What do you do when your gas fireplace won’t light? This very thing happened to us just when winter was setting in. But you know what else was setting in? Omicron! If you’re us, you nix calling in an expert because it’s early days of a new variant and you don’t want to take chances. After some initial anxiety on my part about ‘messing with fire’, Hubs got it working for a while. But he only had short-lived success.
There are only two season in Canada: winter and construction. So now is as good a time as any to fix our gas fireplace!
Safety Note: working with gas is best left to the pros, but it can be helpful to understand what might be causing your problem. Our post will guide you on how to facilitate good air flow.
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What Would Cause a Fireplace to Stop Working?
In some cases it can be the thermocouple, which is a temperature sensor that is triggered when the gas ignites properly. Our pilot light was sparking properly but not igniting the rest of the burners, so that wasn’t the issue.
Another problem can be a buildup of soot. If the fire logs shift out of position (more about that later) they can impede a clear flame path, which can lead to soot buildup. Additionally, soot can clog the burner ports which causes an unbalanced burn. Other things to check are airflow (lack of air will produce excessive soot) and worn out parts that may need replacing. When Hubs worked on the fireplace earlier in the season, he addressed the soot buildup by cleaning the ports and carefully vacuuming the fire logs, stone and inside of the fireplace.
If you continue to have excessive soot buildup and can’t resolve it, it’s time to bring in an expert(s) to look for blockages (i.e. exhaust vent, chimney) and check the gas regulator feeding gas to the fireplace.
Gas Fireplace Won’t Light Steps
1. Read your fireplace manual
The fireplace fix was working intermittently this season but then stopped completely a few days ago. After a harsh cold spell, Hubs was all gung ho to rip everything apart to get it going again – until I put on the brakes. As tempting as it may be to dive right in, the first step is to read your manual to see if there are any other clues in there as to why the fireplace won’t light. This time, we read it together. We didn’t even start with the troubleshooting section. And you know what? Reading through the manual ended up solving the mystery!
I noticed that the stones and log set were no longer set up properly after years of shifting combined with Hubs’ initial go at it. Incorrect log placement (and stone setup) can lead to serious issues. Although we may be encouraging you to do it yourself in this post, this article explains why you might not want to tackle it yourself. It’s only right to share with you both sides of the coin. Please read our disclaimer here.
Attention to detail is key. It’s absolutely crucial that nothing is over the burners and the pilot assembly. When the pilot ignites, it needs to be able to trigger the sensor that gets the gas flowing through the burners. If those are mostly covered, the gas can’t escape leading to incomplete combustion – and dangerous carbon monoxide. You need a clear path so the burners light – just like toppling dominoes – and produce a clean burn!
The moral of the story is, if you’re determined to do it yourself, always start with the simplest solution (which isn’t even in the troubleshooting section of the manual)! Try uncovering the working parts as we describe below (and remove any soot you find)! However, if you are not detail oriented, always err on the side of caution and call in an expert.
2. Throw down the towel
Not to confuse with throwing in the towel, we put a towel down to catch debris as we remove the log set and stones. Or if you prefer, you can pile them into a box instead.
Since Hubs did a thorough clean at the beginning of the season, we didn’t have to pull everything out of the fireplace. But you might want to in order to clean. I used a keyboard attachment on our central vacuum system to gently vacuum up any noticeable dust/soot. The fireplace stones are so light, a regular attachment might just suck them right up!
Safety Note: If you do have combustibles in the vicinity as you do this, remove them to a safe distance before trying to light the fireplace without the glass insert. It’s just safer not to have combustibles nearby as you test.
3. Remove glass and fireplace surround
Your manual also has directions for how to put together and remove the glass screen and metal faceplate. On our fireplace, there’s a metal rod tool that helps release the clips that hold the bottom of the glass on. However, it’s difficult to get the clips to release by feel. Hubs has to get down to eye level to actually see them and get the tool to work.
By the way, the rod tool actually hides right underneath the rim of the metal faceplate so be sure to tuck it back under the rim when done so you don’t lose it.
As for the metal surround, that sits on two screws on either side on the bottom and is magnetized along the top. When you pull away the top of the surround, the bottom can be lifted off the screws and away.
3. clear the pilot assembly
We removed the stones around the pilot assembly.
Lifting the stone right on top of the pilot is start, but you can’t have anything in front of it either. After clearing the way and trying to light the fireplace, the pilot sparked but still nothing would light.
Notice the piles of rocks on top of the burners below. The gas is unable to escape as it should.
So clear the stones directly on top of the burner rims. If your fireplace needs a more thorough cleaning, you might want to remove everything. For us, there’s no need to remove all the stones. However, you have to ensure that the remaining stones directly in front of and behind the burners fall well underneath the burner rims.
After that, we tried again to light the fireplace. Houston, we have ignition; it lit right away with no problem!
But we’re not done yet. Now comes the task of putting it back together again correctly so this doesn’t happen again in the future.
4. Assemble the Stone and Log Set
Replace the stones on top, but in a very specific way. Place one stone in front of the burner so half is supported on the stones underneath and half is on the burner. Then for the next stone, you place it in exactly the same way – but this time the stone is coming from the back of the burner. See the red arrows in the picture below and how the row of stones over the burner zigzags back and forth. That configuration leaves gaps for the gas to properly escape – and ignite.
Lastly place the logs EXACTLY as specified in the manual. These logs aren’t decorative, they are functional. So this isn’t a place where you can take creative license! Notice that now there are no stones on top of the pilot area or immediately in front of it (that log is in the foreground with plenty of distance from the pilot assembly).
Before and After Gas Fireplace Fix
Here is an example of how the logs might look before. You can see several logs in direct contact with the stones which are over the burner, impeding the flow of gas.
And here is how the logs look now. Not a single log is over the centre where the burners are.
Now when we turn the fireplace on, we have a beautiful even flame once again!
Reattach the glass and faceplate and you’ll be good to go.
When a Gas Fireplace Won’t Light
Our fireplace was working well for years, then all of a sudden it wasn’t. Finally, we put our heads together to figure out how to fix our gas fireplace for good this time. As it turns out, when we work together, our gas fireplace fix is a simple solution. Now ‘Birdz of a Feather’ can flock together in warmth!
So, when you have a gas fireplace that won’t light, pay attention to the details! Rework the stones and logs (or glass media if your gas fireplace is modern!) exactly as your manual specifies. You might just find, like us, that the simplest solution is the one that does the trick.
We’ll never regret getting a gas fireplace. There’s nothing better than cozying up to a warm fire – without the effort of chopping wood! By the way, our fireplace didn’t always look like this! You can read all about our brick fireplace makeover here.
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