows had enormous ice deposits along their base and sides from the thaw/drip/freeze of condensed combustion water. This damaged “dry” wall around the windows, cracked a large picture window (several hundred $ repair), and required me to strip and refinish water-damaged sills. Even worse, the moisture condensed on the underside of the (poorly designed) sheet metal roof, whence it melted in spring to anoint the upstairs ceilings and floors with dripping “dry” wall coatings and stains.

This led to the belated recognition of the need for roof rebuilding (couple kilobucks) to help prevent future condensation, and the epiphany that non-vented gas heaters are bad for the house’s health even if acceptable for the occupants’. While pleased with myself for tracing the problem to the heater (I calculated how much water would be produced by the amount of propane consumed that winter while laying awake worrying about the demise of the house), I sure wish someone had educated me of the hazards beforehand. Frank Symington

To read about how much CO2 a vent-free fireplace exhausts into the breathing space, click here.

To read about a recent study of the effects of long-term exposure to CO gases, click here.

To read a posting about vent-free gas appliances from an indoor air quality scientist, click here.

To read excerpts from a recent Consumer Reports article about vent-free fireplaces, click here.

To read our opinion about vent-free gas appliances, click here.