As a fireplace specialist for Vancouver’s built-up urban area, one of the most common questions Vancouver Gas Fireplaces (VGF) gets is, “What can I do about the fireplace in my condominium?” followed by one or all of the following statements: “It has ugly cheap brass strips on the top and bottom”, “The flame is no good”, “It does not heat”, and so on. These situations are definitely a result of developers installing the least expensive fireplaces available in the condominium market.
In most instances, the clients VGF have encountered with these issues did not realize what their fireplace would be like until they had already moved in and started using it. The irony is that for very little extra cost in relation to the purchase price of downtown condos, higher quality fireplaces could have been used as a selling feature.
Once a condo is finished, changing out the fireplace becomes difficult for two main areas of concern: the finishing and the exterior vent termination. In terms of the finishing, it is nearly impossibly to remove a fireplace without affecting the finishes around the fireplace. In some very rare situations, VGF has been able to remove the burner from the fireplace and then cut the fireplace in half, folding it in on itself without affecting the finishes. In most cases, the surround must be removed in order to get the fireplace out, which usually involves replacing the tile and possibly fixing the drywall around the fireplace. For many people, this is an extra expense they are unwilling to undertake unless they are looking to change the complete look of the fireplace; a daunting exercise for a retail customer, unless part of a larger project or handled by a company that will handle both the fireplace and the finishing.
As well, the trickier issue for changing out direct-vented fireplaces is the exterior vent termination. Most fireplaces are approved as a complete system with its exterior termination supplied by the same manufacturer as part of the system. No two manufacturers are alike. So you cannot in theory hook up one manufacturer’s fireplace with another’s vent termination. The issue is further made difficult by either the accessibility of the exterior terminations in high-rise condos and the fact that many strata councils do not want the exterior of the building touched.
If VGF is able to access and change the exterior termination, then there are many choices to choose from for upgrading the fireplace. If the termination cannot be altered, you must change out to the same manufacturer for a worthwhile upgrade, which in most cases is unlikely. Another option which VGF has used on occasion is to get permission from the inspector, using a special equipment permit, to adapt one manufacturer’s fireplace to another’s vent termination, which we think is compatible in terms of venting and supply configurations.
In some low-rise condos, and in the upper floors of some high-rise units, open B vented fireplaces are installed. These are fireplaces that are vented through the roof. Because the vent system used by these types of fireplaces is universal, once the issue of the finish is dealt with, changing out these fireplaces is much easier, limited only by the size capacity of the venting in place. Important to note is that most often these open B vented installations are done very cheaply, and the result is inefficient units that must be replaced with sealed efficient units. Valor is one manufacturer VGF has found to be very adaptable to these types of situations, as they specialize in high quality efficient units.
Another solution for dealing with changing out fireplaces in condos comes in the form of a new product that uses denatured alcohol and has to be refilled. The EcoSmart® system will probably not appeal to everyone because of its sleek modern style and the fact that the burner has to be refilled, however it is certainly an option for dealing with unsightly fireplaces.
In the end, the clients would be better served if the designers and developers of condominiums specified and installed high quality good-looking gas fireplaces, of which there are now many on the market. More money is spent on bathroom fixtures in a seldom-used powder room than on the fireplace, often the focal point of a living room. For the sake of an extra one or two thousand dollars per unit (based on units listed in the millions), developers could easily use a quality fire feature as a selling benefit instead of choosing inferior models that only perpetuate irritation and disappointment for retail customers.
Vancouver Gas Fireplaces is North America’s leading wholesaler and innovator of custom fireplace design and implementation. VGF provides the most comprehensive fireplace website to architects, builders, designers and renovators.