Installing and servicing furnaces, a/c systems, and ductwork may not be the same as installing vent-free products, but the training is similar.

Last year, 1999, was a good year for sales of vent-free supplemental direct heating appliances. According to the Vent-Free Gas Products Alliance, a coalition of 26 members of the Vent-Free Gas Products Division of the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Assoc-iation (GAMA), sales of these products were three times as high as sales of vented direct heating products, totaling 1,044,936 units.

Contractor Opportunity

If forecasts for high heating oil costs are true, many consumers may start looking around for alternate sources of heat this winter. Homeowners and business owners will be taking a long look at their heating bills and trying to justify heating a garage, basement, extra room, etc.

This creates an opportunity for contractors to supplement their product lines with little added cost to train the installers.

Among the vent-free products are room heaters, gas logs, gas fireplaces, fireplace inserts, vent-free fireboxes, and gas stoves. Mary Carson, alliance program director, said these products have a specific purpose: “They are for supplemental gas heat, not to used as a primary source.”

The alliance listed some reasons why there is an upsurge in the use of these products:

  • Gas stoves — Provide the glow of a wood-burning stove while acting as a source of heat. The stoves can be placed almost anywhere, eliminate the need for chopping wood, and come in a variety of sizes and colors.

  • Gas logs — Available in several types of wood, delivering efficient heat. Can be installed in wood-burning or vent-free fireboxes.

  • Fireplace inserts — Can be installed in an existing fireplace and provide 99% heating efficiency. Optional blower can be installed for heat distribution.

  • Gas fireplaces — Can be installed anywhere there is a gas line, providing greater heating comfort at a lower heating cost than a wood fireplace.

    Carson said vent-free products are safe. “We’ve never had a death reported due to the installation of a vent-free product.”

    Lack of Uniformity

    In spite of the many benefits of vent-free products, installations have been slowed by the large number of different codes and a few states that still prohibit the use of vent-free supplemental heating products.

    California, Massachusetts, and Montana do not authorize the installations, but that is just a small part of the problem, according to Carson. “There are 14,000 different code areas in the U.S.,” she said.

    “In 1996, we got the adoption of the International Mechanical Code [IMC] to include vent-free appliances. We thought these codes would be adopted as part of a uniform code, but some localities have stuck with the older codes.”

    She added that the alliance works with localities to offer education about vent-free products. “If we have a fire marshal in one area that will not allow an installation, we will go out and provide answers to any concerns.”

    Mike Caldarera, associate director of technical services for GAMA, stated that “Consumers need to make sure the appliance is installed according to code, which is the amount of allowable combustible air in a room.”

    The alliance issues guidelines for correctly sizing and installing vent-free products via its website at

    Publication date: 10/23/2000