Converting Our Propane Fireplace To An Electric Fireplace
I have been in a hate-hate relationship with our fireplace since we moved into this house. It wouldn’t even turn on for the first 3 years that we lived here. We could smell the propane. We could hear the clicking of the starter. But we couldn’t get it to light. And we only tried for a few minutes at a time because I wasn’t willing the let the propane continue to run for very long. Our builder never fastened the log set to the bottom of the fireplace, so it moved around while we were pushing on the starter.
I Want To Enjoy A Fake Fire!
I don’t want to give the impression that I threw a fit. I mean I would have looked pretty ridiculous laying on the floor in front of the fireplace kicking my feet and pounding my fists. But I was very adamant last winter that I wanted to get the fireplace to work. The first step was to make sure that the propane was getting to the fireplace. We hired a plumber to come and inspect it. The propane was not the problem. He had experience with gas fireplace sets and tried to get it to start. He had a 1-hour minimum and the inspection only took about 15 minutes so I think he felt like he needed to give us our money’s worth.
Our next step was to visit a local retailer that sold our exact log set. We talked to them at great length to try to troubleshoot the problem. They were very helpful, giving us several ideas to try, and even gave us a users manual. We figured out that the logs weren’t even in the correct configuration when we got home and looked at the manual. We made sure that everything was hooked up correctly and gave it a try.
It worked!!! But it smelled terrible. The man at the fireplace store said there would be a strong odor the first few times we used it but that the smell would dissipate. It didn’t. We had to open the windows every time we turned it on. It wasn’t worth it, so we stopped trying.
Is This Dangerous?
Because nothing seemed to be installed correctly in our fireplace, I began to wonder if it was even safe. I started researching what could be wrong with the fireplace itself when I kept finding article after article about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning in ventless propane fireplaces. We didn’t know if our fireplace had been vented properly (if at all).
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by burning gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel. If carbon monoxide is released in an enclosed area without proper ventilation, it can quickly accumulate to dangerous levels. The effects of carbon monoxide poisoning can be subtle if you have a small leak or sudden if you have a leak in a confined area.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:
- A dull headache
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
If you experience any of the listed symptoms, you should get fresh air immediately. Turn off the propane and open your windows. If your symptoms persist, please call 911 immediately. Always have a working carbon monoxide detector if you have a propane fireplace.
The Propane Insert Has To Go
Getting rid of the propane fireplace insert was a no-brainer. It didn’t work safely and it was the only thing left that used propane. When we moved into our house there were 2 heat pumps installed. Propane skyrocketed to $5/gallon the first winter we lived here and we were afraid we were going to go broke by spring. So we did what anyone would do, we froze. We began to look for solutions to our problem. We had the house checked for leaks to see if that was why we couldn’t keep the house warm. It was actually very well sealed, however, we found out that the heat pumps that we had were cheap and inefficient. They started using propane the moment they kicked on rather than only using propane when the temperature dropped to a certain degree. Our energy co-op was offering a rebate on the installation of a Geothermal System so we made the switch.
Unfortunately, we had already paid to have the propane tank filled before we decided to switch to geothermal. But we thought we could still use it on the fireplace at that time so it wouldn’t be a waste of money. Boy were we wrong. But now that we have decided to remove the propane fireplace insert we can get rid of the 500-gallon propane tank that sits right beside our driveway. Here is how our propane fireplace insert looked.
Removing The Propane Insert
We consulted with a builder and asked if he thought we could remove the insert ourselves. He told us that we could do it and save a lot in labor but that we would need to have a professional install the electric insert for us. He warned us that the insert was most likely anchored to studs and that we would probably have to remove some bricks. Removing bricks would result in an additional fee to have a mason re-brick it after the installation. I started adding things up in my head and tried to decide if a fireplace was really worth it.
- Electrician $$$
- Contractor $$$
- Mason $$$
- Cost of the new fireplace $$$
After a list of pros and cons, we decided that it was worth it but that we were going to do as much of the work as we could ourselves.
The Steps We Took
First, we enclosed the area with plastic sheeting. We used the mantle and a backdrop stand to provide the height we needed. We taped several sheets of plastic dropcloth together and then taped 2 sides to the floor.
Next, we started dis-assembling the fireplace. We REALLY didn’t want to have to remove any bricks for several reasons. The first was that it would take a lot of time and make a big mess. The second was that the project would cost us more if we had to hire a mason to replace the bricks. We already have the bricks so we wouldn’t have that expense but we were going to do everything we could to get the fireplace out without removing bricks.
We knew we weren’t going to sell the insert because we have been trying to have a garage sale since we moved in and it hasn’t happened yet. So we weren’t worried about keeping the insert intact. Things were going smoothly for a while. We were able to take it out piece by piece by unscrewing everything we could reach. Then it got tricky.
We got to the aluminum shell and couldn’t get to the screws. We decided to get the reciprocating saw and try to cut a hole so that we could get to the screws. The entire shell began to collapse, so we just went with it. My husband started to bend, crumple and force until he got most of it out. I got out of the way!
