Do you have a drafty, open-style fireplace? If so, can you guess how much heat is wasted up the chimney – even without a fire burning?
That’s right, even without the draw from a fire, an open fireplace robs warm air from the room. But with a fire burning, it gets worse. Much worse. A term called “negative efficiency” kicks in as the warm air from your furnace – air that you paid to heat – mixes with the hot air from the firebox, and goes straight up the chimney!
So, if you’re ready to explore your options, let’s turn up the heat and look at both gas inserts and wood inserts to answer the question: Are fireplace inserts worth it?
Let’s get into it!
Why can you trust us?
As a writer for Today’s Cottage Living – and a property owner with a passion for country living (!), I’ve covered a variety of topics and written several articles on everything from best firewood practices, wood stoves, to DIY construction projects. This guide combines my years of hands-on experience, together with extensive research from experts on the topic to help ensure a well-rounded perspective.
Are Fireplace Inserts Worth It?
Fireplace inserts are worth it if you want to turn your drafty fireplace into a highly efficient source of heat. Today’s EPA-certified gas and wood fireplace insert have efficiency ratings as high as 85%, and super-low emissions. For wood inserts you’ll save about 2/3rds of the firewood with far fewer ashes, and little to no smoke, and generate enough BTUs to heat up to 3,000 sq.’ ft., depending on the size.
Check out these wood inserts for example:
BTUs from EPA Certified Wood Inserts
|Firebox Size||Heating Capacity||BTU||HHV||Emission|
|Small – 1.6 cu. ft.||Up to 1000 sq. ft.||70,000||68%||1.4 gm/hr.|
|Medium – 2.1 cu. ft.||Up to 1,500 sq. ft.||85,000||72%||1.4 gm/hr.|
|Large – 3.0 cu. ft.||Up to 2,000 sq. ft.||99,000||76.8%||1.7 gm/hr.|
Next, check out these EPA Certified gas insert examples:
|Gas Insert Size||Heating Capacity||Max. BTU||Min. BTU||Efficiency|
|Small/Medium||Up to 700 sq. ft.||31,000||9,900||85%|
|Medium||Up to 1000 sq. ft.||40,000||13,500||82%|
|Large||Up to 1500 sq. ft.||48,000||16,000||79%|
BTU Reference Guide (Rough Estimates)
|Home Size||Typical Climate||Cold Climate|
|500 Sq. Ft.||22,500 BTU||30,000 BTU|
|1,000 Sq. Ft.||45,000 BTU||60,000 BTU|
|1,500 Sq. Ft.||67,500 BTU||90,000 BTU|
|2,000 Sq. Ft.||90,000 BTU||120,000 BTU|
|2,500 Sq. Ft.||112,500 BTU||150,000 BTU|
|3,000 Sq. Ft.||135,500 BTU||180,000 BTU|
|3,500 Sq. Ft.||157,500 BTU||210,000 BTU|
|4,000 Sq. Ft.||180,000 BTU||240,000 BTU|
So, are fireplace inserts worth It?
Most homeowners agree that today’s high-efficiency wood and gas inserts give them the benefits and value they are looking for. And as an added bonus, they can provide a favorable return on their investment by increasing the resale value of their home.
- Save time cleaning, removing ash, and adding (far less) wood to the fire.
- Say goodbye to a drafty old fireplace while still enjoying the ambiance and crackle of a wood-burning insert, or the convenience, stylizing options, and heating control from a gas insert.
- Turn down the thermostat and reduce your heating bills thanks to the high BTUs from either a wood-burning, or gas, fireplace insert.
Related Article: For additional cost comparison on wood-burning fireplaces to gas fireplaces, we have a great article here.
If you have concluded that a fireplace insert makes sense for your home, let’s compare some of the main differences between wood-burning inserts vs. gas inserts.
Wood vs. Gas: 7 Questions to help guide your decision
- Do you prefer the ambiance of burning wood or the convenience of gas? Do you want the cozy, rustic charm and smell of a wood-burning fire or the convenience and instant control of a gas fire at the flick of a switch, or the push of a button?
- What size of insert can your masonry fireplace accommodate? Your first step is to determine what size of insert you can install. Your options are limited to the dimensions of your existing fireplace. Measure the height, width, and depth (H” x W” x D”) of your masonry fireplace cavity and compare these dimensions to the insert firebox shell.
