If your home has an old open wood-burning fireplace, or an older gas or wood insert, it might be time for an upgrade.
Many wood fireplaces or inserts that are 20 or more years old are unsafe, made with old technology or simply have worn out.
Installing a modern fireplace or gas- or wood-burning insert into an old, inefficient open wood fireplace is energy-saving, beautiful and adds to the value of your home.
Designed to slide into an open masonry or zero-clearance (manufactured) wood fireplace, inserts provide a solution to outdated units. In general, wood-burning inserts cannot be installed in a manufactured wood fireplace box – only into a masonry fireplace. With a couple exceptions, gas-burning inserts can be installed in a masonry or manufactured fireplace.
Considerations for installing a fireplace insert
Are you renting, or do you own your home? Inserts are investments that save energy and money over time and add value to your home. As such, inserts make sense for homeowners, but not for renters.
What type of unit do you have now? How efficient is it? Do you want to reduce consumption and emissions and be safer? Inserts replace unsafe and inefficient units. Weigh the cost of installation with the benefits you’ll experience: A safer unit, lower energy costs over time, and reduced emissions.
Insert, fireplace or stove? A few definitions.
A fireplace insert slides into an existing wood-burning fireplace cavity. A zero-clearance fireplace is designed to be built into a frame wall during a remodeling project or new home construction – these can be wood or gas-burning. And, a stove is a stand-alone unit that is on legs or a pedestal base, usually installed a 10” – 20” away from a wall.
The primary appeal of an insert is to make your inefficient fireplace operational so it can become the functional centerpiece of your home.
Fireplace inserts provide lots of heat from the fuel that’s used, offering an efficient way to heat your home while providing a cozy ambiance.
Choose your fuel
Fireplace inserts are made to burn wood, gas or pellets.
The first step in choosing an insert is to decide which fuel you prefer.
If you have quick and easy access to a wood supply and are equipped to cut, split and haul wood, a wood-burning insert will save you thousands of dollars in heating costs over the course of its life.
A wood-burning insert looks like a wood stove, without legs or a base, and slides into the existing fireplace. Decorative panels are installed around both sides and the top of the insert to hide the rest of the fireplace opening, and blower fans are recommended to increase their heating power.
If you like the idea of burning a renewable resource and want to minimize the time handling wood, you might consider a pellet insert.
Pellet inserts normally protrude out on the hearth a bit because of the pellet hopper or bin. Pellets come packaged much like water softener salt, in easy to handle 40-pound bags. You should be able to keep a full year’s supply of pellets if you have four to six feet of space in a corner. Something to note: Pellets must be kept dry.
If you want convenience and the easiest operating insert, go with gas.
Gas fireplace inserts are normally setup for natural gas, but are easily converted to liquid propane. Gas inserts come with an on/off remote control or a multi-function remote that can operate in a thermostat mode and operate other features of the insert.
How to weigh your options: Looking at numbers
Every fireplace insert is tested to specific standards and efficiency data is available on every model that is manufactured. Generally speaking, the efficiency of most wood burning inserts is in the range of the mid 70%.
There are a few different ways to measure and list efficiencies, particularly with gas. Energuide, AFUE and steady state efficiencies are the most common.
An AFUE rating stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. Energuide has become the official efficiency rating for gas fireplaces. Energuide represents the amount of heat made based on the amount of gas that is used. You can equate it to the miles per gallon rating on your car over a long trip. The vehicle starts and stops in traffic and speed varies between city and highway driving.
Steady state efficiency is the amount of heat produced when the insert is operating. This number is usually a higher percentage rate than the AFUE rating. It’s a measurement of how efficiently the insert converts gas to heat once it’s warmed up and running steadily. This number can be compared to driving your car under optimum conditions: The mileage is better.
All that being said, efficiencies of gas inserts do not vary much from natural gas to liquid propane. The Energuide numbers are usually in the mid 70’s on the lower end to the mid/upper 80’s on the higher end of the range, again depending on the model.
Visit us here at Mountain Home Stove & Fireplace, and we’ll give you the specs on all the inserts you see in our showroom.
There’s much to think about when it comes to installing an insert: Clearance requirements to combustibles, the condition of the existing fireplace and chimney, size restrictions and code considerations are all critical to the safe installation of an insert.
Our team has lots of experience installing inserts, and we’re here to help you from the beginning, as you start to look at your options and decide if an insert is the right path for you.