The Gas Hearth Systems Exam

A fireplace is a beautiful addition to any home. It provides warmth, an attractive setting and a gathering spot for family members in a den or living room. Traditionally, fireplaces have been used to burn wood and many are still built to do exactly that. However, in recent years there has been an increasing trend toward gas-driven fireplace systems, or gas hearths, which have come to be seen as more environmentally friendly than the woodburning kind. Wood smoke releases particulate matter into the surrounding air, which can contribute to pollution and be detrimental to the health of family members. By contrast, gas fireplaces burn more cleanly and produce less pollution as a result.

Installing and maintaining these gas fireplaces has become a popular and profitable business. If you’d like to become an expert in installing these gas fireplaces, or gas hearths, there’s a great deal you’ll need to know. But once you’ve learned it, you can become certified by the National Fireplace Institute (NFI) as a way of demonstrating your hard-earned expertise. Although there are no legal requirements that gas fireplace installers and maintenance technicians have any form of certification, it would be a major selling point in your professional career, helping you attract customers, win contracts and in some cases will even help you meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements for certain tasks. You may also find that the insurance premiums for your fireplace-installation business are reduced as a result of NFI certification.

How do you become certified as a gas fireplace installer? You must pass the NFI’s Gas Hearth Systems Exam, which is a comprehensive test on all the information that an installer of gas hearths will need to master in order to be considered competent and to install these systems safely and well. The test is divided into two major parts: Fundamental Knowledge, which represents 25 percent of the test, and Installation

Knowledge, which represents 75 percent of the test. These sections of the exam are further broken up as follows:

I. FUNDAMENTAL KNOWLEDGE (25% of exam)

  • Gas Category 1: Combustion
  • Gas Category 2: Heat/Heat Protection
  • Gas Category 3: Safety Guidelines/Consequences of Action
  • Gas Category 4: Construction Fundamentals

II. INSTALLATION KNOWLEDGE (75% of exam)

  • Gas Category 5. Regulation and Instructions
  • Gas Category 6: Fuel Delivery
  • Gas Category 7. Appliance
  • Gas Category 8: Draft and Ventilation Principles
  • Gas Category 9: Gas Venting Requirements
  • Gas Category 10: Post Installation Inspection and Service

As you can see, the knowledge required for this test is quite comprehensive and requires that you have studied and worked with these systems prior to taking the exam. Simply walking into the exam room and taking the test cold, so to speak, would be a mistake.

How do you take the Gas Hearth System Exam? The NFI offers full-day events where the exam itself is preceded by extensive review of the subject matter necessary for passing it. You can find the location and date of one of these events near you by using the interactive map on the National Fireplace Institute Web site at http://www.nficertified.org/pages_industry/industry-2b.cfm. You may also take the test at the LaserGrade Institute. You can call the LaserGrade Institute at 1-800-211-2754 (1-360-896-9111 outside the United States) or use the exam locator on their Web site at http://www.lasergrade.com/psi-locate.shtml. (Choose “National Fireplace Institute” from the dropdown list.)

If you pass the Gas Hearth System Exam, you will receive a nationally recognized certification that will last for three years. At the end of that time, it will need to be renewed. There are two ways of renewing your certification. One is to accumulate CEUs (Continuing Education Units) on gas hearth technology during the period of your certification by taking courses from NFI-accredited institutions. If you accumulate a sufficient number of CEUs by the end of the three years, renewal will be automatic. Otherwise, you will be required to take the exam again to renew your certification.

Gas Hearth Certification and the Wood Stove Changeout Campaign

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants people to get rid of their old wood-burning stoves and replace them with newer gas-burning models. This is called the Wood Stove Changeout Campaign and, if you’re a specialist in installing gas hearths, you can participate in it. But first you will need to have gas hearth system certification. No non-certified gas hearth installers need apply.

Let’s back up a bit. If you install gas hearths — fireplaces or stoves that burn gas instead of wood — you can become certified by the National Fireplace Institute (NFI) as a fully qualified expert. This certification is acquired by taking the Gas Hearth System Certification Exam. Once you have your certification, it lasts for three years. Then, with the aid of the NFI’s continuing education program or by taking the certification test again, you can renew your certification. There are many benefits to this certification. Although in most instances it is not legally required for you to be certified to work as a gas hearth installer, it will almost certainly increase the number of jobs that you get and allow you to charge a higher fee for your services. Clients are more likely to trust you (and recommend you to others), home-building and home-improvement contractors will be more likely to work with you, and you can hang a certificate on your wall that will justify raising your rates. Thus, getting certification from the NFI may be one of the smartest career moves that you can make.

