Most gas fireplace owners use ceramic or cement logs to replicate the look of an old-fashioned wood-burning fireplace. However, you can use your gas fireplace in many other ways, either for attractive decorative effects, to get more (or less) heat, or to avoid using gas at all.
Aside from logs, you can add natural stones, ceramic shapes, fireplace glass, and gas fire coal to your gas fireplace. You can also add another type of log, twigs, pine cones, ethanol fuel burners, and more. Finally, you can also choose to leave your fireplace bare.
Figuring out what to put in your fireplace can be a confusing process. In this article, I’ll help guide you toward your decision. I’ll also give you a quick tour of the options and reasons why they might or might not be suitable for you.
Things to Know Before Choosing a Log Alternative
Before you start shopping, you should know the answer to two questions:
- What is your current fireplace setup?
- And do I use my fireplace for heat, ambiance, or both?
If you use your gas fireplace primarily to heat your home, some alternatives to logs, such as fireplace glass, won’t be of much use. If your fireplace doesn’t have a chimney or other ventilation, that will affect which options are safe to use in your home.
Whether Your Gas Fireplace Has Ventilation
No matter if you have a gas fireplace installed or are considering purchasing one, the first thing you should know is whether or not it has ventilation to the outside air. Whether you have a built-in gas fireplace, a gas insert, or a freestanding gas stove, it may or may not have a venting system.
If your fireplace is a ventless (or vent-free) model, be aware that a few of the options on this list require a fireplace connected to either a natural or direct-vent system. Check carefully before purchasing to verify that it will work with a ventless fireplace.
If you’re not sure whether your gas fireplace is vented or not, consult the owner’s manual if you have one. If not, you can do a Google search for the brand and model number.
You can refer to this YouTube to understand how to find the brand and model number of your fireplace:
Whether You Want Heat or Decoration
Do you use your gas fireplace primarily as a heating system? Or do you use it for its visual appeal?
While most log alternatives provide at least some heat, some are designed chiefly to look good in your living room. If you need your fireplace to heat your home effectively and efficiently, you will need to choose something that will emanate a good deal of heat, like ceramic fireballs or natural stones.
However, if you live in an area with warm weather year-round, you probably don’t need your gas fireplace to pump out blazing heat. In that case, you might be happier with an option with other advantages, like clean-burning bioethanol fuel burners or electric logs that put out little or no heat at all.
What You Can Put in Your Gas Fireplace Besides Logs
A Different Type of Log
Many gas fireplace owners unhappy with their fireplace don’t realize there are two different types of gas logs – vented and ventless. Vented logs look nicer but don’t heat as well, and ventless logs look less natural but put out more heat. Before replacing your existing gas logs, consider whether you’d rather switch to a different type of log instead.
- Vented gas logs. These are a popular choice because the flame wraps around the logs, giving your gas fireplace the look of a natural wood-burning fireplace. The downside is that because these logs require ventilation, most of the heat escapes up the chimney.
- Ventless, or vent-free, gas logs. These don’t require ventilation, so they can be installed in any existing fireplace. They direct flames up through spaces between the logs, so they don’t look as realistic as vented logs, but they produce significantly more heat.
When we think of heat and flame, burning wood and volcanoes are two things that usually pop into our heads. So it makes sense that lava rocks are among the most popular alternatives to logs. These roughly textured, irregularly-shaped rocks are made from natural volcanic magma and add a rustic, dramatic look to a fireplace.
Because they’re a naturally occurring material, color choices for lava rocks are usually limited to black, brown, or red shades. However, keep in mind that while they can withstand high temperatures, lava rocks don’t retain heat very well, so they’re not ideal for home heating.
River rocks or other stones made out of natural materials, such as limestone, are another way to achieve a rustic look. They are a great option if you want a slightly refined spin on the natural aesthetic, thanks to their smooth texture and variety of colors and sizes.
Natural stones are heavier and denser than lava rock, so they do a much better job of retaining and radiating heat. Consider these if you need something that will heat the room nicely. Unlike lava rocks, natural stones break down over time and must be replaced every 1-2 years.
Also known as fireballs, fire shapes, and cannonballs, these are made of ceramic. Like ventless logs, ceramic shapes are made to radiate heat.
These are a great option if you’re looking for a stylish alternative to logs. The ball shape is the most common, but you can get them in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. They’re environmentally friendly, last forever, and add an elegant, contemporary look to your fireplace.
