That big, inefficient wood-burning fireplace sitting in your client’s living room could be an opportunity.

Wood-to-propane fireplace conversions are a growing market, says Tim Cummings, product manager for fireplace manufacturer Empire Comfort Systems, which sees about 10–15 percent growth in that category each year. So if you’re already in the home performing other remodels, a propane fireplace upgrade is a great add-on sale.

“There isn’t a lot in terms of the installation side that makes it difficult,” Cummings says. “So overall, it really does add on to that overall revenue stream for the job. Now you’re adding on the fireplace, the surround — that can really add to that bottom line pretty well.”

Remodelers can grow that bottom line even further if they can make fireplace conversion jobs both client-pleasing and efficient. In the series of videos on this page, Cummings provides a four-step road map to optimizing your fireplace upgrades: Decide on the right fireplace type, understand your venting options, bring in the gas line, and rely on propane for projects in rural locations.

Decide on the right fireplace type

A propane fireplace conversion may be an easy sell for your client. Especially for families that are preparing their home to age in place or making postretirement improvements, a gas fireplace adds convenience with the ability to turn it on at the flick of a switch. “When you get to that age, not a lot of people like to go split wood or deal with the mess of wood,” Cummings says. “And when you start looking at the cost of purchasing wood versus buying propane, your cost factor actually is really close to the same.”

Once they’re ready to upgrade, there are a few upfront decisions to explore. First up: vent-free versus vented. A vent-free fireplace is super efficient, putting 99.9 percent of the heat generated into the room. But while it burns extremely clean, some combustion byproducts do remain in the room. Every vent-free fireplace includes a sensor to shut the appliance off in unsafe conditions. On the other hand, while a vented fireplace is generally less efficient, it can provide a much larger flame with higher Btus generated.

Next, can the project use a fireplace insert, or is a brand-new fireplace required? If the existing wood-burning fireplace is in good condition, an insert offers several advantages. There’s no need to tear anything out, because the insert can use the existing fireplace structure. “It’s fairly quick in terms of turnaround time: installing that venting, installing the insert, doing the gas connection — that’s the extent of it.”

Understand your venting options

If you and your client have decided on a vented fireplace, the next step is to work through your ventilation options. A chimney inspection can confirm whether the chimney is functional enough to reuse for venting.

There are three types of chimney inspections, Cummings says. Level 1, the most basic, includes a simple visual inspection checking for obstructions or damage. A level 2 inspection is needed if you’re changing fuel types, as in a wood-to-propane conversion. A technician will drop a camera into the chimney to inspect the flue lining or walls to make sure there is no damage and that the chimney is ready for a new fireplace insert. A level 3 inspection is reserved for major damage or a catastrophic event and requires taking the chimney apart.

If the chimney passes inspection, you may be able to use a less-expensive B-vent fireplace. A technician will install a new liner to protect the chimney walls from heat and corrosion, and the fireplace will use room air for combustion, venting exhaust upward through the chimney.

If the chimney can’t be reused, you may want to consider installing a new built-in direct-vent fireplace. Direct-vent units pull in fresh air and send out exhaust through a concentric pipe, and they can be vented through a side wall, instead of the chimney, to allow for shorter vent lines — reducing installation time and cost.

For tricky installation scenarios, such as leaving room for a TV above the fireplace, power-vent fireplaces use a fan in the vent pipe to pull the exhaust gases downward or through long vent runs that couldn’t be achieved with a natural-draft or wood-burning fireplace.

Bring in the gas line

With the fireplace insert installed and vented, the final step is to bring in the gas line. Running the propane line into the fireplace can be quite straightforward on masonry fireplaces where the line can run through a clean out on the outside or below the fireplace, Cummings says. In other circumstances, you may need to drill a hole to make an access for the gas line or bring the gas line underneath the fireplace. Many prefabricated fireplace inserts are already set up with a gas line connection so you’ll know where the gas line needs to enter.

The other factor to consider is the existing gas load on the house. Make sure the gas lines are sized appropriately not only for the Btus for the fireplace but for all the gas appliances in the house. That ensures there’s adequate gas flow for the fireplace as well as other systems such as tankless water heaters or pool heaters.

One option if the existing gas line is hard to access: Run a new gas line to the exterior of the home. You may be able to create a separate circuit from the home’s propane tank to run the fireplace.

The propane advantage

One of the key advantages of propane is that it’s easily accessible no matter where your project is located. So even if your project is in a rural region with no natural gas, propane allows you to offer a gas fireplace upgrade, as well as additional revenue opportunities around the house.

“Maybe somebody’s looking to redo their kitchen; well, now we can look at a gas cooktop,” Cummings says. “If somebody wants to upgrade their water heater, then you can look at a tankless water heater. If we’re already in the home for doing a gas insert or gas fireplace, we can obviously grow that fairly quickly into some other jobs in that same house.”

In fact, why not add multiple fireplaces? If your client is doing an addition or simply looking to heat up another space, like a bedroom, another fireplace adds the same cozy ambiance to more areas in the home.

“As a contractor, when you come out of doing that installation, a lot of times you’ll get, ‘My Thanksgiving or my Christmas were never the same because of this fireplace. Everyone compliments me on my fireplace.’ It really becomes the center of the house. And it’s really a focal point.”