If you love the ambiance of a wood fireplace, but don’t like the mess and inefficient heating that a traditional fireplace provides, a wood fireplace insert could be a preferable option.
A fireplace insert is a freestanding stove made from cast iron or steel, enclosed with glass doors, that fits inside an existing wood-burning fireplace. Inserts operate more efficiently than traditional fireplaces, providing better room heating, reduced emissions and increased fuel efficiency, while retaining the look and feel of a traditional fireplace.
Inserts come in several models, categorized by the fuel burned. According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), five types of inserts are available: natural gas, propane, coal, pellet and wood. EPA-certified wood fireplace inserts use the same kind of wood as a traditional fireplace, but use less wood and create almost no emissions while generating more heat.
A traditional fireplace draws air from a room to assist with combustion, sometimes removing already heated air from the room and sending it up the chimney. HPBA reports that most traditional fireplaces have efficiency ratings of just 5 to 10 percent. A wood fireplace insert, by contrast, is a closed-door system that doesn’t remove heat from the room and slows the burn rate and increases the temperature of the fire, creating a hotter, more efficient fire that achieves more complete combustion. This means more heat from less wood and efficiency ratings of more than 65 percent in many cases. Some inserts also include blowers to help circulate heated air into the room, further increasing efficiency.
Another consequence of improved combustion is that wood fireplace inserts also create far less smoke and fewer emissions than traditional, open fireplaces, making them more environmentally friendly. Because they produce fewer emissions through the chimney, wood fireplace inserts are better for the environment. Reduced smoke inside the house means better air quality and less smell and mess for occupants.
And because the system is enclosed, wood fireplace inserts are safer than open fireplaces because embers are kept safely inside the burning chamber instead of free to jump on carpet or wood, creating a fire hazard.
Wood fireplace inserts are heavy, expensive and can require additional elements, such as insulating materials. In some cases, building permits also may be necessary, so HPBA recommends professional installation to ensure that all state and local requirements are met and that the installation has been done safely and the unit is as airtight as possible to maximize efficiency.