Do you own a property that comes with a fireplace? Perhaps you bought a great house and got a great deal on it but you’re not in love with the fireplace. Is it a new fireplace or inherited with an older property? If so you will want to know how you can optimally use a fireplace for burning wood or gas safely and effectively and keep this area of your home looking smart. Often a fireplace can look daunting and dirty especially if you have a young family and are unsure if the area will be safe or easily controlled. Or perhaps you are a seasoned hand at running an open fire but are looking for a way of making your fireplace much more efficient.
For those new to having an open fire, or looking at a recessed fireplace and wondering what to do, a fireplace insert makes a practical and contained solution for a presentable fireplace area. In this article, we explore everything you need to know about the fireplace insert in a handy guide filled with useful information.
What is a fireplace insert?
A fireplace insert is a structure, similar to a wood or gas stove that has been designed to be inserted into an existing fireplace with a close fit. The insertion of this device makes a wood, stone or masonry fireplace much more efficient. Fireplace inserts were invented by Joab R. Donaldson of Pennsylvania in the 1890s as a device to facilitate the efficient burning of cheap coal. The design he patented featured an electric blower to aid the performance of the fireplace. His novel design underpins the concept of a fireplace insert which is primarily used to improve a fireplace's performance or efficiency.
How does a fireplace insert work?
Contemporary fireplace inserts are typically fabricated from steel or iron and are very much akin to a stove. They are structured as an open-faced box that can fit directly into the recess of the fireplace, forming an effective supplemental zone. They often are fitted with toughened self-cleaning glass doors which allow the fire to be viewed while the doors are closed (like a wood-burning stove). This enclosure means that more of the energy in the fire is used as heat, as well as containing the fire and adding an additional layer of control. The most modern fireplace inserts are engineered with fan blowers, venting, and thermostats for precision temperature control and to create a comfortable environment where the warm air from the fire is recirculated as much as possible and the fire exhaust departs via the chimney only. Though expensive, a fireplace insert delivers major fuel efficiency and energy savings, as well as being aesthetically pleasing. Inserts come in a variety of designs that can be adapted to complement the surrounding interior decor of their setting.
What are the benefits of installing a fireplace insert?
There are a wide of reasons why you might find that a fireplace insert is an ideal solution for your property. Given that fireplace inserts are a significant investment and require specialist installation, it is well worth assessing the advantages you will gain with the installation of this device. In a lot of ways, a fireplace insert is much like a larger wood burning stove, using your chimney as the flue, so you will need to decide if this is the effect you want to achieve.
Key advantages of a fireplace insert include:
Easier to use
A fireplace insert makes using and maintaining your fireplace much more convenient. They are contained and enclosed meaning you can handle a large fireplace just like a stove. Open or close the doors to add fuel and control your fire. The fireplace insert is also usually lined with surfaces and materials that are readily cleaned meaning your fireplace will always look presentable. Not to mention everyone wants things to be a little easier in their day to day life. So make your fireplace an enjoyment instead of a burden to use.
Save on masonry repairs
If you have a fireplace in need of structural work, repair or rebuilding, the insertion of a fireplace insert is much cheaper and quicker with minimal disruption to your home. A precisely fitted insert will do the work of burning your wood in a contained manner without directly using the brick, stone or masonry surfaces. Retrofitting your insert also saves on the costs of replacing a wood-burning fireplace.
Prevent air leakage
A continual draft coming from your wood-burning fireplace is usually from an open or poorly closed damper. If you are still experiencing a distinct draft when your fireplace damper is properly applied, it is likely your fireplace has an air leak. A new or replacement fireplace insert that is properly applied and lined will remove gaps or airspaces in your fireplace that may cause draughtiness as the inserted firebox will seal off any airspaces and gaps.
Improve fuel efficiency
Though simple and satisfying, wood-burning still comes with the expense of sourcing clean, good quality seasoned logs for your fire. Any fuel economies that can be made will most certainly be welcome. Cutting down on your logs is always advantageous. Modern fireplace inserts have been designed with fuel economies in mind meaning that you will burn your wood more efficiently and conduct more heat into your home for your use.
