A Warm Winter’s Night, Courtesy of Your Remote

Heat things up with a remote-controllable gas fireplace.

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The Empire is a direct-vent fireplace

Even if you live in a warm climate, a fireplace can be a worthwhile investment. It sets the mood and infuses a room with charm and elegance. And with so many gas-fueled options, you won’t need to strike a single match to get your fire started. Available with many gas fireplaces are handheld remotes.

They’re much more convenient than the traditional switches that most builders tack to the wall, according to Harold Wagner, sales manager at Fireplacesnow. A switch must be placed no more than 15 linear feet from the fireplace, he explains, while a remote can operate the flame from 30 feet away.

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Plus, a remote offers more than just basic on/off control. Thermostatically controlled remotes, for example, let you set the desired room temperature and will automatically adjust the fireplace to maintain that room temperature—the remote actually senses the temperature.

“The downside,” says Wagner, “it that once the temperature exceeds the setpoint, the fireplace turns off completely.” A remote that’s also able to adjust the height of the flame precludes this problem. “It’ll lower and raise the flame so that the room stays at a consistent temperature,” Wagner explains.

Naturally, you’ll pay a premium for a remote that regulates the flame—around $400 for one that looks like an iPod touch. A basic on/off remote, meanwhile, runs about $60, and prices go up from there.

Can you add a remote to an existing gas fireplace? Yes, as long you disable the wall switch first, says Wagner. The fireplace must also be fitted with something called a millivolt valve.

A remote control might be an important component of a fireplace, but there are many other elements to consider. First and foremost, you’ll need to decide between a fireplace that exhausts air to the outdoors (direct-vent or B-vent) and one that doesn’t (vent-free). Vent-free units are easier to install and are usually less expensive. However, they look less realistic than vented fireplaces and produce much less heat. A direct-vent fireplaces trump B-vent in heat production, making them a good choice if you’d like to use your fireplace as a main heat source.

Another important feature to look at, says Wagner is efficiency. Just because a fireplace cranks off 90,000 BTUs, doesn’t mean it generates the most heat.

“If it’s only 50 percent energy-efficient, you’ll lose more heat than if you went with a fireplace that generates 20,000 BTUs but is 93 percent efficient,” he explains.

Electric fireplaces are also available, and can be a good alternative for apartment dwellers. “They’ve come a long way in terms of appearance,” says Wagner. “They look a lot more realistic than they did 20 years ago.” Plus, because they’re portable, they can go just about anywhere—even mounted to the wall.

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