Getting Cold Feet About Ventless Gas Fireplace

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By Barry Stone
Saturday, September 30, 2006

Q: DEAR BARRY: We built a new home and installed a ventless gas log fireplace. As we look back, this seems to have been a stupid mistake. Since we have been using the fireplace, a film has been forming on our windows. Our suspicion is that it is caused by exhaust from the ventless fireplace. What must it be doing to the air we breathe? Is it too late to add a vent?

-- Deborah

A: DEAR DEBORAH: Installing a ventless gas log fireplace may have been an unfortunate mistake, but it wasn't a "stupid" one. Most homeowners would have no reason to suspect that a fully approved fixture such as this could be a problem or a potential safety hazard.

The film on your windows may be a combustion byproduct that, as you suspect, could be unsafe to breathe. Until this can be evaluated by a licensed expert or by the gas company, don't use the fixture. If there's a pilot, turn it off.

Ventless gas fireplaces operate without a chimney to the exterior of the building. They are designed to produce combustion products that are safe to breathe and can thus be vented directly into the home. The safety of these fireplaces has been a subject of debate between product manufacturers and other fireplace experts.

Manufacturers say ventless gas fireplaces have been designed so that they will automatically shut down if there is a combustion or venting problem. The opposing view is that no matter what safeguards are built in, there is no such thing as a 100 percent failsafe device. Failure may be extremely unlikely, but it's never impossible. When one considers the potential consequences of venting partially burned gas into a home (i.e., deadly carbon monoxide gas), nothing less than "impossible" should be acceptable, critics say.

Adding a vent to the existing ventless system is probably not possible. Therefore, replacing it with a different type of system, such as a pellet stove, may be prudent.

DEAR BARRY: Two months after we bought our home, rain runoff from the street drained into our garage and the downstairs floor of the house. Our home inspector made no mention of past flooding, but the neighbors tell us that flooding has occurred during every rainy season for the past several years. Are the home inspector and the sellers liable for nondisclosure? -- Fred

DEAR FRED: If flooding of the house and garage occurred during the time that the sellers owned the property, as stated by the neighbors, then they were obligated to disclose that problem and are liable for failure to do so.

The inspector, however, is liable only if there was visible evidence that he failed to notice at the time of the inspection. In most cases, such evidence exists, but there are exceptions, including situations in which sellers may have masked the evidence.

You should ask the home inspector to take a second look, and you should notify the sellers of your concerns via certified mail.

Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, http://www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.

(c) Distributed by Access Media Group


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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