There's only one thing better than a roaring fire on a wintry night: a roaring fire that needs no tending, requires minimal cleanup, and doesn't leave the rest of the house freezing cold. That's what you get with today's gas fireplaces. Long gone are the anemic blue flames and unconvincing "logs." Modern versions burn much more realistically, with glowing red embers and tall orange-yellow flames that dance and flicker around ceramic-fiber logs molded from the real thing.
Gas fireplaces come in three types: inserts, for folks who want to retrofit a wood-burning firebox with something more convenient and efficient; built-ins, for those who want a fireplace where there isn't one now; and log sets, basic burners that sit in existing, open fireplaces. Both inserts and built-in fireplaces are reliable heat producers, filling your room with a mix of warm air and radiant heat. Log sets are usually more for looks than warmth. With each type, you have a choice between models that vent the flames' fumes outside or vent-free versions that discharge all their heat, and exhaust, into the house.
On the following pages, we'll help you pick the fireplace that's right for you. We'll also walk you through the key features to look for and explain how to get a unit that generates enough heat for your particular space. So when the first icy night of winter arrives, all it will take is a click of a remote control for you to cozy up in front of your blazing hearth.
Shown: A Craftsman-style mantel and tapered chimney chase make a gas fireplace the architectural focal point of this Seattle living room. Similar to shown: Majestic CDV Series 33-inch direct-vent fireplace, 18,000-Btu output (maximum); approximately $900;