We wanted to switch from a wood-burning fireplace to gas for our vacation rental, High Ridge Haven in Cashiers, NC. As a vacation rental home we didn't want take on the risk of an out of control wood fire, the cleanup, the chimney maintenance, and not everyone likes the smell of a fireplace.
We have an existing 500 gallon propane tank with its sole purpose to service our backup generator. So we thought we could tap into it. However, it is a fair distance from the fireplace and our local gas service company wanted to charge thousands of dollars to make the hookups and fireplace set, although we felt we were the ones who would be doing all the work since we would be required to run a 2-inch conduit one foot below ground level from the tank to the fireplace. Given the supply and demand of my mountain community we experience both crazy prices and lack of service with no call backs from providers.
To take on this project ourselves, we decided to create a new gas source near the fireplace. In so doing, we took a page from the RV camping world where propane is often relied on as a source of fuel. If you already have a fuel source, you are one step ahead.
Fuel Source: We purchased the following for everything you need to provide propane to the fireplace.
Two 40lb tanks from Flame King off eBay ($245). They came as a set.
Flame King Dual RV Propane Tank Cylinder Rack for 40lb Tanks ($52.50). This was a tidy way to keep the tanks in good order. This is typically the way they are attached to an RV trailer. You could do without this item.
Flame King (KT12ACR6a) 2-Stage Auto Changeover LP Propane Gas Regulator with two 12" pigtails.
24ft of 1/2" Natural Gas Hose with Quick Disconnect for Fire Pit, Patio Heater, Pizza Oven or Grill.
The above setup is placed against the wall of our crawl space and the gas hose has been run up through a lower and upper level decks by simply drilling 1" holes. The placement runs alongside the frame of sliding doors.
Positives: The positive to this setup is the regulator has a window to show if there is propane (clear) or if it is empty (red). The black lever can be thrown from the empty tank to the full tank. You could then take the tank to be refilled while the fireplace is running on the other tank. The tanks can be filled at either Ace Hardware in Highlands or near Lake Toxaway. If the lever is down (as shown in the above photo) fuel will be taken from both tanks until both are empty.
Negatives: When we purchased 40lb tanks, we were thinking we had 40 gallons of propane. The reality is much less. More on that in a second. When full, each tank weighs 72 lbs. It is not clear whether we can count on guests to remove and refill one or both empty tanks even if reimbursed. It may be too heavy for some.
Now that the setup is working, we are looking into a 120 gallon above ground tank. But the concern there is in finding a company to lease a tank or service refilling the tank. Lowest price to purchase a 120 gallon tank (420lbs) is around $900.
Estimating Capacity: Here are some factors to consider regarding tank size and consumption.
Pilot Light - Our fireplace set has an ignitor and a pilot light that stays on in order to allow guests to light the fireplace with a single press of the On/Off button. That pilot light consumes propane. How much? 0.157 gallons of propane per day (4.72 gallons of propane per month).
Tank Fuel Capacity - As already stated, we made the simple mistake by misunderstanding tank weight vs actual fuel capacity. You may see that 40lb tanks hold 10 gallons, but tanks aren't typically filled to capacity to allow for expansion. So we calculate each tank is holding 9.2 gallons each for a total of 18.4 gallons. The cost to fill the two tanks was $67.
Burn Rate (BTUs) - Not all fireplace log sets are the same in how much fuel they consume. You measure its fuel-consumption rate in British thermal units, or BTU ratings. If you have a 100,000 BTU fireplace, you can expect to burn about one gallon of propane fuel per hour. If your fireplace is 30,000 BTU, you would use approximately one gallon of propane about every three hours, and so on. The fireplace set we chose is 32,000 btu, but you'll find many are over 90,000 btu. Choose a lower btu fireplace set as we did. However, if you're good with math, you'll see that a guest running the fireplace three hours in the evening will last only six days.
Fireplace Set: We purchased the Bluegrass Living Vent Free Propane Gas log set off Amazon for $377.33. The logs are 24 inch traditional oak and has a remote control. You do not need to spend $1,200 for a ventless fireplace set for $1,200.
Type of Log Set - It is important to note that if you're using propane, you need to purchase a propane-specific fireplace log set.
Burner - The log set that we purchased includes everything you need, including the burner, the rack, the logs and accessories.
Vent Free - Vent free logs means the damper in the chimney can be closed and you don't have to worry about losing energy up the chimney. The logs are placed in a particular arrangement creating a flame pattern that is designed to look natural. There are plenty of websites that discuss the pros and cons to ventless or vented log sets.
Remote Control - The remote is nice to make operation simple for anyone. Press On and the fireplace clicks on. Ideally, we wanted to use a remote that guests would press 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours and the fireplace would automatically shut off. However, the SkyTech device purchased wasn't compatible with the log set.
Thermostat Control - The remote offer thermostat control that automatically cycles the burner on and off to maintain a desired room temperature.
Making the Final Connections: So far we have a fuel source with flexible gas line to the fireplace sitting outside. We have a fireplace log set, but we need to run a combination of flexible gas line and hard pipe with final fittings.
Sadly, we don't have a photo showing the final piping so an explanation is in order regarding the final fittings:
We needed a 1/2" flared male gas fitting adapter that connects into the fireplace burner. Note: You do not want to use tape or pipe dope on flared fittings.
A 24" flexible gas line suitable for being inside the fire insert was added.
A masonry bit was used to drill a hole down low inside the fire insert. In our case, the side could be unscrewed and taken out for the purpose of drilling a hole and then reinstalled.
We measured and determined a 24" piece of threaded straight pipe could make it from the fireplace insert to the outside of the fireplace made of wood paneling.
On either end of the pipe we attached 90 degree elbows using gas line tape (yellow) and a pipe wrench.
We ran pipe along the wall and eventually ran a hole outside to make the final connection to the flexible gas line outside. You can purchase connectors to make a length of pipe needed for your specific situation.
It is important to note that any gas installation requires a nearby shut off. There is a quick disconnect, but that was two stories down. In the line of straight pipe we added a shutoff valve (see photo below), which is to code.
Flexible caulk was used to seal the inside and outside of the pipe running outside.
Fasteners were added to ensure both the flexible gas line outside and the pipe inside is kept secure.
This whole process may seem daunting but it is easier than you might think. Our local hardware store, Zoller Hardware has various lengths of straight pipe and connectors. Buy more than you need and return what you don't.
Handyman Service: In full disclosure, we used the help of Ace Handyman Services in Cashiers to ensure the final connections were done properly. Their expertise helped in understanding the anatomy of our fireplace insert, making the holes needed to run pipe as well as the hole to the outside. As far as the actual connections, we made them ourselves.
You will find that most plumbers and contractors will not deal with gas owed to licensing and insurance liability. So the more you can take on while leveraging expertise can help you.
Total Project Cost: The total cost of materials was about $900, which includes the fireplace log set. The additional help of Ace Handyman Services added another $525 for three hours for a total cost of $1,425.
Ultimately, we are very pleased with the final results. We will expand our propane capacity as we learn more about how it is used. You can't beat the results!
Click the link to learn more or book direct our High Ridge Haven chalet with stunning mountain views.