One of the benefits of certification is that government programs often either recommend or require NFI-certified gas hearth installers for projects with which they are involved. One of these is the Wood Stove Changeout Campaign. There are wood stove changeout campaigns active in a number of areas and, with families able to get government loans and discounts for changing from a wood-burning stove to a gas-burning stove, there is likely to be considerable work available for NFI-certified gas hearth experts in those areas.

If you’d like to know more about Wood Stove Changeout programs in general, go this Web address:http://woodstovechangeout.org/index.php?id=1. Here you can learn what wood stove changeouts are, why they provide a cost-effective clean-air solution, read about examples of successful local wood stove changeout programs, how to get a program started in your own community (which would benefit you both as a citizen and as a gas hearth professional), and find some links to other sites about wood stove changeouts.

Here’s the EPA’s own Web site on wood stove changeouts as well as changeouts for other types of environmentally damaging equipment: http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/how-to-guide.html. Of relevance to your role as a gas hearth expert is this paragraph about wood stove changeouts: “A Wood Stove Changeout Campaign provides information and incentives (e.g., rebates or discounts) to encourage people to replace their old, conventional wood stove with an EPA-certified wood-burning appliance that burns more cleanly and efficiently, including pellet, gas, and propane appliances.”

As an NFI-certified gas hearth expert, you can work with EPA contractors on doing just what this paragraph suggests: replacing conventional wood stoves with newer appliances that burn gas. And remember: Being able to work on projects such as this is just one of the many benefits of official NFI certification. There are other contracts on which you will be able to work and, with your certification in hand, will have an advantage over other gas hearth experts bidding for the job.

To take the examination for NFI certification, you can visit their Web site at this address —http://www.nficertified.org/pages_industry/industry-2b.cfm — and use the interactive map to locate one of their all-day programs at a location near you. These all day programs will prepare you for the exam and will culminate with taking the exam itself. We believe that once you have your certification, your career as a gas hearth expert will take a quantum leap for the better.

Gas Hearth Systems Exam Study Guides

Gas Hearth Systems Exam Study GuidesAre you an expert in gas hearth fireplace installation? Or, if you aren’t one already, do you want to become an expert in gas hearth fireplace installation? Whichever of these describes you, you probably intend at some point to take the National Fireplace Institute’s Gas Hearth Systems Exam to gain industry-recognized certification as an installer. This will give you official recognition as an expert on the installation of gas hearths and will probably boost your career into the stratosphere. Customers will trust you more, housing and home-improvement contractors will be eager to work with you, and you may be able to get government contracts that you would otherwise be denied.

But getting certified isn’t easy. In fact, a list of the subjects you will need to know for the certification exam is likely to make your head spin even if you’re already an expert: combustion; heat transfer; what happens if you install a gas hearth incorrectly; what hazardous materials should be avoided in gas hearth construction and use; safety guidelines for installation; safety procedures for gas leaks; weatherization; codes and standards; gas line piping and fittings; gas hearth selection and location; natural gas supply pressure; acceptable modifications to the gas hearth; installation procedures for the gas hearth and aftermarket add-ons; ignition systems; ventilation principles and indoor air quality; dealing with negative pressure; inspection and cleaning; chimney installation; gas venting systems; rise-to-run calculations; operating procedures; safety devices; gas leak procedures; common performance problems; and troubleshooting procedures. You even have to know something about basic home construction and electrical circuitry, at least as they apply to gas hearths.

The NFI offers all-day workshops to bring you up to speed on these subjects (after which they give the exam itself), but don’t expect to absorb in one day the information that is expected to last you an entire career. Unless you’ve already established yourself as an experienced installer with practical knowledge of all of the subjects listed above and more, you’re going to need to do some serious studying for the gas hearth systems certification exam. So where do you turn to study the subject of gas hearth installation with an emphasis on the questions that will be asked on the NFI’s Gas Hearth Systems Certification Exam?

We recommend that you acquire a good study guide. It shouldn’t be hard to locate one on the Internet that is specific to the NFI’s test and will not only give you the necessary background information on the gas hearth installation field but will tell you what is likely to be on the test itself. Although the precise contents of the NFI test are a secret — after all, knowing exactly what questions are to be asked would give you an unfair advantage over the competition — a study guide will give you sample questions that will be very much like the ones you will actually encounter, so it won’t be a shock when you sit down to take the test and look at the questions for the first time. And the study guide will tell you just what emphasis the test will place on various aspects of the subject, so that you won’t spend too much time studying one topic while you really should be devoting your time to another. It will acquaint you with the NFI’s specific testing method. And it will be based on time-tested learning principles that will help you learn the information easily and retain it not just long enough to pass the test but long enough to use it throughout your career.

