Originally published in the August 2018 issue of Sweeping Magazine
Question: I'm thinking about adding gas log and gas fireplace installation and maintenance to our services. We'll use a plumber for the gas lines. But I'm not sure about the rest and how to get started, and I have some questions.
by Mike Segerstrom and Jim Brewer
For a topic like this, I thought it would be best to bring your questions to Jim Brewer, one of our industry's leading experts on gas logs and fireplaces.
1. I have all the fireplace inspection and sweeping service tools. What kind of specialized tools will I need to set up, service and troubleshoot gas logs and fireplaces?
Jim: To start with, you’ll need several test instruments including a voltmeter (for testing components & circuits), digital manometer (for measuring gas pressure), Gas Leak Detector, Carbon Monoxide Detector and a Laser Thermometer (measuring temperatures around fireplace, particularly vent-free). Assuming you already have a good selection of hand tools you will probably need a few extra tools like pipe wrenches, flaring tools, flame wand, noodle brushes, small Phillips & straight screwdrivers and a ¼” split blade screwdriver. You also need some supplies like canned air, gas fireplace glass cleaner (White-Off), pipe dope, leak test solution, sand, vermiculite, embers, wire & wire nuts, and an assortment of 3/8” and ½” flex connectors in lengths from 12 to 36 inches long. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of the National Fuel Gas Code (NFPA 54) to go alongside your copy of NFPA 211.
For replacement parts, you’ll need to figure out what brands of fireplaces and equipment are common in your area and start building a supply of parts for units you commonly service. One way to do this is to buy 2 or 3 of an item the first time you need to replace a part. If you need it once it is likely you will need it again. This includes things like thermocouples, thermopiles, pilot assemblies, gas valves, blowers and remote controls. Just remember one of my cardinal rules of gas service which is “If you think it is a bad valve, double check your work to be sure because gas valves don’t go bad that often”.
2. How much of an investment should I expect to make in these tools?
Jim: For the test instruments I listed above expect to spend 600 – 1000 dollars, with the biggest variable being the CO Detector you select. CO Detectors can range 200 – 500 dollars, look for one with a long sensor life that doesn’t require annual calibration. For the tools I listed probably about $200, and figure another $200 for supplies. I think you can get a nice start for around $1500.
3. Are there many differences from one brand to the next, or is it basically the same technology and components?
Jim: That’s a good question, with a somewhat complicated answer. Fireplace cabinets or chassis, burners and grates are pretty specific to each manufacturer as they design and build their own. The good news is that those aren’t the type of components that fail very often. The thermocouples, thermopiles, pilot assemblies and gas valves are generally sourced from 4 or 5 common manufacturers so you will start seeing a lot of similarities in those components, and these are the components that will likely need repair or replacement. For example, RH Peterson is probably the largest manufacturer of gas logs and they don’t make gas valves, they use valves from companies like RobertShaw or Maxitrol.
4. I've seen training classes offered from manufacturers, and then I've seen general gas hearth appliance classes. Which is better, and why?
Jim: This is a good follow-up question to the last one. As I mentioned above, most of the components that require repair or replacement come from 4 or 5 manufacturers so once you get comfortable with those systems it won’t matter what brand gas log or fireplace those components are in. At the CSIA Gas Class we focus on training at that component level and try to introduce you to all the different systems. I think that is a great class to get you started because we truly start at the most basic level. Manufacturer schools are also useful because each manufacturer will implement those systems a little differently, especially with regard to options like blowers, accent lighting, remotes, etc. If you find yourself servicing a lot of Brand X units then it would be beneficial to attend their manufacturer specific training.
5. Should I or my technicians become NFI gas certified, and why?
Jim: NFI certification is a great way to let consumers know you are competent to work on their fireplace. You will also learn a lot in studying the manual to prepare for the test. Take an exam prep class if you can.
6. Parts of my service area have propane gas logs and fireplaces. Is there a big difference between natural gas and propane when it comes to installation or troubleshooting?
Jim: Actually not as much difference as you might imagine. The two most significant differences are 1) propane is heavier than air and it will sink to low places in the event of a leak. It is easy for gas to accumulate in the control compartment or lower area of the fireplace and this can be hazardous if you aren’t careful. And 2) propane has more carbon and the systems will get dirtier. Logset and fireplace cleaning will need to be done more often.
As we can see in this great information provided by Jim, there are important factors and essential tools necessary to expand into gas service. In following these valuable recommendations, taking on gas service and installation is just a matter of making the commitment, receiving the training, and a moderate investment of time and finances.
Bio: Jim Brewer has operated Magic Sweep in Virginia since 1978 and is a licensed Virginia Master HVAC and Gas Fitter. Jim is also a CSIA Master Chimney Sweep, NFI Master Hearth Professional, and a Nationally registered Paramedic. Jim is past Director and President of both the NCSG and CSIA and has been a CSIA Instructor since 1986. Jim represents the industry on both the NFPA 211 and NFPA 54 committees.