Many homes today have a gas fireplace, but homeowners generally don’t think about servicing them until something goes wrong, which is usually at the most inopportune time imaginable. Whether you take a few moments to check out some of the more obvious things yourself or schedule an appointment with a trusted fireplace technician, both can save you a lot of frustration down the line.
The Not-so-Dirty Work
As you may or may not know, there are different types of gas fireplaces, and the guidelines for servicing them are somewhat different for each one. If a model has a standing pilot — meaning the pilot light stays on all the time — then the most important regular service item is the pilot assembly. Some units have a pilot light that’s only on when the unit is in use, whereas others use electronic ignition to light the burner directly without a pilot system at all; these won’t need servicing quite as often.
For the last few decades, all unvented gas fireplaces and gas log sets have had an Oxygen Depletion Sensor (ODS) pilot assembly to monitor safe operation of the appliance, which should be cleaned every year to keep the system from becoming more sensitive and/or causing nuisance shutdowns. If you are particularly handy — meaning you can change you own oil or the spark plugs in your car without breaking something — you could more than likely handle this task; however, if you are the slightest bit apprehensive about handling anything dealing with gas, it’s best to leave this to a trained professional.
The goal is to clear out the accumulation of sediment in the tiny pilot opening. A can of compressed air — those used for keyboard cleaning will suffice — may be used with the included straw to direct air toward the opening to clean it out. NOTE: if you opt to do this yourself, remember to make sure the pilot is OFF. If the pilot assembly is at least five years old (or if you were to live close to salt water), this method might not be as effective as it once was, leaving you needing to seek professional assistance!
Unvented logs are designed to burn very cleanly; as such, if there are any sooty (black) deposits on your logs, stop using them immediately and make sure your logs and/or burner are set up correctly. If you aren’t absolutely sure that everything is correct, please stop using your fireplace until you can contact a professional technician to evaluate the situation for you.
Other fireplaces and gas logs need cleaning, too, but perhaps not as often, depending on how frequently they’re used. Vented gas logs should be cleaned regularly if there is any sooty buildup present; there are commercially available sprays on the market to assist you.
Direct vent gas fireplaces have fixed glass panels that will likely need annual cleaning to stay clear. If the glass is collecting a black residue (soot), the fireplace should be adjusted to remedy this issue. If the glass has a gray or white film, however, there is no need to worry; there are chemical compounds in the gas itself that produce the residue (this is completely normal).
The use of glass cleaners containing ammonia is a huge no-no. Water and a soft cloth will usually suffice as long as you make this is part of your regular cleaning routine; adding a little vinegar to the water may save you a little elbow grease. Tougher deposits may require special fireplace glass cleaner to ensure that the job is done properly. Don’t forget to dry your glass completely and check for streaks and fingerprints before re-installing the glass!