Set your fireplace ablaze (efficiently, of course)
Who doesn’t love sitting by the fireplace, enjoying the warmth it provides and listening to its soothing wood-crackling sound? While traditional fireplaces are the gold standard for comfort in colder months, homeowners may want a little more from their fireplace—like heating efficiency. Where traditional fireplaces fall short, fireplace inserts pick up the slack without sacrificing aesthetics. This guide will cover what fireplace inserts are, the types of inserts, and how to choose between them.
What Is a Fireplace Insert?
A fireplace insert is an enclosed, fireproof combustion box that helps to trap heat, contain the fire, and make your fireplace more efficient for your home. Most fireplace inserts are constructed of steel or cast iron to withstand high temperatures, and they have self-cleaning insulated glass on the front. Both these components allow your fireplace to trap heat efficiently, and some units have blowers that distribute the hot air throughout your room.
Types of Fireplace Inserts
The fuel you want your fireplace insert to be powered by plays the most significant role in choosing the right one for your home. Let’s look at the different options a little more below.
A gas fireplace insert requires access to a gas line to operate it and uses propane, natural gas, or both as a fuel source. These inserts provide high levels of heat output, approximately between 25,000 to 40,000 BTU, making it an efficient zone heating option. They provide clean, natural heat and can use faux logs made from ceramic or ceramic fiber to resemble a traditional fireplace or glass beads for a more modern touch. Gas inserts are also low maintenance, don’t need refueling, and are electronically operated. Plus, you can convert your wood fireplace to gas as long as you have a gas line. Neat, right? However, you will need carbon monoxide detectors to identify any leaks.
A wood fireplace insert is your go-to option if you love the wood-crackling sound typical in traditional fireplaces but also want a more efficient zone heating option, pushing out at least 65,000 BTU an hour. While they are beautiful and provide comfort when in use, they’re high-maintenance, require fresh firewood, and release creosote that sticks to your chimney walls and flows outdoors, which can contribute to air pollution. However, your wood-burning insert can burn cleanly using EPA and 20/20 certified wood inserts.
Electric fireplace inserts are one of the simplest and most aesthetically-pleasing options available. These units let you turn on your insert with remote control and get a little heat pumping through your space without ever leaving your couch. Because they don’t require a vent, just an electrical outlet, it opens up the possibility of where you can install one. You're not restricted to a specific location; you can install one wherever you have an electrical source and space. Plus, their available styles fit into various areas.
But one thing to keep in mind with these inserts is that they aren’t as warm as other options. On average, these units produce 5,000 BTU, which can take the edge out of the air on cool days, but we don’t recommend these for zone heating in frigid temperatures. They’re also not the most realistic-looking units available.
Pellet-burning fireplace inserts use compressed organic material such as bark, sawdust, and wood chips, to light up your fireplace instead of logs. It’s a renewable, carbon-neutral fuel source that can be operated using electronic controls, needs weekly maintenance when in constant use, and has efficient heating capabilities. Compared to wood-burning inserts, pellets produce less soot, making them a cleaner burn for your home. One of the pros of this fuel type is that you set the temperature range and heat output you want, and it automatically dispenses the pellets from the hopper for you.
Fireplace Insert Features
Here are a few considerations to make when deciding what fireplace insert is right for you.
Before you start window shopping for the fireplace insert you want for your existing fireplace, you need to get a few logistics (size) out the way. Since fireplace inserts aren’t one-size-fits-all, measure the height, width, and depth of your fireplace so that when you start searching for the fireplace you want, you’re confident that it’ll fit. And because its size will also determine its heat output, you’ll need to decide how much heat you need.
How to Measure a Fireplace Insert
To measure for a fireplace insert, you should make sure the fireplace is clean and clear from obstructions. Have a tape measure, paper, and pencil handy, too.
Measure the fireplace’s front opening.
Measure the width of the back.
Measure the depth, meaning the floor from the back wall to the front.
Measure the inside height, from the floor to the lowest point of the top.
Write down each exact measurement.
If you’re not sure what size fireplace insert is best for you or if you took the correct measurements, contact a fireplace installation pro near you for help.
We’re asking the deep question now: Why do you want a fireplace insert? Are you looking for an efficient way to warm up your home? Is it purely for aesthetics (after all, who doesn’t like the cozy feeling a fireplace insert can bring)? Or do you prefer a little of both? Once you’ve figured out what exactly you want from your insert, it’d be easier to decide which is right for you.
Your budget will play a major role in the fireplace insert that’s best for you and your home. Here’s a price overview of the cost of fireplace inserts:
Another consideration to make is the venting needs of your fireplace insert. An electric or vent-free option would be best if you’re looking for an insert that doesn’t need outdoor venting. An electric insert and why it doesn’t need a vent is pretty self-explanatory, but what is a vent-free unit?
Vent-free inserts are gas-burning units that pull air from the surrounding room for combustion. And instead of releasing those gasses back outdoors via chimney, flue, or pipe, they safely burn off byproducts and release them indoors. These vent types also use an oxygen depletion sensor that helps increase their efficiency. If you’re interested in a vent-free option, check with your local building codes to see if it’s restricted in your state or city.
Other gas-burning vent types are direct and B-vent. A direct vent pulls air from the outdoors to feed the fire and releases all combustion exhaust and byproduct back outdoors. While a B-vent draws air from your home and releases it outdoors. And a wood-burning fuel type would require outdoor ventilation.
Some fireplace inserts have additional features that make using your unit more convenient. For example, if you want an insert with a remote control to control the temperature, you’ll need to look for units that offer that feature. Some other special fireplace insert features include emergency shut off sensors and faux log effect—for extra enchanting atmosphere.
Depending on the fuel type, the maintenance level you want to commit to is also something to keep in mind. If you’re interested in a wood fireplace insert, you’re looking at a more high-maintenance unit. But if you prefer to forgo most maintenance needs, some homeowners consider electric inserts a must-have. However, regardless of the fuel type you choose, the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) recommends that you clean and sweep your chimney once a year for continued safe operation.