Moving all the way from rustic to refined, fire glass (or fireplace glass) reflects and amplifies firelight to create a dazzling display of shimmering color. Fire glass is available in many colors and is made from tempered, melt-resistant glass. It can be formed into everything from rough chunks to smooth, rounded beads of varying sizes.
The sophisticated, modern look of fire glass makes it a top pick for a decorative alternative to gas logs, but it’s also functional. The glass pieces reflect both light and heat from gas flames, making for an excellent heat source.
However, there’s one important caveat – do not, under any circumstances, use glass that is not expressly intended for use in a fireplace. Fire glass is specially made to resist extreme heat safely. Any other type of glass may explode or emit toxic fumes.
Gas Fire Coal
Are you a Charles Dickens fan who dreams of reading David Copperfield by a coal fire in a Victorian Era sitting room? A coal basket might just be your cup o’ tea, guv’nor! These black lumps of “coal,” usually made from ceramic or black lava rock and set in a metal grate, simulate the elegant, traditional look of a classic coal fire, right down to the glowing embers.
One thing to keep in mind with coal baskets is that both vented and ventless models are available, so make sure you choose the right kind for your fireplace. Another consideration is that the coals may need replacing now and then, as they will tend to discolor over time.
Twigs, Pine Cones, and More
Does the idea of making your fireplace look like a forest floor in the middle of a wildfire appeal to you? If so, there are all kinds of arboreal bits and pieces made for gas fireplaces, from twigs and branches to pine cones, acorns, and chunks of wood. These are typically used to add a bit of extra rustic flavor to your gas logs but can be used on their own for an unconventional and offbeat look.
Ethanol Fuel Burners
Just because you have a gas fireplace doesn’t mean you’re necessarily obliged to burn natural gas in it. Ethanol-burning fireplaces have become very popular with eco-friendly consumers seeking a clean, sustainable energy source and can work with your existing setup.
Ethanol offers several advantages over natural gas. It burns cleanly, leaving no toxic residue and producing no hazardous gases. It doesn’t require ventilation, as there is no smoke, soot, or ash from an ethanol flame. Unlike gas, ethanol produces very little odor. And since ethanol fireplaces don’t require a chimney or vent, freestanding ethanol burners can be placed in spaces where a fireplace usually wouldn’t be feasible.
If you’re environmentally conscious and curious about ethanol but already own a gas fireplace, you don’t have to feel left out. Small ethanol burners can be set into your existing fireplace, or you can even convert your gas fireplace into an ethanol burner with the help of an insert.
At the extreme end of gas log alternatives lies the option of using, well, nothing at all. While we all want to make the most of our investment, a gas fireplace may not be needed or wanted all year round. For example, if you live in a warm climate like Florida or Arizona, your fireplace may well sit dormant for much of the year.
In that situation, it could make sense to get creative with your unused fireplace, filling it with decorative items like painted logs, flowers, or even vintage books. A few stylish touches can allow your fireplace to liven up your home even when it’s not being used and help you make the most of your investment.
Make Sure to Focus on Safety When Choosing a Log Replacement
There’s a great deal of fun to be had in playing around with different replacements for gas logs in your fireplace. However, you should always make sure that your choices are safe. Even if you’ve been using gas logs for years without any issues, replacing them with different materials or shapes could introduce new safety factors.
Some critical questions to consider include:
- Is your gas log alternative made for your fireplace setup?
- Did you mistakenly buy a vented coal basket for your non-venting fireplace?
- Are your materials the right size and correctly installed to avoid damaging or overheating the glass screen?
- If your fireplace is hotter than before, have you checked to ensure that nearby furniture, pet beds, or other flammable items are a safe distance away?
Gas fireplaces offer a dazzling array of possibilities for anyone who wants to add a little flair to their fire. Whether you’re after a rough-hewn country feel or a sleek contemporary sheen, there’s a solution for you. The selection is so vast, in fact, that it can be overwhelming. Take some time to figure out your needs and goals in seeking a replacement for your gas logs. The better prepared you are going in, the more likely it is that you’ll be delighted with your choice.
Looking For Electric Fireplaces?
Are you looking for the best electric fireplace? We’ve got you covered. Check out our article on the top 5 best electric fireplaces on the market and find your perfect fit today! The Fireplace Lifestyle team has done all of the research so that you don’t have to. You can just sit back, relax, and enjoy reading about these incredible fireplaces. Our goal is to help people like yourself find their dream fireplace with ease. So take a look at what we have to offer – we know it will be worth your time!