The beauty and ambiance of a traditional fireplace are mesmerizing. However, they may lose more heat than they provide. Most of the heat they produce escapes through the chimney, which is inefficient in cold climates. While you could upgrade your vintage hearth to a modern energy-efficient model, a full replacement could be out of your budget.
Fortunately, fireplace inserts offer a budget-friendly way to upgrade old-fashioned fireplaces. These pieces achieve the same look and feel as a conventional fireplace, but they heat your space much more efficiently, helping you save money and resources.
Fireplace inserts come in many configurations and styles, so you may not know where to begin. This guide will explain everything you need to know before installing a fireplace insert in your home.
What Is a Fireplace Insert?
A fireplace insert is a fireproof appliance designed to fit inside an existing fireplace or built-in structure to provide more efficient heating. They’re typically made of a cast iron or steel box with clear glass doors that hold in the heat while still providing a view of the flames. They function similarly to a woodstove, except they’re made to fit inside a fireplace and have a much more aesthetically pleasing facade.
Types of Fireplace Inserts
There are three main types of fireplace inserts, each with their own unique benefits and characteristics.
Here’s an overview of each kind:
What Is a Wood Fireplace Insert?
A wood-burning fireplace insert fits inside a traditional masonry fireplace and burns wood to heat your home. To install a wood fireplace insert, you need to add a special exhaust connector and flue through your existing chimney.
It’s an affordable upgrade to improve the energy efficiency of your fireplace without replacing the entire structure. You can still enjoy the relaxing crackle and scent of a wood-burning fire without wasting so much heat.
What Is a Gas Fireplace Insert?
A gas fireplace insert is very similar to wood-burning varieties, except it burns natural gas or propane to heat your home. It requires access to a gas line and electricity. The intake and exhaust lines can be installed inside your existing chimney.
Gas inserts are often decorated with faux logs to emulate the look of a real wood fire. While they may not crackle or smell like real wood, they make up for it with warmth and convenience. Gas fireplace inserts are even more energy-efficient and can be switched on and off in seconds.
What Is an Electric Fireplace Insert?
An electric fireplace insert is unique because it doesn’t actually burn anything. Instead, it uses electricity to create and blow heat into the room. Since there is no combustion process, electric inserts are the most energy-efficient.
Electric fireplace inserts mimic the beauty of a real fire with LED lights and artificial logs. They may even play a crackling sound to create a calm and cozy ambiance. You can install an electric fireplace insert inside an old fireplace, wall or custom-built surround.
How Does a Fireplace Insert Work?
Fireplace inserts work a little differently depending on what type of fuel they use. The most popular inserts use wood, natural gas or electricity to heat your home.
Below is an overview of how each type works to help you choose the right fireplace insert for your home:
How a Wood Burning Fireplace Insert Works
A wood burning insert certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is 50% more energy-efficient than a traditional fireplace. It encloses the fire to prevent chimney drafts and direct more heat back into the room. The air-tight door helps the wood burn slower for more efficient heat production. They also burn a lot cleaner, producing lower smoke pollution inside and outside.
How a Gas Fireplace Insert Works
Gas fireplace inserts fit inside a traditional fireplace to convert it to a more convenient and energy-efficient heater. Unlike a traditional fireplace that pulls air from inside your home and sends it out the chimney, a gas fireplace insert draws air from outside and vents heat into the room. About 70% of the heat created by a direct-vent insert remains in the house — which is much more efficient than wood-burning appliances.
How an Electric Fireplace Insert Works
Electric fireplace inserts don’t use combustion to create heat, making them the most eco-friendly and energy-efficient fire feature. All they need to function is an electrical hookup, so you can install them almost anywhere. But without a flame, how do they create heat?
These inserts heat your home using a process called convection. They draw in cool air from the room and warm it over a heating element powered by electricity. Then, the warm air circulates back into the room — gradually increasing the temperature.
How to Measure for a Fireplace Insert
Fireplace inserts come in a variety of heights and widths, so you’re sure to find one that works for your open masonry fireplace. Measuring your current fireplace before you go shopping will help you choose the right size unit.
Record these key measurements to help you determine which fireplace insert will fit the best:
- Measure the width at the front and back of the opening.
- Measure the height at the front and back of the opening.
- Measure the depth of the opening from front to back.
Taking pictures of your fireplace from several angles will also help your fireplace dealer gain a better understanding of your fireplace’s size and shape. Additionally, you might want to take a few pictures of your chimney from outside to ensure it’s compatible with the necessary venting if you choose a wood-burning or gas fireplace insert.
How to Use a Fireplace Insert
You can operate a fireplace insert in the same way as a traditional fireplace.
If it’s a wood-burning insert, build and light a fire the same way you normally would. Make sure the fire is successfully lit before closing the door to avoid extinguishing the flame. When the fire has burned down to embers, gently open the door and stack on a few more pieces of wood.
