Is a gas log lighter dangerous?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

“Gas log lighter” and “gas log” have similar names but the only thing they have in common is that they are both intended for use in a fireplace. A gas log lighter is sometimes simply called a log lighter. It is installed under the grate in a wood-burning fireplace to make the task of getting a fire started easier. One is pictured above in a fireplace with the wood logs removed. When the wood is burning well, you shut off the gas.

     A gas log is a gas-burning heating appliance under simulated wood logs. Different designs of gas logs can be used in a vented or unvented fireplace, and all have safety features to stop gas flow if a flame is not ignited. Gas logs for unvented fireplaces even have oxygen sensors that will shut off the gas if the oxygen in the room is becoming depleted.

     A gas log lighter, on the other hand, has no built-in safety features and can only be installed in a vented wood-burning fireplace. It is an incredibly simple device consisting of a long gas pipe with holes along the top, capped at one end and connected to a gas line at the other. You open a nearby gas valve to operate it and use a match or other igniter to start a flame burning. If you open the valve and don’t immediately ignite a flame, the smell of gas around the fireplace gets intense very quickly.

    Unlike other modern gas appliances, such as furnaces and water heaters, there is no thermal sensor that cuts off the gas when a flame is not present. The only safety device to keep an inquisitive child from opening the valve and filling the house with explosive gas is a shut-off valve with a detachable “key” that can be stored out of reach of little hands. It is recommended by manufacturers of log lighters, but usually sold separately.    The reference to “log lighter, gas-fired” in the Florida Building Code (FBC) and International Residential Code (IRC) states that “log lighters shall be tested in accordance with CSA 8 and shall be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s installation instructions.” The CSA is the Canadian Standards Association and the exact standard is “CSA 8-93, revision 1, 1999.” 

    Unfortunately, the CSA revised their standard again in 2009 to simply “shall be approved and shall be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s installation instructions.” Their logic, after being petitioned for the revision by the American Gas Association, was as follows:

“The accessory’s inherent simplicity is the reason for the lack of listing and the withdrawal of the CSA requirement. A typical log lighter is an iron pipe with drilled holes and shut off valve. They can be constructed on site from readily available materials or are available from small fabricators as complete units or kits. There is a lack of a mass market demand and thus the market is supplied by small fabricators.” 

   So this very simple gas device with no real safety features needs only to be approved by the manufacturer or local fabricator and installed per their specs. Log lighters have been around for many years in fireplaces, but we don’t see them that often anymore and always call them out in a home inspection as a potential safety hazard.

    Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about FIREPLACES AND CHIMNEYS:

What is the 3-2-10 rule for masonry chimneys? 

What causes black soot buildup on my gas fireplace logs? Why is creosote buildup in a chimney dangerous? 

Why does the house have a chimney but no fireplace?

Why is the chimney leaning away from the house? 

How is a factory-built fireplace different from a regular fireplace?

• The fireplace doesn't have a chimney. Is that alright? 

    Visit our FIREPLACES AND CHIMNEYS page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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