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What Is a Fireplace Insert?

what is a fireplace insert

A fireplace insert is a fireproof steel or cast iron box insulted by glass within the fireplace opening that is designed to increase fireplace heat efficiency. 

Traditional fireplaces are usually inefficient with heat output. In fact, most of the warm air produced by the fire leaks out through the chimney instead of the target heating zone. So, when temperatures are below freezing, the fire works harder, not smarter for the room. According to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, the heat efficiency of an old fireplace is between five and ten percent.

A firebox assists heat efficiency. Instead of installing a new fireplace, fireplace inserts create a closed combustion environment to trap the heat of the fire. If the insert has a blower, it is to help more warmth enter the room by pushing the hot air into the room. Once it is installed properly, a fireplace insert can be a great warm to warm your home more efficiently.

Using an Insert Broadens the Options Needed to Warm Your Home

Imagine crackling logs burning in the fireplace and delivering a sense of warmth and comfort. A masonry fireplace is the most common for traditional homes. Despite its beauty, a fireplace has a downside. The existing masonry construction of a fireplace creates too much heat loss. Good thing homeowners today expect an efficient way to heat their home when considering a fireplace insert or fireplace installation.

A benefit of using a modern fireplace insert includes power from many sources such as logs, coal, pellets, gas propane, and electricity. 

Building a fire in your fireplace without a fireplace insert may require specialized effort. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Collect the appropriate materials. This may involve cutting down a tree with an axe or go the popular and more convenient approach by purchasing wood logs at a local big-box retailer. 
  • Gather paper and kindling to start the fire in your existing fireplace. 
  • Damp a wet cloth for irritated eyes as building a fire may get smoke into your eyes.
  • Clean up the ash when the fire goes out.

When using a gas or electric insert, it’s as simple as pressing a button to get started. Some fireplace inserts even come with a remote or smartphone app depending upon the model.

fireplace insert

What is a Fireplace Insert that Runs on Electricity?

If natural gas is not a viable option, then electric fireplace inserts are a great alternative. It’s possible the existing, traditional fireplace is malfunctioning or not working, or firewood is running low. An electric fireplace insert offers an excellent flame aesthetic without the mess or hassle of a traditional fireplace or combustion system. 

An electric insert is the least complicated firebox available. It does not require any venting, combustion, or permit to operate an electric fireplace insert. It’s a simple plug and play product. Plug it in a dedicated power outlet and experience simulated flames and crackling log sounds. See a utility cost calculator tool to help understand the impact on the heating bill. 

The firebox usually includes a built-in heater up to 5,000 British Thermal Units (BTU). Most mechanical electric fireplaces have flickering lights that make it seem like there is a real fire. Some models adjust to accommodate the size of the fire. Enjoy the flame without turning on the heater as an additional option.

Electric inserts are easier to install than gas fireplace inserts or a wood-burning fireplace insert. They just need to fit in a fireplace opening. You do not have to worry about clearance from the fireplace chimney or mantles. Installing the insert is similar to putting a dish on a shelf, a very heavy dish.

Considering a new home or remodeling a home or apartment that doesn’t include a fireplace? With an electric fireplace insert, all you need is a power outlet and away you go. Some inserts require wall installation permanently, with or without a mantel. 

fireplaces with inserts

What is a Fireplace Insert that Runs on Gas?

Do you have access to natural gas? Consider installing a gas insert in your fireplace — although extremely expensive to install and manage. 

Gas fireplace inserts need to be installed by a professional fireplace expert because of the gas line installation in the fireplace. If gas is already being leveraged for heating and/or cooking, this process will only take a few hours. The time it takes to put a gas line in the fireplace depends on the distance from the gas source to the fireplace.

The professional will run two tubes through your chimney. One tube is to allow fresh air into the insert for the combustion process. The other tube takes out the exhaust.

The gas fireplace insert produces 25,000 to 40,000 BTUs. It can warm a medium-sized room without any difficulty. The energy efficiency rating for these inserts is between 76 and 83%. A quality fireplace insert is around $1,400 to $3,000. It is also a great way to keep your gas bills low because you can use them for zone-heating.

Gas-burning inserts are low maintenance. They can be very beautiful too, like the C-shaped ethanol insert. All you have to worry about is keeping the glass doors clean. No fuel type or chimney cleaning. However, be mindful of gas leaks as they are hard to detect. Investing in a carbon monoxide detector is a great way to keep friends and family safe. A carbon monoxide detector is usually sold for around $20 at a local hardware store. A direct vent fireplace is another consideration. 