Our builder friend was right; it was anchored to the stud on one side. Because it didn’t fit perfectly into the opening, they had to add a piece of wood on the other side, so it came out more easily. The side that was sandwiched between the studs was a lot harder. We originally began to leave the part that was screwed into the stud and cut the metal as close to the wood as we could. Luckily as we started to cut we were able to pry the metal out as we went.
Less than 2 hours later it was completely removed! Not one brick harmed. And only minor cuts and scrapes on my husband. It was resting on two concrete blocks, and it did have a vent that went up into the attic.
Tying Up Loose Ends
The first and most important thing that we needed to do was to cap off the pipe from the propane tank. We were able to find a cap from Lowe’s that screwed onto the pipe. We didn’t want to climb up in the attic to remove the vent, so we pinched the end closed and wrapped it with duct tape. That may have been the lazy route to take, but I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me. The small wire hanging down is the low voltage wire used to provide the spark for the propane log set. We just pulled it out and threw it away. We used the outlet where it was connected to install our new remote for the electric fireplace.
The first step for the new electric fireplace was adding electricity. Fortunately, there was a plug on the wall to the left. We thought the best thing to do would be to pull the plug out and turn it around so that we could access it from inside the fireplace. We called my dad, who is an electrician, for advice. He said that turning it around would tear up the sheetrock and cause extra expenses. He suggested that we add a new plug using the wiring from the existing one. We went to Lowe’s Home Improvement and got all of the necessary equipment.
He was able to walk us through how to do it. It was straightforward but because I am not qualified or knowledgeable, I do not feel comfortable telling you how to do it. My suggestion is to hire an electrician. If you decide to do it yourself, I found this video that was “almost” exactly the procedure we followed.
Building A Platform
We didn’t want only to use the concrete blocks to set the new fireplace on so we created a platform. There was already a board attached to the hearth, but it was lower than the bricks. We needed to add a board on top of it so that our platform was level with the bricks. For some reason, the two bricks in the middle of the hearth were angled up. We knew that we were going to have to remove them to get the new fireplace insert level, so we chiseled them out first.
Next, we added another board on top of the existing one and secured it with screws.
We added two more concrete blocks so that the final board would be more stable. We didn’t have anything to attach the board to so we just set it on top of the concrete blocks. Luckily we had scraps of wood in the storage building that we were able to cut and use. We did have to buy two concrete blocks, but they were only $2 each.
Installing The Electric Fireplace
We had already measured our opening and picked out the fireplace insert that we wanted. It was ordered the day after we removed the old one so we only had to look at the empty space for about a week and a half. We ordered our fireplace from electricfireplacesdirect.com. They were very helpful, and the customer service was excellent. There were problems with the remote that we ordered, so we had more experience with customer support than we had hoped to have.
We chose the Dimplex 39-In Purifire Deluxe Built-in Electric Fireplace – BF39DXP. It wasn’t an exact fit so we knew we would need to fill a 1-inch gap on each side. We ordered the trim kit to see if that would be enough to hide the gap. Once we installed the fireplace, we realized that if we removed some more of the bricks to get it level it would fit snug against the side bricks with the trim kit on. We had to pull it out and put it back in several times until we got it level and flush all the way around. But once we did, it was a great fit.
Optional Remote Control
We ordered the optional remote and had some trouble when we installed the receiver box into the fireplace. One of the wires from the circuit board kept hitting the plug when we tried to seat it into place and would come loose. We had to move it to a different spot on the circuit board and squeeze it tighter to get it to work. We called Dimplex and let them know about the problem, so hopefully, they get it fixed.
The remote continued to be an issue because it only controlled the temperature but wouldn’t turn the fireplace on/off or turn the flames on/off. Our first call to Dimplex customer support was horrible. She offered no help and was rude. She told us that we needed to send it back and get a different model. We didn’t want to send the remote back after everything we went through to get the receiver installed. We called Hope at Electric Fireplaces Direct, and she made a call to Dimplex on our behalf. She called back immediately with a direct phone number to a customer service representative that was very helpful. She walked us through pairing our remote with the receiver, and it works perfectly now.
I’m In Love With This Fireplace
There really isn’t a comparison between the sounds and smells of a real fireplace and an electric one. However, I can start mine with a remote control, and I don’t have to chop firewood in the cold. It does put out a good amount of heat, and it looks beautiful. We thought that we ordered the crackle sound system but it wasn’t on our receipt. If I ever start reading by the fireplace, I may call and order it, but for now, it wouldn’t be heard while we are watching TV.
Are You Ready To Make The Switch?
I hope that this inspires you to tackle a fireplace remodel if that is something you’ve wanted to do. I promise you that my husband and I have NO special skills so if we can do it, you can do it. Just remember to be safe when dealing with electricity and gas/propane. I would love to hear about your remodel. Feel free to comment with your story or share pictures for others to enjoy.