With the cool weather moving in, many of us are planning ways of keeping our homes warm and toasty in the coming months. Fireplaces always seem to be a go-to heating option, given their calming ambience…but not everyone has that luxury. What’s a homeowner to do, then? Invest in a fireplace insert, of course! Inserts are great to have because they fit snugly into an already existing firebox and experience less heat loss than traditional fireplace units. Perhaps the best part is that there are types and styles to meet every home and homeowners’ needs. Let’s find out more about the many fireplace insert options.
Main Types of Fireplace Inserts
Photo by Katie Schumm
There is indeed an insert option for every taste and need. These include gas inserts, wood-burning inserts and electric inserts. All options are typically dressed with self-cleaning glass doors for both enhanced safety and appeal, but as you can tell by their names, what really distinguishes each type is the means to fuel or power each unit. Gas units make use of various types of gases to light the flames, wood-burning units operate like real fireplaces and operate from wood power and electric inserts may require little more than the flip of a switch. No matter which you choose, your fireplace insert promises better home heating than traditional units because each is fully insulated to result in increased temperatures, better combustion and improved heat efficiency.
Types of Gas Fireplace Inserts
A gas fireplace insert is one option for your home. They are unique in that they run off of gas fuel, such as natural gas or propane. These units usually hook up to your home’s gas lines or a propane tank outside and direct venting models take in and release air through the chimney. Some are vent-less, and will monitor oxygen levels in the home instead of using the chimney. The major benefits of the gas insert are enhanced efficiency and heating power—giving off between 25,000 and 40,000 BTUs at 76-83% heat efficiency. Additionally, gas units afford users a traditional look with decorative ceramic logs.
The biggest risk with gas units, however, is carbon monoxide poisoning. While gas units are largely safe, it is difficult to check for leaks in the gas line, so a carbon monoxide detector is an essential accessory. Overall, gas inserts are good bets for those who operate appliances via gas, individuals looking for the best value (Gas units heat small spaces well, ultimately saving on gas bills), and those wanting ease and convenience of use (They burn cleanly, requiring little chimney maintenance and are lit by means of a pilot light and ignition button).
Types of Wood-Burning Fireplace Inserts
Photo by Brenthasty
Wood-Burning fireplace inserts are some of the most complex of units available. They’re unique in that they are fueled by wood or, alternatively, wood byproducts like manufactured logs made from sawdust. These units are in the middle ground in terms of efficiency—running at about 50% due to potential heat loss during air circulation—and can burn very hot and long—upwards of 65,000 BTUs each hour, for 6+ hours. Wood-burning units are ventilated via the home’s chimney and are therefore attached by a connector between the unit and chimney flue liner or by a connection which scales the entire height of the chimney.
The primary benefits of wood units are the rustic feel they create and the fact that they are “off-the-grid” and therefore work even in the absence of electrical power. These units also have improved performance in recent years due to more stringent EPA guidelines, which have resulted in decreased smoke output and wood used. We did say that wood-burning inserts are the most complex, however, and for good reason. Wood inserts come with the inherent disadvantages of requiring increased maintenance, such as chimney inspections and removing soot and creosote from the units, and despite their lowered smoke emissions they still pose health risks to those who inhale the smoke and to the environment. So when is a wood insert best? Wood is likely a go-to option for individuals who heat their homes primarily by fire and do not want to/cannot rely on other methods of power such as gas and electricity, as wood is plentiful and reliable. Even better, if your chimney is in good repair, you might as well make use of it!
Types of Electric Fireplace Inserts
Electric fireplace inserts are a pretty good deal…all you do is plug it in and flip a switch! The unique part about electric units is that they are entirely powered by electricity, via 110-volt outlets and don’t require chimney ventilation. They come in a variety of sizes to suit your needs, too, and produce just the right amount of heat for comfort—around 4,000-5,000 BTUs. A nice benefit is that electric units may be used with the heat on to provide warmth, or alternatively as a decorative piece with the heat off and the glow of the flames flickering on artificial logs. Additionally, these inserts are flexible—they may be used as an alternative to the wood-burning fireplace they reside in or easily removed to light a traditional fire (so long as the fireplace functions correctly).
The downside, of course, is that when the electricity goes out in inclement weather, so does your fire. Luckily, these units may be backed up with a battery or generator, so don’t panic! And these units are especially good for those who live in older homes, as operating the traditional fireplace is often out of the question because the unit and/or chimney are in disrepair and electric inserts provide a sound alternative.
Gas? Wood? Electric? There are so many types of fireplace inserts and each is unique and advantageous in its own way. So how do you choose? Compare, compare, compare and choose one based on the most important features! Safety and efficiency are key, but so is appearance. There’s a fireplace insert to meet everyone’s needs…which one wins in your book?