While old-fashioned wood-burning fireplaces are still installed in new homes today, they're quite drafty and require a lot of maintenance, including routine ash removal and an annual chimney cleaning. Gas inserts mimic the look of burning logs without the need to chop firewood or rake out coals, yet many families with children avoid these inserts out of concerns over their safety. With the right precautions and care during installation, most gas inserts are perfectly safe for family homes.
Some fireplace inserts claim to work just fine without venting. Unfortunately, unvented inserts are then sending carbon monoxide and other potentially dangerous gasses into the home instead. Even if the amount of gas it releases into the home is tested and found to be safe, there's still a risk to children and infants who are much smaller than adults. Since most gas exposure risks are based on body size and weight, what's safe for an adult to be exposed to may be unsafe for a child. Vented gas inserts are a better and safer choice for families with children.
Hot glass doors are one of the biggest risks of gas inserts for children specifically. The glass panels enclosing the insert become very hot during operation and can take hours to cool off completely. Toddlers and even older children who have purposefully or accidentally touched the glass have developed serious burns. Most manufacturers now offer metal barrier screens that are easily installed on the outside of the insert. Despite being metal, these grates stay cool to the touch and prevent burns. Don't install a gas insert in a home with children unless the model has a matching safety screen to go over the glass since setting up other barriers to keep kids away can easily fail.
Finally, watch out for movable furnishings in the room where the insert is installed. Manufacturers warn homeowners to keep all furniture and furnishings at least three feet away from the insert. Unfortunately, children often rearrange furnishings to make pillow forts or other imaginary structures. It's very easy for a curtain or throw pillow to end up too close to the fireplace and start a fire. Limit the furnishings that a child can move on their own in the room with the insert, and teach your children not to move any objects closer to the fireplace. Consider locking the door or blocking off the room with safety gates if the insert is lit and you aren't continually present to supervise the children.