What form will a study guide take? There are many different forms. Some study guides are books, some are flash cards, some are DVDs, some are CDs, some are software. You can choose the form that you think will be best for helping you learn and that most precisely fits your personal learning style.

Gas Hearth Systems Test

A gas hearth is simply a fireplace that burns gas instead of wood. These high-tech hearths are rapidly growing in popularity because of their reliability and environmental friendliness. Although you may enjoy the smell of wood smoke from your neighbor’s chimney (or from your own), it is a form of pollution and can be detrimental to both the earth’s atmosphere and to your own health. Gas hearths, by contrast, burn cleanly and, if installed by a knowledgeable (and usually certified) gas hearth expert, can be operated with complete safety, something not always true of traditional wood fireplaces.

If you install fireplaces for a living, perhaps you already install gas hearths. Or maybe this is something that you would like to add to the list of services that you offer. Whichever, you will want to consider becoming certified by the National Fireplace Institute. The NFI, as it is known, oversees the fireplace installing and maintenance industry as a quasi-official watchdog group and their certification of fireplace engineers carries considerable weight within that industry. Having a certification from the NFI would provide a great boost to your career as a fireplace-installer because it would tell customers and contractors that you are somebody who can be trusted to be knowledgeable about what you do and to do it well. And, because your certification needs to be renewed every three years, primarily through a program of continuing education, it lets everyone know that your keep abreast of the field and know all the latest techniques and safety procedures involving gas-hearth installation.

To become certified as an expert in gas hearth installation, you must take the Gas Hearth Systems Exam, which is administered nationally by the NFI. The exam covers a wide variety of topics and will require that you have a deep comprehension of both the practice and theory of gas hearths and their operation. Some of the subjects that will be covered in the certification exam are:

  • Principles of combustion
  • Heat transfer principles
  • Floor protection
  • Consequences of improper installation
  • Causes and effects of carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Hazardous materials
  • Safety guidelines for installation
  • Basic home construction
  • Protecting client property in the work area
  • Chase construction and weatherization
  • Codes and standards
  • Gas fuel characteristics
  • Gas line piping and fittings
  • Natural gas supply pressure
  • Acceptable modifications to the gas hearth
  • Gas hearth selection
  • Gas hearth location
  • Installation procedure
  • Aftermarket add-ons
  • Gas appliance categories
  • Gas code requirements and standards
  • Gas appliance ignition systems
  • Basic electrical circuitry
  • Specialty gauges
  • Ventilation and indoor air quality
  • Resistance to flow in chimney/venting systems
  • Factors exterior to the house
  • Negative pressure problems
  • Ventilation principles
  • Inspection and cleaning requirements
  • Chimney installation procedures
  • Gas venting systems and chimney types
  • Liner systems for gas appliances
  • Gas vent configurations
  • Rise-to-run calculation
  • Gas appliance break-in procedures
  • Operating procedures
  • Safety controls and devices
  • Gas leak safety procedures
  • Common gas appliance performance problems
  • Test and burn procedures for gas appliances
  • Troubleshooting procedures

Think you’ve got all that down? Good. You may be ready to take the exam. If not, there are study guides available that can be purchased over the Internet. Furthermore, the National Fireplace Institute itself offers all-day events where this information and more is reviewed and the exam itself is given. You can find out more about these events, including the location of one near you, from the interactive map on the National Fireplace Institute Web site at http://www.nficertified.org/pages_industry/industry-2b.cfm. Alternatively, you can take the test from the LaserGrade Institute, but it does not include the all-day prep session in advance. The phone number for the LaserGrade Institute is 1-800-211-2754 in the United States and 1-360-896-9111 elsewhere. Or go to the exam locator on their Web site at http://www.lasergrade.com/psi-locate.shtml to find the location of an exam near you. (You’ll have to select “National Fireplace Institute” in the dropdown list first.)

