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Will A Gas Fireplace Work If The Power Is Out

There’s nothing better than flipping a switch and watching a gas fire roar to life.  It’s convenient, burns clean and warms up a home in no time.  All you need is electrical power to turn it on, right? 

While modern gas fireplaces are ubiquitous in new homes, it seems like too few homeowners know how they really work.  As a result, many of you may assume that your gas stove is useless in a power outage.  After all, an electrical switch won’t work without power.  To be honest, I thought the same thing when I got my first gas stove.  I sat in a cold house after a winter storm knocked out the electricity for two whole days.  

However, I am older and slightly wiser now so when people ask if they can use their gas stove when the power is out, I am armed with the answers to help them out.

Almost all modern gas fireplaces will safely work even if the power is out.  New gas fireplaces using Intermittent Pilot Ignition (IPI) systems operate without electricity by using a battery backup.  Gas fireplaces with a Continuous Pilot Ignition (CPI) always have a pilot light burning allowing for use without power as well.  

Now that you know your gas fireplace is ready to pump out some radiant heat during a power outage, you might have some more questions.  Like how do you even start a gas fireplace once the power is out?  Keep reading and you’ll find out all that and more.

How to tell if your gas fireplace uses an IPI or CPI system

There are two main systems that ignite gas fireplaces.  One is a Constant Pilot Ignition (CPI) and the other is an Intermittent Pilot Ignition (IPI).  

A CPI gas fireplace has a pilot light that is constantly lit and ready to ignite as soon as there is gas flowing.  You can tell if your gas fireplace uses a CPI system simply by checking if a small flame is always burning, even when the fireplace is shut off.  Another way to tell is to look at the control module under the fire box.  You can access it by removing the lower front panel.  If you see a piezo type ignitor and a couple gas control dials, your fireplace has a CPI system.  

Gas fireplaces with IPI systems, however, do not keep a pilot light lit at all times.  Instead, as the name implies, the pilot light is only ignited intermittently when a power switch is turned on.  Most newer gas fireplaces have IPI systems in order to waste less natural gas.  A continuous pilot light burns through nearly 5 gallons of propane every month unless it is turned off completely.  IPI fireplaces only ignite the pilot when the wall switch is on.  It’s easy to tell if you have this type of fireplace.  You won’t find manual gas controls or ignitors in the module area.  Plus, you will only see a pilot light turn on after flipping the switch.  

Besides physically inspecting your gas fireplace to see what type it is, be sure to read through the owner’s manual.  You’ll find a description of the ignition system and useful information about proper operation.  

Once you know the type of fireplace you have, you’re ready to learn how to start it up without power.

Using an IPI gas fireplace when the power is out

It’s super easy to start your fireplace if it has an IPI lighting system.  Nearly every brand, including Heatilator and Reliance gas fireplaces, have battery backup ignition systems.  Battery configuration varies from one model to the next but the idea is always the same.  The batteries simply provide enough electricity to open the small gas control valve within the fireplace.

Without power, the gas control valve is always closed.  All you need to do is locate your battery supply box.  Some fireplaces have battery slots integrated right into the wall switch.  Others have a built-in battery pack that just requires you to push a button to engage battery backup.  However, many basic IPI gas fireplaces have a small battery box wired into the power control module underneath the fire box. 

Once you locate the battery compartment, find appropriate sized batteries.  Typically, 4 AA or a couple D cell batteries are required.  With batteries installed, your fireplace should automatically start burning.  If there is a remote included with your gas fire, you may still need to push the on button to light it.  Additionally, you may need to unplug the main electrical transformer for the control module as well.  Make sure to follow the lighting instructions in your owner’s manual for the exact procedure. 

It’s a good idea to always have a supply of appropriate batteries handy and familiarize yourself with the battery start up process.  You don’t want to get caught in the dark trying to figure it out.

Using a CPI gas fireplace when the power is out

One thing I like about gas fireplaces with a continuous pilot light is how easily they light when the power is out.  Since the pilot light is always burning, there isn’t an electrical ignition system needed.  Just turn on the flow of gas and you have heat. 

How exactly that procedure works depends on the fireplace model you have.  Generally, there are gas control valves located behind an access panel that let you manually turn on and off the burner and control the flame level.  In cases where there is also an electrical wall switch or remote that overrides manual control, be sure to check the owner’s manual for enabling control when the power is out.

It is also common to have a pilot light that is out.  Luckily, you don’t need electrical power to relight a pilot light on CPI style gas fireplaces.  Getting it relit is simple.  Take a look at this video to see how easy it is to light.

Is it safe to use a gas fireplace without power

Sure, a gas fireplace will work when the power is out.  But is it even safe to burn a gas fire without electricity?  Well, that depends.  

In most cases, an externally vented gas fireplace is perfectly safe to use when there is a power outage.  There are no safety features that require electricity to function.  

However, if your gas fireplace is power vented to compensate for an extended exhaust path, it won’t work without electricity.  The built-in fan generates the appropriate draft to help noxious combustion fumes escape your house.  Without power, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide build up.  Luckily, gas fireplaces equipped with power vented systems have safety features that won’t allow the fire to be lit without the fan running.  So, when the power is out, it’s impossible to start a fire.

A lot of people also ask if ventless fireplaces are safe to use when the power is out.  For those that don’t know, ventless gas fireplaces use air from inside the home for combustion and pump the exhaust gases back into your home.  Under normal circumstances, this is not ideal and generally contributes to poor air quality and an increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.  

When the power is out, that same risk is still there.  Maybe even more so.  By law, ventless gas fireplaces have built-in carbon monoxide detectors that shut off the fire when levels are too high.  Consult your manual to see if these safety features need power to function properly.  

In either case, you’re more likely to run a ventless fireplace longer when the power is out to stay warm which increases the amount of exhaust expelled into your home.  Be extra careful in these situations.  Again, always refer to your fireplace owner’s manual for important safety and operating information.

Will a gas fireplace blower work without power

Blower fans that are part of a gas fireplace are amazingly efficient at heating a large space.  By circulating air around the hot insert and blowing it into the room, you’ll capture much more heat in addition to the radiant heat generated by the flames.

Unfortunately, once the power is out, the blower fan no longer works.  The batteries that provide backup power to gas fireplaces are not able to run the blower fan.  Instead, the fan runs off a 110 volt electrical outlet.  

That means you’ll have to wait for the power to be restored to use it.  However, gas fireplaces still produce a significant amount of radiant heat to keep a room nice and toasty.

Parting words

Regardless of the type of gas fireplace in your home, there is almost certainly a way to use it when the power is out.  Remember to read your owners manual and follow all the safety precautions before using a gas fireplace without power.  It’s also a good idea to practice using your backup system before a power outage.  That way you can stay warm and worry free.

Want to know how much it will cost you to run a gas fireplace when the power is out? Find the answer in my recent post comparing the cost of running a gas fire place and your furnace.