To ensure a fireplace insert looks like a real fire — purchase “Logs”, which are made of ceramic material, and place them over a burner. You can buy a gas insert with vented log sets. It is also possible to get vent-free logs for inserts that have an oxygen depletion sensor. Try placing this system in a bedroom as it needs a closed damper. Check state regulations to use this system. 

If the fireplace insert has a fan or blower, then electrical power within proximity of the install location is needed to plug in the insert. Use a wall thermostat and a remote control to adjust the temperature of some models for additional atmosphere management.

A Word of Caution on Mantels

When installing a gas or wood-burning fireplace insert, make sure to check the guidelines for the mantel clearance. Even if the mantle is non-combustible, it may discolor the paint on the mantel if the paint is not heat-resistant.

electric fireplace inserts

What is a Fireplace Insert that Runs on Wood?

The most attractive aspect of a wood fireplace insert is the aesthetic of an open fireplace with a high-performing wood stove. The energy efficiency rating is about 50%. So, it is not as efficient as the gas stove,  but it is better than the traditional wood-burning fireplace.

The downside to a wood fire is the emissions. Smoke can cause air pollution. It can also become creosote, a combustible carbonaceous chemical, and sticks to your chimney. In certain areas, “burn free” days are enforced. During “burn free” days, logs are not allowed to burn. This practice attempts to reduce air pollution in a targeted area. A chimney liner is also a prerequisite to help ensure smoke leaves the home.

All wood-burning inserts are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This is to make sure the logs are being burned efficiently. It is also to make sure the insert is safe to use and that there is not a lot of smoke. If they are installed properly, one can reduce the number of logs used compared to a traditional wood fireplace. There is less maintenance required of the chimney and insert as well.

The smallest insert firebox is 1.6 cubic feet and runs at 65,000 BTUs an hour. The largest is 3.1 cubic feet and runs at 85,000 BTUs an hour. By filling it in, the heat output can last between six to eight hours.

A wood insert can cost approximately $2,000. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has a requirement for wood-burning fireplace inserts to prevent fire. Install a stainless steel connector to the insert and connect to the chimney flue liner or an external chimney connector. The flue is a duct for smoke and gas waste. It is easier to clean the connector that runs out of the chimney.

Insert Safety

An insert may be malfunctioning if smoke can be smelled. This can be dangerous and should be reviewed. Read more about fireplace safety. Consider having the insert, vents, and chimney cleaned and inspected annually by a fireplace professional and buy logs that are only made of compressed sawdust.

Clean the insert of ash regularly and place the ash in a metal container that is covered. Then, put the container on a slab made of brick or cement to keep the slab away from combustible materials.

Burn only dry, seasoned logs that have been sitting out for six months. Close to the area of the fireplace, you want to install a smoke alarm as well as a carbon monoxide detector.

Places to Find Wood

Contact local tree cutters. They may drop off logs at your place of residence. Usually, they would just throw the logs in a landfill and pay a fee to dump them. You could be helping them out by asking for logs.

how to install fireplace insert

Magikflame Electric Fireplace

A Magikflame fireplace is a premium electric fireplace, which means it has the most realistic electric fireplace available. It does not require any venting or flue and uses holographic technology to make the flames look as realistic as possible. The technology is patented, which means no other electric fireplace imitator has these digital features.

The flames look real because the Magikflame uses video of a real fire. The fireplace uses physical logs to project holographic flame effects on them. The fireplace insert also has LED lights to give the illusion of burning embers. Both of these things make the flames look realistic.

The fireplace has 30 different kinds of flames to look like gas or log burning fires, coupled with various crackling log sounds for a full-experience. 

The fireplace uses an infrared quartz heater which can produce 5,200 BTUs as a secondary heat source and warm up to 1,000 square foot room without paying a premium. Your wallet will thank you for the low energy bills. The air feels warm but not dry. The LED lights also last for approximately 50,000 hours. The lighting produces 1/6 of the energy of an incandescent light bulb.

Even in a dim room, you can see the controls for the Magikflame fireplace because they are backlit. The advanced features also provide control with the iPhone smartphone app and Bluetooth. Find the app in the Apple store.

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