Boost heat efficiency
Some of the best models on the market are boosting efficiencies of up to 80% compared to only 10% with a traditional fireplace. The enclosed design means that less air from the room is pulled into the fireplace, meaning that the fire burns much less quickly than a traditional open combustion design and generates more heat.
Create a great look
Choose from a range of fireplace inserts with either sharp, modern aesthetics or traditional stove-like appeal. With a fireplace insert, you can really unlock the design potential of a wood-burning fireplace meaning that you can integrate your fireplace as part of your overall interior design. There are some great minimalist designs that can set-off your home or vacation rental with either wood-burning and glass-fronted door, as gas stove design or an electric fan heater with false flames and logs. The versatility is such that should you want to change your mode of heating you can simply replace the insert. Whatever your taste, everyone enjoys the atmosphere and coziness of an authentic wood-burning fire.
Add value to your home
A high-quality fireplace insert really pulls together the appearance of your fireplace area, operates conveniently and saves energy, making it a value-adding upgrade to your property. If you are thinking of selling your home with an intact fireplace, an insert will make it much easier for new novice fireplace owners to use the fireplace for home heating. As a Realtor, I understand the value of adding a Fireplace to your home, and a fireplace insert is almost as important as your chouse of a fireplace style when building a new home. Also what happens if you buy a home but then realize you don’t like the fireplace? Well, a fireplace insert not only protects the fireplace but can drastically improve the aesthetics of your existing fireplace.
Key types of fireplace inserts
One of the great benefits of fireplace inserts is the sheer versatility of their designs with more added regularly. Fireplace inserts vary for fuel type, performance, venting and fans, and exterior styling and design. There is a wide range of fireplace inserts available at a variety of price points which means it should not be difficult to source the right model for your home. Here are the types you need to know about.
- Fireplace inserts for different fuel types Fireplace inserts can be classified by the type of fuel they use to provide heat. Models on the market today burn a broad range of fuel including wood, smokeless fuel, a gas fireplace insert, a propane fireplace insert, electricity, and coal. One fireplace insert, wood lovers enjoy, may not be adaptable for other fuel types, so it is important to primarily search by fuel type to avoid disappointment.
- Cast iron stove insert If you enjoy the warmth and homeliness of a wood-burning stove, your fireplace can be readily adapted to provide the design and functionality of a cast-iron stove with a specially adapted insert. Cast iron is a great material for a fireplace insert that will emit its heat for a long period. There is a wide variety of insert designs much like the freestanding stoves you may be familiar with.
- Freestanding fireplace inserts These are an adaptation on the wood-burning stove and come in a range of models. If you have an existing fireplace, you and locate them in the recess of the fireplace and put the flue up the chimney. One of the great benefits of a free-standing insert is that you can take it with you if you move home. It also allows you to decorate the back and sides of your fireplace for a complementary look.
- Masonry stove inserts These architecturally proportioned fireplace units are at the cutting edge of fireplace design and technology and are well worth exploring if you have a high-end or minimalist interior. These stylish fireplaces are built into polished stone such as sandstone or soapstone with clear glass windows, beautifully tooled handles, and flue or chimney permitting, slot into place in the position of your choice.
- Fitted fireplace inserts are custom designed and built to fit perfectly into your fireplace recess.
- Zero clearance fireplace inserts are pre-built fireboxes that have been designed and manufactured to fit exactly inside a fireplace where they may become in contact with combustible materials such as wood or plaster. This is because they have a greater amount of insulation in their fabrication to prevent significant heat radiation. They are therefore very flexible and can even be installed in mobile homes.
- Venting: chimney, direct and vent-free Depending on your choice of the fireplace insert and whether you will be burning fuel or using an electric fireplace, you may be able to select a design that does not require venting.
Selecting a fireplace insert
When choosing your fireplace insert, it important to ensure that it will be appropriately sized and suitable for safe and proper use in your home. A methodical approach to selecting your ideal fireplace insert means that you will be able to rest assured that the device will perform properly in its intended position.
1) Fuel Your first consideration will be the fuel type. Typically you would be using only one type of fuel with your fireplace insert, but there are multifuel models available which enable you to burn both wood and smokeless coal in the fireplace for added flexibility.
