How To: Convert an electric fireplace to gas


A reader’s electric fireplace. (Reader photo)
December 18, 2013

Question: I have an electric fireplace. It’s a beautiful piece of furniture with our 50-inch TV sitting on top and cabinetry with shelves and doors on the sides. There is a gas line in the wall directly behind this piece of furniture. Is it possible to convert the firebox to gas? The electric fireplace looks nice but really doesn’t provide any heat.

— Monroe Township, N.J.

Answer:Unfortunately, there is probably no easy way to do what you want to do. Electric fireplaces typically generate fewer than 5,000 BTUs, a measure of heat, while gas fireplaces often put out 20,000 to 50,000 BTUs. So fire safety rules require cabinetry to be a lot farther away from a gas fireplace than an electric one. To get the clearance you’d need for gas, you’d probably need to redo the cabinets.

You’d probably also need to provide venting, either through an outside wall or through the roof. Electric fireplaces don’t need venting because they don’t generate fumes or release any moisture. But burning gas releases fumes and water vapor. Venting them to the outside protects the air quality in your home.

Manufacturers do sell vent-free gas logs for fireplaces that originally burned wood, as well as full vent-free fireplaces, but they warn to run them for only short periods to prevent fumes and moisture from building up inside the home. And even if you could live with that restriction, you still can’t just swap in a vent-free gas fireplace for your electric fireplace; the cabinets would be too close for fire safety.

If you’re willing to redo the cabinetry for the sake of getting a fireplace that puts out more heat, take a few pictures and a floor plan of your house to a fireplace shop and ask for advice about the best approach and how much it might cost. Be sure to discuss local code requirements and whether the TV could stay above the fireplace. A fireplace that pumps out heat might make that spot a bad place for electronic gear.

I have a silver comb and brush set circa 1940 that I inherited from my mother. The brush insert is very stiff and discolored. Do you have any idea where I could replace it?

— Potomac

Companies that make and repair silver items are often set up to replace the brush part of a vanity set. Laela Cottone at Creative Metalworks in Kensington (301-933-1500; www.creativemetalworks.com) said the job usually ranges between $70 and $200 and takes two to four weeks because the company has to order a brush insert that will fit. Richard Sisson at Chevy Chase Plating & Polishing in Rockville (301-230-7686; www.chevychaseplating.
com
) said the price there is about $90, depending on the brush size. Chevy Chase Plating uses inserts custom-made by another company, he said.

The brush supplier for Creative Metalworks gives the option of white or black polished acrylic bristles or natural boar bristles in beige, black or a combination. The brushmaker for Chevy Chase Plating offers nylon or natural bristles or a combination. Customers usually opt for natural bristles in brushes that children will use, Sisson said. For adult use, the decision hinges on personal preference and hair type.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in December, such as combating dry air, at washingtonpost.com/home.

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