The Essential Fireplace Insert Buying Guide

41L4j1ASlNLThe problem with the typical fireplace is that it just doesn’t bring a good heating punch to the average home or room. It looks very beautiful and it’s a great way to bring any family together after a long, hard day, but it won’t a lot for keeping you warm on a consistent basis. That’s why installing a fireplace insert that fits into your existing fireplace will help you to upgrade your home’s heating capability. Every fireplace insert comes with a blower, but you’ve got some decisions to make once you get to this point.

An important consideration before we begin: a vast majority of fireplace inserts are designed to work with traditional fireplace masonry. You will need to look for a specific insert for manufactured fireplaces, especially ones that have been built using sheet metal. Some manufactured fireplaces aren’t even rated to accept an insert either.

Ready to start comparing products now? Read our reviews of the best fireplace inserts, or keep reading this guide to learn more.
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What Kind of Fireplace Insert Should You Get?

There are three basic types of fireplace inserts that are available on the market today: wood, pellet, or gas. The most popular inserts are the traditional wood kind because it helps to replicate the environment of the fireplace while improving its heating efficiency. Pellets are making a strong case because they’re often cheaper to install and operate, while gas inserts can work with an existing heating system to make it more reliable.

When you should use a wood fireplace insert: If you have a lot of consistent access to wood and need a consistent level of heat in your home, then this probably the type of insert to use. Many of these inserts are specifically designed to be the primary heating source of the home, so you can save a lot of money on your utility bills with this type of insert installed. The authentic heat that a wood insert creates just cannot be replicated by the other two insert types!

The size of the chamber is the most important consideration to make if you’re thinking about making this investment. Most inserts will take standard 16 inch logs, but if you have specific needs that need to be met, you’ll want to make sure that your insert can meet those needs. Many of them today have a standardized arch door and you can then shop for additional adornments from there.

When you should use a pellet insert: If you have electricity access close to your fireplace, then a pellet insert might be a better choice for you. Pellets are often cheaper in the long-term and the venting that is required for this heating process is much less. You can even route the venting through the side wall instead of up the chimney in some instances, saving you a lot on the installation cost of this fireplace insert.

The one issue that people have with a pellet insert is that they require a lot of daily maintenance. You’ve got to fill up the pellet reservoir at least once per day and regularly clean out the ash deposits so they don’t accumulate and block the hot air from escaping the firebox. You can get automatic feeders to lessen this maintenance in the short-term, some that can even be controlled by remote, but you’ll have maintenance issues to look at in the coming years because more internal parts always equates to more internal maintenance.

When you should use a gas insert: Many times the purpose of a fireplace insert is to save money, which you won’t necessarily do with the gas version of this product. You will, however, experience gains in both heat and efficiency with this insert option. You can vent the exhaust directly, there are vent-free options available, and there are aesthetic options like false logs that will create the visual illusion of a traditional fire.

Many times the level of the heat can be controlled by remote with this option and you’ll get instantaneous adjustments. Vent-free models will also be open to the home because it will use the air from the room as a combustible. They can be instantly turned on and they can be easily controlled with a thermostat as well. It’s a lot more convenient because there’s no wood or pellets to haul, but the downside is the cost of the gas itself.

There are also specialty fireplace inserts that will work on electricity and some have options that allow them to take multiple types of fuel. For a vast majority of homeowners, these two unique solutions will rarely help to make a heating solution more efficient. Here is when you may want to consider one of these two options:

  • you generate your own electricity through solar or a generator and live off of the power grid,
  • you may have access to one type of fuel through part of the year, but only have access to a second type of fuel through the other part of the year, or
  • you don’t want to have a gas line installed and you have no access to wood or pellet products.

In these rare instances, your benefits will replicate the benefits of the best fireplace inserts that are available today.

Will Your Existing Fireplace Accept an Insert?

It is true that most of today’s fireplace inserts are specifically designed to work with a vast majority of fireplaces… but a vast majority isn’t 100% inclusion. Before proceeding, you’re going to need to measure out your fireplace to make sure that it is able to effectively work. The exact size of the opening of your fireplace with help you figure out how much flashing or surround you may need in order to get the insert properly installed. This will cover up the remainder of the opening, so it is also important to find a product that will match you wanted aesthetics.

