Making the Healthy Hearth Choice

There's one big health decision people frequently don't consider: how to make sure your home's indoor air quality is safe.
Crave 36 gas fireplace

You make decisions about your family's health every day, from the foods you choose to the vitamins you buy to the health-care provider you see. But there's one big health decision people frequently don't consider: how to make sure your home's indoor air quality is safe.

Studies show that we're actually more likely to get sick from poor indoor air quality at home than from outdoor air pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pollutant levels in the home are often two to 10 times higher than those found outdoors. And with people spending, on average, more than 65 percent of their time indoors, it's important to reduce the risks of indoor air pollution as much as possible. Selecting the right fireplace for your home can be essential to helping ensure a healthy indoor breathing environment.

Indoor Air Pollutants: Invisible Trouble

Any home built after 1980 meets strict construction codes that, in an effort to conserve energy, feature tighter construction. As a result, less fresh air enters the home and harmful fumes, particles and excess moisture are less likely to escape through windows, doors, seams and wall chinks. Eventually, these pollutants can build up and lead to problems like elevated levels of mold, mildew and other allergens.

"Houses today are built tighter than ever," says Roger Oxford, Senior Vice President of New Construction at Hearth & Home Technologies, "which is great for boosting energy efficiency. However, it's not so great for the occupants if the home is too tight to permit proper ventilation. That's why it's critical for people to work closely with their builders to keep ventilation in mind during the construction process. In particular, it's important for consumers to demand appliances that vent indoor pollutants outside the home. For example, if you're looking to add a natural gas or liquid propane fireplace, a direct-vent gas fireplace is the best choice for the health of your family."

John Bower of the Healthy House Institute adds: "If you have a vent-free appliance, you're living in a chimney. I don't know anyone in the building science community who thinks they're a particularly good idea."

The Healthy Hearth Choice

Direct-vent gas fireplaces use outside air for combustion, and expel 100 percent of the combustion exhaust and by-products (like moisture, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide) outside the home. As a result, they do not decrease your home's indoor air quality in any way.

In fact, one of today's most sophisticated direct-vent fireplaces can actually improve your home's air quality. The FreshAir Fireplace™ by Heatilator® and Heat & Glo™ uses state-of-the-art ventilation technology that brings fresh air into your home while exhausting an equal amount of stale air.

The FreshAir Fireplace works in conjunction with a heat recovery ventilator and your furnace to supply a balanced flow of fresh air throughout the house, creating a more comfortable environment for your family. Most important, the FreshAir Fireplace reduces moisture levels in your home, which helps prevent the growth of mold and mildew.

Unvented Fireplaces—Unwanted By-products

In contrast, unvented or vent free gas fireplaces literally turn your entire home into a chimney, and can represent a major source of indoor air pollution in new homes. Unvented gas fireplace flames consume oxygen from inside your home for operation - and they expel exhaust, fumes, soot and strong combustion odors back into your living space. Your family then breathes in these by-products.

Unvented gas fireplaces can release up to a quart of excess moisture into the room every hour they are in operation. This moisture can condense on window glass and underneath carpet, which encourages the growth of mold and mildew. Because of problems like these, many builders will not install unvented gas fireplaces in new homes. In fact, the nation's top ten builders have policies against installing unvented products.

If you have questions about how you can maximize your home's indoor air quality, talk to your builder or your local fireplace retailer. To read comments from unvented fireplaces owners, check out

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