Gas fireplace inserts are even easier to use. Simply turn them on using the button, dial or switch included with your unit. It will start burning within a few moments. Many fireplace inserts also allow you to adjust the flame height and heat output to your comfort level.
An electric fireplace insert is the simplest of all to operate. Simply turn it on and adjust the settings to your desired temperature and digital display. Many electric inserts have separate controls for the heat output and digital display so you can have flames without heat, heat without flames or flames and heat.
How to Choose a Fireplace Insert
With so many fireplace inserts to consider, making a decision may be a bit tricky.
Take a look at the following factors to help you select the best option for your home:
1. Fuel Type
Whether it uses wood, gas or electricity, all fireplace inserts require some kind of fuel. Wood is typically the least expensive but it’s less efficient and you need a lot more of it. The cost of fuel is constantly shifting, so you must decide which is the most accessible and affordable in your area.
The first thing you should do before shopping for a fireplace insert is measure the opening of your fireplace. Fireplace inserts come in a wide range of sizes to fit inside all kinds of fireplaces. Limiting your search to inserts that work for your home will narrow your options significantly.
To install a wood or gas fireplace insert, your home must have an open masonry fireplace with a working chimney. Gas inserts must also be attached to your home’s gas line. Alternatively, an electric fireplace can be installed almost anywhere with access to electricity.
Some people use a fireplace to warm up one room without running the heat throughout their entire house. Other people use their fireplace to create a cozy ambiance for special occasions. Think about how you use your fireplace and which type would be the most practical for your space. Do you prioritize function, aesthetic or a combination of both?
Electric fireplace inserts are extremely energy-efficient, using the least amount of resources to create the most amount of heat. Wood fireplace inserts provide some heat, but their greatest asset is the heart-warming charm of a real wood-burning fire. Gas fireplace inserts provide ambient heat and real flames for the best of both worlds.
The type of fireplace insert you choose will impact the amount of maintenance you must perform.
Wood-burning and gas fireplaces with vents should be professionally cleaned and inspected at least once per year to keep them running safely and efficiently. Electric and vent-free gas fireplace inserts are extremely easy to maintain with a simple dusting during your normal cleaning routine.
6. Style and Configuration
Fireplace inserts come in a variety of colors, finishes and designs to enhance your home’s interior. From contemporary to traditional styles, you’re sure to find something that matches your home’s aesthetic. Many fireplace dealers also allow you to customize certain features from the interior liner and trim color to the facade and controls.
The price of a wood or gas fireplace insert and all the necessary venting varies significantly depending on the unit you choose and the type of fireplace you had before. When you’re budgeting for a fireplace insert, make sure you take into account any installation, delivery and maintenance costs.
Electric fireplace inserts are easier to install and don’t require vents, so they’re often the most affordable option.
Benefits of Installing a Fireplace Insert
A fireplace insert is a wise investment in the appearance and function of your home. If you’re still on the fence, consider all the advantages to installing a fireplace insert:
1. Increase Energy Efficiency
An ordinary wood fireplace pulls air from inside your home to fuel the flames and create heat. However, since hot air rises, most of that heat escapes through the chimney. Instead of adding warmth to your home, an old fireplace sucks the warmth out, causing your furnace to run more often. Installing a fireplace insert will improve the efficiency of your fireplace significantly, helping you save money on your utility bills.
2. Reduce Emissions
An older masonry fireplace releases a significant amount of smoke and pollution into the air. EPA-certified fireplace inserts produce less emissions and are more environmentally friendly, ensuring you maintain proper air quality indoors.
3. Burn Longer
In a traditional fireplace, a load of wood typically lasts about one or two hours. If you choose to install a wood-burning fireplace insert, you’ll find that your woodpile lasts much longer. A wood insert slows down the burning process, so it creates heat more efficiently and consumes less fuel. The same load of wood may last four to eight hours.
4. Save Money
Installing a fireplace insert cuts down on energy bills and helps you save money on renovations. A fireplace insert is much cheaper than replacing an entire fireplace or dismantling a chimney. You can give your old fireplace a brand new look for a fraction of the price.
5. Enhance Your Home
An energy-efficient fireplace insert is a practical way to heat your home, but it’s also a beautiful addition to your interior design. There are countless styles and configurations to make your space feel cozy and luxurious. It may even increase the resale value of your home by around $1,000 to $5,000 if you ever choose to sell.
6. Stop Cold Drafts
An old fireplace with a large open hearth can let in a lot of cold air. Fireplace inserts close off this opening to eliminate drafts and preserve the temperature of your home. They’ll seal in your heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.
7. Less Maintenance
Wood fireplace inserts are self-contained, making them much easier to keep clean. They produce less ash and smoke, so you can simply brush them out between uses. Gas and electric insert produce no ash, so they’re even easier to maintain. You can save time and money on maintenance by installing a fireplace insert.
