However, the bedrooms down the hallway in my ranch-style house would be a bit nippy. Said Reynolds, "There would be about a 10-degree difference between the living room and distance bedrooms."
The air quality in the house, however, never changes.
On average, I would spend $3,500 to $4,500 for a direct vent gas fireplace, Reynolds said.
Vent-free logs are cheaper
Reynolds sells vent-free gas logs, but he doesn't like them. The logs don't require venting; they take air from the house and return the combustion gases back into the house.
A brochure from a vent-free log manufacturer says the logs are 99 percent heating efficiency, use less gas and are equipped with an oxygen-depletion sensor for safe operation.
Reynolds doesn't believe they are safe, and said they have been outlawed in several states. Still, when customers who have bought one call complaining of headaches or eye irritation, Reynolds said, a check of the air quality shows the level of carbon monoxide is safe.
A bigger problem, he said, is the water produced from burning gas. "You will get 3 1/2 gallons of water from eight hours of burning a 39,000 Btu set of logs. That can raise the humidity within the house," he said.
Too high a humidity level can set up conditions for growth of mold and mildew, and condensation on the attic rafters or on the ceiling leaves black streaks.
On the positive side, Reynolds said that with vent-free logs, the heat stays in the room, as does the odor. He conceded they might be my best choice if I used them only for Christmas and New Year's and during power outages.
Even in the glossy brochure, the vent-free gas logs may look natural, but the flames don't. Two or three flames rise straight up in a straight line. I see what Reynolds meant when he described the flames from vented gas logs as "wrapping" around the logs.
For a good set of vent-free logs, one would pay $800 to $1,200.
The sole set of electric logs on display truly looked fake. "The industry has been trying to develop a look that's normal and natural," Reynolds said.
The high cost of chimneys
My 60-year-old rancher has a real chimney, but most new houses don't. Masonry chimneys cost $15,000 to $20,000, according to Reynolds.
So most people who want a fireplace do what I did 25 years ago when I had an addition built onto another house: I had a zero-clearance fireplace installed. It was all metal, with insulated pipe leading to the outside. The exterior chimney was clapboard siding to match the rest of the house.
As Reynolds explained, zero-clearance means the firebox and venting pipe can be installed within one inch of combustible material.
There are zero-clearance fireplaces for burning wood or gas. Manufacturers of both offer a wide selection of fronts, mantels and finishes and, in the case of gas logs, a choice of embers -- sand, glass, river rock.
Fireplaces that heat by burning either wood or gas aren't, of course, the only way to warm a room in cold weather. There is a variety of stoves.
And more people are looking for alternative heating sources. Reynolds said after the June 29 derecho took out power for thousands of customers this summer, people started in July booking installations. "Then with the heavy snow in October, it was Katie bar the door. This has been the best year we've had in years."
Reach Rosalie Earle at ea...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.