Most inserts come in three basic sizes: small, medium, and large. You’ll need to measure your back width, the front width, and the depth from the front to the back in order to determine which size works best with your fireplace. The one measurement that many forget to make is the distance from the firebox to the mantel. Without this measurement, you may end up with an insert that won’t work as effectively, if it works as all.

After measuring out your fireplace, you’ll be able to take a look at the various purchasing considerations there are available today with a majority of manufacturers. These options will help you match the look of your new insert with the interior design you currently have.

  • Finish. There are a wide range of finishes available on all of today’s best fireplace inserts. From metallic finishes to the typical black steel you’ll find on modern designs, you’ll be able to find something that will blend right in for you.
  • Viewing area. Sometimes the amount of flame that can be seen is important for a quality atmosphere within a home. The inserts with the best viewing areas are typically constructed with a glass front and have less framing as well.
  • Bay windows. Many of today’s fireplace inserts have a flat front, but you can also invest in a bay window type of front so that it sticks out from the fireplace some.
  • Logs. If you’re using a gas or even an electrical fireplace insert, then you may have the option for simulated logs to be installed as well. Many of them are designed to give a sense of a real fire and there are dozens of log designs from which to choose.

What Kind of Venting Can You Install?

It is often the type of venting that can be installed in a fireplace that dictates the type of insert that is used. Many fireplaces are installed centrally in a home OR are installed along an exterior wall. Either way, the chimney is often placed at or near the peak height of the home. If you have a central fireplace, then wood stoves are typically the best option for you because you’ll need to install flex pipe venting up the chimney no matter what. You may also need to install an insulation blanket and you may need to insulate your chimney with a liner as well.

The benefit of a pellet fireplace insert is that the exhaust venting can be much smaller. In some instances, it may be up to 50% the size of a wood insert and that works well with some of today’s smaller chimneys. Except for the size difference, the installation process is comparable to the traditional wood setup.

Gas inserts only need to be vented with a direct model and these vent inserts run up the chimney. You’ll have one for fresh air coming in and another for exhaust that will need to be installed.

All of these inserts typically need a collar plate and cap on the chimney in addition to the liners. There may also need to be a connector adaptor depending on your unique setup. If you have a lot of chimney space, then the best solution is likely a wood insert. Smaller spaces are typically better served with pellet inserts or gas.

If you’re utilizing an electrical fireplace insert, you won’t need any venting whatsoever. That’s because no real flame is generated! This is often the easiest installation and the most effective way to go for most homes, especially when no chimney or venting solution is readily available. That’s because you are basically using a space heater to heat the home.

What Are the Product Features To Consider?

Fireplace inserts of all varieties come with a number of different features that you may find helpful for your unique installation. Here is a look at the most popular features you’ll find with a majority of today’s manufacturers.

  • Control systems. Unless you want a wood burning fireplace insert, you’ll have options for at least limited control of the heat being generated. It might be a switch that gets flipped, a remote control, or some other method. Pellet stoves may allow you to remotely feed the pellets into the firebox.
  • Circulation systems. Most fireplace inserts have some sort of circulation system that helps to spread the heat around that’s been generated. The larger the circulation system you install, the better the heat can be distributed around the house.
  • Adjustable flame size. Some inserts allow users to control the size of the flame that is in the fireplace, allowing for visual presence and heating needs to be met quickly and effectively.
  • Thermostat control. Some of the best fireplace inserts also utilize a connection to a thermostat control for easy use. This allows users to set the preferred temperature range and have confidence that their new insert will turn on when the house gets a little too chilly.

The primary feature to consider, however, is the vent-free design that some specific fireplace inserts have. These vent-free options don’t need to be placed inside of a fireplace if you prefer and don’t need a chimney for venting. This is the perfect solution for a home that has a chimney that doesn’t work for some reason. You won’t lose heat with a vent-free option like you do something with a direct vent either, which is why it should be strongly considered.

What Fireplace Insert Is Right For You?

With a number of quality designs on the market today, it is up to you to determine what the best fireplace insert can do. Base you decision first on your fuel source and then on the size requirements that you have for your new insert. If you need a dual fuel option or even an electrical fireplace insert, then determine that before shopping.

From there, simply choose the best fireplace insert that matches quality with affordability. The best way to do that is to go through our comprehensive reviews that we have published to help you determine which product is right for you. That way you can make an empowered decision about how to effectively heat your home!

Now that you’ve learnt all about fireplace inserts, read our reviews of the best fireplace inserts to find the right one for your home today.

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