Contents of the NFI Gas Hearth Systems Exam

We can’t tell you the specific questions that are going to be asked on the National Fireplace Institute’s (NFI’s) Gas Hearth Systems Exam because the questions are secret.Contents of the NFI Gas Hearth Systems Exam

You aren’t allowed to know what they are before you enter the exam room and begin answering them by computer. However, the NFI is generous about letting test takers know in advance what the subjects of the questions will be, so we can tell you that the basic outline of the test is this:

I. FUNDAMENTAL KNOWLEDGE (25% of exam)

  • Gas Category 1: Combustion
    In this section, you’ll need to know basic principles of combustion and what the consequences can be if the combustion process is not complete.
  • Gas Category 2: Heat/Heat Protection
    In this section, you’ll need to know the properties of heat, including how it transfers through matter and distributes itself, as well as how much clearance you must give to combustible and noncombustible materials and how to protect your client’s floor.
  • Gas Category 3: Safety Guidelines/Consequences of Action
    In this section, you’ll need to know what the consequences can be if you install a gas hearth incorrectly, the effects that carbon monoxide can have on people and other living things, what other materials are hazardous during gas hearth operation and what safety guidelines you must follow to assure the consequences of your installation are the ones you intended.
  • Gas Category 4: Construction Fundamentals
    In this section, you’ll need to know something about basic home construction, about techniques for protecting your client’s property in the vicinity of your work, the aspects of home construction that will affect gas hearth installation, and have a working knowledge of chase construction and weatherization.

II. INSTALLATION KNOWLEDGE (75% of exam)

  • Gas Category 5. Regulation and Instructions
    In this section, you’ll need to know the relationship between codes and standards and manufacturers, as well as basic facts about jurisdictional roles and responsibilities.
  • Gas Category 6: Fuel Delivery
    In this section, you’ll need to know the characteristics of gas fuel, how gas line piping and fittings work, how gas line sizing works, how natural gas supply pressure affects the gas hearth’s operation and some facts about LP supply pressure.
  • Gas Category 7. Appliance
    In this section, you’ll need to know what the types of gas hearth appliances are, what modifications to these appliances are acceptable, how to choose an appliance, where to locate an appliance, how to install an appliance, how to install appliances into prefabricated fireplaces, what the categories of gas appliances are, how gas appliance ignition systems work, how electrical circuitry works in relation to gas appliances, and the types of specialty gauges required for gas appliance installation and service.
  • Gas Category 8: Draft and Ventilation Principles
    In this section, you’ll need to know about ventilation and indoor air quality, draft principles, resistance to flow in venting systems such as chimneys, what factors outside the house affect drafts, and what characteristics of the house contribute to negative pressure problems.
  • Gas Category 9: Gas Venting Requirements
    In this section, you’ll need to know about inspecting and cleaning venting systems, the purpose of venting components, installation procedures for venting systems, the vent termination requirements for gas appliances, the types of gas-venting systems, how gas direct vent systems work, how liner systems for gas appliances work, the sizing requirements for gas venting systems, configurations for gas venting systems, rise to run calculations for gas vents and the requirements for venting gas log sets.
  • Gas Category 10: Post Installation Inspection and Service
    In this section, you’ll need to know about appliance break-in procedures, operating procedures for appliances, safety controls and devices for gas appliances, gas leak safety procedures, burner control devices, maintenance requirements for gas, causes and solutions to common gas appliance performance problems, combination gas control valves and components, test and burn procedures for gas appliances, and troubleshooting procedures for gas appliances and venting systems.

Benefits of NFI Gas Hearth Systems Certification

If you’re a gas hearth professional, someone who installs gas hearths (fireplaces and stoves that run on gas instead of wood), you may have been working successfully for years without any kind of nationally recognized credential to show the world that you’re good at what you do. You already know that you’re good at what you do and no doubt your customers know it too. So why would you want to become certified (NFI)? After all, it requires a day of your time for the exam and the prep session that precedes it, you’ll have to pay a processing fee to take the test, and you’ll need to travel to an exam location that may or may not be convenient to where you live and work. You don’t need that kind of hassle, right?

Wrong. No matter how well you think you’re doing in your career as a gas hearth professional, you’ll do better as a certified gas hearth professional. You’ll win enough additional work and be able to raise your fees sufficiently to compensate yourself hundreds of times over for the relatively paltry time and expense involved in taking the certification exam. Let’s look at some of the ways in which certification can improve your career:

You’ll gain customers you didn’t even realize existed. The people for whom you’ve been working up until now have probably been recommending you to their friends and in some cases those friends have probably taken on your services, but you have no idea how many clients you didn’t get because they looked at your credentials and decided that they’d rather have a certified professional do the work instead. Most people, given the choice between having a certified professional work on their homes and a professional without certification will choose the one who is certified and they’ll even be willing to pay more for that professional’s services. The reason is obvious. People are proud of their homes and have invested a great deal of money in making them attractive and livable. They don’t want to trust the most important thing that they own to the hands of someone with unproven skills. Furthermore, they may see a gas hearth as a dangerous appliance — which, in the wrong hands, it is — and feel unsafe allowing one to be installed by someone who doesn’t have the imprimatur of a nationally recognized certification agency.