2)Size (more below) Sizing a fireplace insert involves accurate measurement of the fireplace opening (height, width, and depth), the length of the fireplace recess and the width of the fireplace depth. Fireplace inserts are typically manufactured in a range of dimensions meaning that you can source an insert that most closely matches the dimensions of your existing masonry fireplace.
3)Locating your fireplace. This needs to be done in a position with a patent chimney for essential ventilation. A chimney liner may be needed that is built to work with the fuel being burnt.
4)If you are installing a fireplace with a blower, thermostat or remote controls, you will need to consider how these will integrate with your existing fireplace as the appropriate wiring may be needed.
What is the best fireplace insert?
One of the great things about buying a fireplace insert right now is that you have a great range of fuel options and there is so much to choose from. This is the aspect of home renovation that has really seen a lot of interior design input which means that there are a broad range of models for every type of home and even business interior. Here are examples of the best on the market right now, which should give you a good idea of the fireplace insert wood burners can use to best effect in their homes as well as an alternative gas fireplace insert and electric fireplace insert with blower.
Best fireplace insert for wood burning
Drolet Escape 1500 – As seen on Amazon Market, Here
Canadian stove manufacturer Drolet is a reputable producer of quality wood-burning stoves, furnaces and fireplace inserts. This insert is no exception and is fabricated from cast iron, tempered ceramic glass and offers an 1800 sq foot heating capacity with a maximum output of 65,000 British Thermal Units per hour, equivalent to 19kW. It is extremely high efficiency with a carbon footprint of only 1.26g/h. Not only does the unit come with a back faceplate but a premium blower is installed for maximum heat distribution.
Best vented gas fireplace insert
Empire Tahoe Deluxe Direct-Vent Fireplace – Shop on Amazon
This is a top online pick with excellent user ratings. Though not as powerful as a wood-burning fireplace insert, this gas fire still manages to generate a strong 20,000 British Thermal Units per hour to readily warm your space. It is operated by a switch. This zero clearance compact design is fashioned with an extruded aluminum frame for in-wall installation. It should readily sit in an existing fireplace. The unit comes with a natural log and dancing flame effect and can be finished with tempered glass doors or screening. False embers, rock, and sand can be used for further decoration. Propane fireplace inserts are also available from this manufacturer.
Best electric fireplace insert
Puraflame Western Electric Fireplace Insert with Remote Control – Buy it on Amazon
An electric fireplace insert can readily be fitted into your fireplace cavity and typically consists of an electric heater with lighting for a flame effect and model logs. This model is no different and offers a flame effect of varying intensity along with an adjustable thermostat. This model can heat up to 400sq ft but cannot be used as the main heat source. It has a flat bottom meaning it can be mounted in your fireplace or just sit on the floor. The remote control directs the flame lighting and LOW’ or HIGH’ heat settings
How do you size a fireplace insert?
The sizing of your fireplace is critical for an insert that will operate properly, safely, and without damage to the surrounding structures. It is imperative that you accurately measure and record the height, width, and depth of your existing fireplace at a variety of points.
Your fireplace can be altered to accommodate a poorly fitting insert, but this would require the expense and inconvenience of structural work. For this reason, take care of your sizing and be conservative.
Because a building’s dimensions are never completely precise, going over your measurements thoroughly will pick up on the small architectural blemishes that may affect the fit of your insert. Your firebox also may not be symmetrical, so measuring at different points will bring out any areas for which you will need to adjust in the sizing of the insert. Your focus will be primarily on the firebox, or cavity, the location where the bulk of the fireplace insert will sit.
The key points will be across the opening of your firebox, its rear and the lintel. For homeowners with an arched fireplace, measurements need to be taken at the highest point as well as the lowest.
Keep your measurements conservative, using the smallest recorded dimension for each parameter for ordering your firebox.
Does your fireplace have a lintel? The lintel on your fireplace is an iron rod that runs the length of your firebox ceiling, from back to front, providing structural support. In some cases, the lintel protrudes into the firebox cavity. If this is the case with your fireplace you need to make clearance for this feature in your calculations.
