Is your old natural gas fireplace looking like it came out of the 1960s, and not in a fashionable “retro” kind of way? The good news is that a costly, wholesale remodel isn’t necessary to get your hearth in order. Instead, replacing the logs can transform your tired-looking gas fireplace into a sophisticated, modern one that both provides warmth and enhances your décor.

Gut check

Do your gas fireplace logs look like they’re made of plastic? Instead of a roaring fire, do your logs produce a weak flame? If your home is more than 10 years old or still has the “builder grade” log set that was installed when it was built, it’s probably time for a fireplace “gut” check.

Changing just the logs can give your

natural gas fireplace the reboot it needs.

Like any home appliance, gas fireplaces require routine maintenance. The good news is you don’t need to replace your entire fireplace setup to improve its performance or appearance. Changing just the logs can give your fireplace the reboot it needs.

The ceramic logs for gas fireplaces have improved through the years so that they mimic real wood with great detail. They are complete with cut marks and branches. They even glow red when heated just like real logs and resemble the charred look logs get.

Walton Gas offers these tips and advice for updating the gas logs in your fireplace.

Log logistics

Before you go gas log shopping, you’ll need to know what style you’ll need. Gas logs can be vented or vent-free, and you’ll need to know the difference.

Vented: Vented gas logs are best for those expecting only a small amount of radiant heat but like the appearance of a roaring fire. These log sets produce tall, golden flames that are a realistic-looking substitute for real wood logs.

The tradeoff: Vented gas logs are designed to be used with a fully functional chimney. The chimney damper must be open when these logs are burning to prevent the buildup of harmful combustion byproducts. An open damper allows about 90 percent of the generated heat to escape up the chimney, making this log option an inefficient source of heat.

Vent-free (or ventless): Vent-free gas logs have a clean, smokeless flame, so they don’t require a chimney and can be used with the damper closed. These logs use the air from within the room for combustion. All of the heat produced is recirculated back into the room rather than escaping up the chimney. This efficiency results in less natural gas consumption.

The tradeoff: Fire produced by a vent-free log set is not as realistic as that from a vented one. Also, some people notice an odor associated with combustion when using vent-free logs. Those with allergies and asthma are the most affected by these odors, so it is recommended that a window or door is cracked when using vent-free gas logs.

Gas Log Q&A

Q:  What are today’s gas logs made of?

A:    Most gas logs are made from a ceramic fiber or refractory cement mixture designed to withstand high temperatures. Sometimes steel reinforcement bars are added to the inside of the logs to increase their strength and to prevent them from bending or cracking under extreme heat.

Refractory cement logs are extremely durable and will retain their color and details longer than ceramic fiber logs, which may change color slightly with extended use.

Q:  Why are newer gas logs more realistic looking?

A:    They are individually cast from real tree samples or created from highly detailed molds to capture the unique characteristics of wood found in nature. Refractory cement logs are then hand-painted to further detail the wood’s markings, pitting and coloration to create an authentic-looking replication.

When shopping for a new log set, you’ll notice there are a variety of replicated woods — such as red oak, golden oak or juniper — from which to choose.

Q: How long do gas logs last?

A:   In the average home, a well-maintained vented log set with ceramic logs will last 10 or more years. A well-maintained vent-free log set with ceramic logs can also last a long time, but, if heavily used, will begin to wear in 3-5 years.

Q:   How much does a gas log set typically cost?

A:   The cost varies depending on the size, material and brand. The average sets cost somewhere in the $400-$700 range.

Q:  Do gas logs require maintenance?

A:    Gas log sets require no daily maintenance but should be inspected annually by a professional. Logs need to be inspected for cracks and breaks and replaced if they are not in sound condition. Valves, pipes and gas connections should also inspected to ensure they are in good repair.

Vent-free log sets should have the ember bed and logs cleaned to remove any buildup. If you have vented gas logs, you’ll need to have your chimney inspected and swept once a year, too.

Q:   Is replacing gas logs a DIY project?

A:   Replacing gas logs can be a daunting task, so it’s not a project for the average do-it-yourselfer. Walton Gas encourages you to contact a trusted professional for assistance.

Q:  I see that logs come in different sizes. Does the size I get matter?

A:   Improperly sized logs can overheat your firebox and gas valves, which can cause permanent damage to your log set, fireplace or home. You’ll need to measure your fireplace’s firebox to determine what size gas log set to get. Simply measure the front width, rear width, depth and height of the firebox. When possible, also check the manufacturer’s sizing requirements and recommended clearance to combustibles before purchasing a log set to ensure you get the proper size.

Q:  Is there any way to enhance the look of my gas logs?

A:    There are a variety of gas log accessories that can make your fire more realistic, but check your owner’s manual prior to adding any enhancement to ensure proper placement without impacting the function of the gas log burner or compromising its safety. Some accessory options made especially for gas fireplaces:

  • Embers are fuzzy clumps that react to the flame and create the glowing effect of a wood-burning fire.
  • Lava rocks can be added to the floor of the fireplace to imitate a coal bed. They also hold and radiate heat.
  • Log branches add a realistic look to the log set.
  • Pine cones made of ceramic come in a variety of sizes and shapes to add character to your fireplace.
  • Acorns crafted from refractory cement can be scattered across the fireplace floor to add whimsical character.

Q: Can I add a remote control to turn on/off my gas log set?

A:   If your existing log set is equipped with a millivolt valve, you can add a remote. You may even be able to completely convert your gas log set to a remote control system with variable flame and thermostatic controls.