You’ll get jobs you didn’t realize existed. When home-building and home-improvement companies are looking for subcontractors to perform tasks such as gas hearth installation, they know that certified professionals are generally the best. They have no interest in working with someone of unproven skills. The quality of the work that you do will affect their reputations as well — and they don’t want those reputations harmed. To protect their reputations, they will usually turn to someone who is certified by a nationally recognized certification agency. Government contractors in particular are likely to do this, because they are working to very strict specifications drawn up by government agencies and usually those specifications will require certified professionals to fill subcontractor positions. Even if they do not, a government contractor who works with certified professionals is more likely to get the job than one who does not.

You’ll be able to charge more for your work. You love what you do, right? And you get a great deal of satisfaction out of doing it well, satisfaction that is far more important than just the money that you’re going to get paid for it. But, let’s face it, at the end of the day you want to go home with a hefty check in your hands. You need to feed your family, make your mortgage payments, and keep gasoline in the tank of your car. Individuals and contractors will pay more for the services of a certified professional than someone without certification. So if you want that check to be as hefty as possible, certification is the way to go.

Continuing Education and NFI Recertification

So you’ve become certified with the National Fireplace Institute (NFI) as a gas hearth specialist. Congratulations! You’ve just entered a new stage of your career, one where possibilities will open up for you that weren’t available before. More people will be willing to engage your services, more home-building and home-improvement contractors will want to work with you, more government contractors will want to subcontract to you, and you’ll be able to charge higher rates. You are about to conquer the world of gas-hearth installation!

But there’s a catch. (Isn’t there always?) Your certification only lasts for three years. After that, it expires and you are no longer a certified gas hearth professional. The people who wanted to work with you (or wanted you to work for them) no longer will. Your rates will drop. The world you’ve conquered will not stay conquered.

Don’t worry. The National Fireplace Institute is quite aware that you’ll continue to need their official certification for the rest of your career. But they also know that the state of the art in gas hearths is constantly changing and seasoned professionals need to constantly educate themselves just to keep from falling behind younger and less seasoned professionals with more recent educations. They know that you need to keep attending classes, so that you’ll know about the latest technologies and techniques in your field and won’t forget the ones that you learned in the first place. They know that you need continuing education.

The NFI offers a continuing education program that will not only keep your gas hearth skills fresh and up to date but, if taken according to NFI rules, will cause your certification to renew automatically at the end of its three-year period. You need to accumulate a certain number of Continuing Education Units (CEUs) in three categories: technical; safety, health and liability; and electives. The number of CEUs that you’ll need to acquire in these areas is 24, distributed among the subjects like this, where one CEU generally represents one hour of education:

  • Technical- 12 CEUs
  • Safety, Health and Liability – 4 CEUs
  • Electives – 8 CEUs
  • Total – 24 CEUs
    (The NFI offers certification in other areas than gas hearths, so if you have additional certifications you’ll need to earn a total of 32 credits rather than 24.)

Where can you take the classes that will earn you these credits? Organizations that offer NFI-accredited courses in safety, health and liability include:

  • Industry Sponsored CEU Events
  • The American Red Cross
  • The American Heart Association
  • The American Safety & Health Institute
  • Dave Pomeroy Signature Training
  • The Chimney Safety Institute of America
  • The Occupational Safety & Health Administration
  • For more information on how to earn CEUs toward your certification renewal, visit the NFI’s Web page on the subject athttp://www.nficertified.org/pages_industry/renewByCEU.cfm?q=15.

Once you have earned a sufficient number of CEUs, you must send the National Fireplace Institute a processing fee of $119 for the certification renewal and you’ll be good for another three years as a certified professional. But be careful. If you let your certification expire before you finish acquiring your CEUs or before you pay the processing fee, the NFI will not only allow your certification to lapse but will make it known to all appropriate organizations and individuals that you are no longer a certified professional. Further, you may not complete your CEUs once your previous certification has expired. At this point, you must take the certification exam again, as though you were applying for certification for the first time. This isn’t something that you want to happen, so keep an eye on the calendar, continue to accumulate CEUs, and be sure that the registration fee is off to the NFI before the deadline.