Fireplace insert installation
For the best performance of your insert, you need to undertake sound installation, using the services of professionals if necessary. If your fireplace insert is electric or uses a fan blower or thermostat, you will almost certainly need the services of an electrician. The secure installation also may require construction work of some kind for the very best fit possible, so expertise in this area is required.
For wood-burning fireplace inserts, you will have to deal with the venting of the insert which will have to go up through the chimney. This may mean that your damper will have to be removed, with space made to pass your venting of choice. Here is an outline of the key steps.
1) Once you have an electric or gas outlet installed in your fireplace recess, if needed, you will be able to go ahead and install your insert. If a gas outlet is present and will not be used it should be capped off.
2) Your first step is to ensure that the surfaces inside your fireplace, and on the outside margin where the fireplace border will sit, are completely level. This can be done if needed with an angle grinder on the masonry where needed, for a fine, flat finish.
3) For your insert’s venting system the damper may have to be removed. This can be done by using a blow torch to cut through the supporting bolts if they cannot be unscrewed. A sledgehammer or hammer and chisel can be used to remove any other brick or parsing that blocks the passage of the vent.
4) Once the damper is removed, you need to install your fireplace venting which can run down the chimney from the roof, through to the fireplace where it can be connected to your insert. This is done by cutting your venting to length, attaching a rope and pulling cone and sending your venting down the chimney to a helper by your fireplace.
5) At the chimney end, the venting can be secured to a chimney cap with an appropriate sealant. Beneath, the vent can be set on the outlet of your insert and screwed down.
6) At this point, any electrical connections can be made to the insert using the outlet within the recess. The unit can then be pushed into place, allowing the vent to be adjusted at the roof level.
7) Once fully secure, the surround panel can be secured to the fireplace insert.
How much do fireplace inserts cost?
The price you will pay for a high-quality “fireplace insert” primarily depends on the fuel you choose to use. Wood burning fireplace inserts are by far the most expensive type of insert, which is no surprise given that the insert is typically fabricated from cast iron and fabricated to withstand live fire.
- A wood-burning fireplace insert can easily exceed $2000 excluding the venting, surrounds, inserts and accessories that may be necessary
- Natural gas or propane vented fireplace inserts are cheaper, but the price varies with design and additional features. Generally starting places for reliable and good quality gas fires start at prices upwards of $500 dollars depending on width and performance.
- Electric fireplace inserts are the cheapest on the market with models starting at $150 and upwards.
Fireplace insert liners
- To add a fine finish to your fireplace and complement your insert you may want to add an additional fireplace lining that sits between the fireplace insert and the original firebox. A fireplace insert lining carries the following advantages:
- A fireplace lining is an ideal choice for lining an old or damaged fireplace prior to installing your insert as it covers over imperfections and cracks in the structure with a presentable finish.
- You can use a liner to fill in gaps between your liner and the original fireplace with a robust and fireproof material.
- A fireplace insert liner provides added protection for your existing walls and masonry, especially if you are using a non-zero clearance fireplace insert.
- Freestanding fireplace inserts have added style as the fireplace insert liners come in a range of styling including brickwork effects and slate.
- These inserts are typically mainly comprised of concrete meaning that your original firebox is lined with a reliable heat resistant material. They come in a range of finishes depending on whether or not your fireplace insert liner will be visible as part of your interior decor.
Benefits of adding a fireplace insert liner
If you are simply looking for a practical spacer or lining layer for your fireplace you can also use vermiculite panels to line the sides and rear of your fireplace. Vermiculite is a high-quality fire-resistant material that can be molded in a variety of ways to use as an effective heat shield as part of your fireplace insert upgrade.
Your insert can also be positioned more effectively using a concrete fireback that can sit in the void behind the fireplace and secured robustly with vermiculite insulating cement.
For a striking finish, fireplace insert owners also opt for cast-iron reeded chamber panels which can be used to box off an old brick fireplace presentably with a heat resistant finish.
Fireplace inserts are a great solution for making your existing fireplace attractive, efficient and user-friendly. They also provide an effective means of transitioning a fireplace to other fuel or energy types such as gas or electricity if wood-burning is no longer wanted. Installation is straightforward and professional input will ensure a great finish. If burning wood or gas, care needs to be taken over ensuring the unit is properly vented and annually inspected for safety.