Common Questions About Fireplace Inserts
With so many different kinds of fireplace inserts to consider, it can be a lot of information to take in at once.
Here are answers to some common questions to help clear up any confusion you might have:
Do Electric Fireplace Inserts Require a Chimney?
Electric fireplace inserts don’t need ventilation, so they don’t need a chimney. While they can be installed inside an old fireplace with a chimney, they could just as easily be mounted inside a wall. However, they must have access to an electrical hookup. If you don’t have one already, an electrician can add one to almost any space.
Do Gas Fireplace Inserts Need Venting?
The answer to this question depends on what kind of gas fireplace insert you choose. Most fireplace dealers offer direct vent and vent-free gas inserts.
A direct vent gas insert needs two vents — one to pull fresh air in and another to push emissions out. These vents can be run through your existing chimney with minimal construction. If you don’t have a functioning chimney, they can also be run horizontally through your exterior wall.
A vent-free gas insert burns very efficiently, producing a safe amount of emissions. They’re designed to fit inside a traditional fireplace, but they don’t require any venting through the chimney.
Do Gas Fireplace Inserts Save Money?
Installing a gas fireplace insert can help you save money in several ways:
- It seals off your chimney to prevent cold drafts that cause your furnace to run more often.
- It heats your home more efficiently so you can conserve fuel and save money on utilities.
- It eliminates ash and debris to save on maintenance costs.
- It transforms your old fireplace into a gorgeous focal point and functional heater without breaking the bank.
How Efficient Is a Fireplace Insert?
Fireplace inserts range in efficiency depending on which type you choose. However, all fireplace inserts are more efficient than a traditional open masonry fireplace. Efficiency refers to the amount of fuel that a fireplace converts into heat.
Consider the following estimates:
- An old wood-burning fireplace is about 15% efficient.
- Wood fireplace inserts are up to 80% efficient.
- Direct-vent gas inserts are 60%-80% efficient.
- Vent-free gas inserts are 92%-99% efficient.
- Electric fireplace inserts are nearly 100% efficient.
Are Fireplace Inserts Safe?
A traditional fireplace can be a safety hazard for families with young children and pets.
In comparison, fireplace inserts are enclosed to reduce the risk of accidents significantly. Plus, they produce a fraction of the smoke and emissions to maintain your home’s air quality. Just make sure they’re installed properly by a professional technician.
Electric fireplace inserts are especially safe because they produce zero emissions and the exterior glass doesn’t become overly hot. The risk of burning yourself by touching an electric fireplace is extremely low.
Are Fireplace Inserts Worth It?
With all the ways they can help save money, fireplace inserts have a high return on investment (ROI). They virtually pay for themselves by cutting your energy bills by up to 40%. They can also increase the value of your home, which can help if you decide to sell.
For those reasons, fireplace inserts are well worth buying. Plus, you can enjoy their charming appearance and radiant heat for years to come.
Do Fireplace Inserts Need Electricity?
Although not all fireplace inserts run on electricity, many units still use some electricity to power a blower or ignition switch. An electrician can run an outlet behind the fireplace to power your insert. Alternatively, there may be some wood burning fireplace inserts that don’t require electricity — check with your fireplace dealer for specific details.
Do Fireplace Inserts Have Blowers?
A fireplace blower circulates heat around the fireplace to warm it up before blowing it back into the room. Blowers are a common feature on wood and gas fireplace inserts. They help distribute air throughout the room. Electric fireplaces also use fans to disperse warm air and maintain a comfortable temperature.
How Long Does a Fireplace Insert Last?
When a fireplace insert is installed correctly and maintained regularly, it can last for generations. Quality Overhead Door’s array of Astria® fireplaces are backed by a limited lifetime warranty from the manufacturer.
How to Buy a Gas Fireplace Insert
Now that you’re an expert on fireplace inserts, you’re ready to start shopping! Measure your current fireplace and head to a reliable fireplace distributor near you. Quality Overhead Door has been serving customers in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan since 1982. Our team of experienced employees will provide trustworthy product recommendations to help you find the perfect fireplace insert for your home.
Fireplace Inserts From Quality Overhead Door
Installing a fireplace insert will enhance your home and help save you money. Quality Overhead Door carries innovative fireplace inserts with cutting edge technology to provide maximum energy efficiency. We take pride in delighting our customers with premium products and responsive customer service.
Browse our selection of fireplaces today. We carry a variety of styles and configurations to fit your budget and taste. Contact us to upgrade your old fireplace to a new energy efficient wood, gas or electric fireplace!
Additional Resources on Fireplaces:
- How to Choose a Fireplace
- Unique Fireplace Designs for Your Home
- Can a Fireplace Add Value to Your Home