- How much heat are you expecting from an insert? Once you know what size unit can be installed you can compare the BTUs (heat output) available from wood-burning, and gas inserts that fit within your fireplace. If the corresponding gas fireplace doesn’t provide the heat you’re after, then a wood-burning insert may be the answer.
- Does the heating cost matter? If natural gas is not available and propane is your only option, the comparatively high cost of propane can tip the scales toward a wood-burning insert for many people. If you want to get an idea of what it would cost per hour for natural gas vs. propane, here’s an easy calculation below, based on a 40,000 BTU fireplace insert:
Natural gas rate = $1.20 per therm (one therm equals 100,000 BTUs)
(40,000 x 1.20)/100,000 = .48, or 48 cents per hour
Propane cost = $2.50 per gallon (one gallon of propane equals 91,000 BTUs)
(40,000 x 2.50)/91,000 = 1.1, or $1.10 per hour
Please check with your local gas/propane suppliers to use your actual costs.
- Are you looking for the lowest possible emissions/pollution? Although all 2020 EPA-Certified wood stoves and fireplaces have to comply with less than 2 grams of smoke per hour (g/h), gas produces less air pollution than burning wood.
- Is the cost for the installation of the insert important? As a general rule of thumb, a natural gas insert can cost 50% to 60% more than a wood-burning insert. Check with your local fireplace retailer for actual cost differences in your area.
- How important is the style, or design of the fireplace exterior? Some people want the old-world charm of a cast iron fireplace. Others may want a sleek modern look. While others may want a traditional look. Today’s style options are plentiful for both wood-burning inserts, and gas inserts, but gas inserts lead the way in customized designs and style choices.
We chose a great video to give you some more insights on: Are fireplace inserts worth it?
Related Article: If you’re trying to decide on the ideal type of fireplace or wood stove, we have a comprehensive guide. Click here
What percentage of new-build homes come with a fireplace?
According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), 41% of single-family homes started in 2018 included fireplaces. NAHB also reports a steady decline in this percentage as builders forego fireplaces to make homes more affordable.
Are fireplace inserts safe?
Yes. Especially when compared to conventional open fireplaces with only a mesh screen preventing sparks from escaping. Even fireplaces with glass doors do not provide a tight fit between the firebox and doors. In contrast, today’s high-efficiency fireplace inserts create a tight seal between the firebox and the door so sparks and smoke remain within the unit.
Plus, because today’s wood-burning fireplace inserts are super-efficient, burning only a fraction of the amount of firewood, the (sealed) firebox only needs to be opened to load more wood a fraction of the time.
Are fireplace inserts hard to install?
Installing a wood-burning fireplace insert can be done by a DIY handyman. You’ll need an assistant to help with the chimney liner and placing the (very) heavy insert.
Fireplace inserts DO NOT use your existing chimney as a flue. Instead, you’ll run a new 2-part chimney liner within your chimney, consisting of an inner 6” stainless steel inner vent, surrounded by insulation and then an outer aluminum sheathing. This chimney liner connects to the wood insert and a new chimney cap.
One of the greatest challenges for many DIY homeowners tackling this project is removing or bypassing the chimney’s damper to install the new chimney liner. The damper is the metal plate that is open when burning and closed when the fireplace is not being used.
For a (3:55 minute) demonstration on how to install a wood insert, check out this YouTube video.
Are fireplace inserts efficient?
Today’s fireplace inserts are very efficient and clean burning. Look for EPA Certified fireplace inserts. In 2020 the EPA mandated strict regulations for emissions to reduce pollution from wood-burning fireplaces, inserts, and wood stoves. As a result, wood inserts with 85% efficiency are available.
In 2020, the NSPS emission limit for new room heaters was lowered to 2.0 grams per hour if tested with crib wood*, or 2.5 grams per hour if tested with cord wood*.Environmental Protection Agency – https://www.epa.gov/burnwise/epa-certified-wood-stoves
To learn more about the EPA standards, click here.
* What is crib wood?
Crib wood is cut 2”x4” or 4”x4” lumber that is stapled together. Crib wood is used as a fuel source for EPA testing. Because traditional firewood can be a mix of species such as oak, maple, hemlock, and pine, with each producing variable BTUs (heat), burning manufactured crib wood is a way to burn a consistent fuel for testing.
Cordwood is typical firewood which is a more accurate measure of how a heater will perform in your home.
To see which type of firewood offers you the best heat for your money, click here.
Do fireplace inserts need electricity?
Yes. Today’s fireplace inserts have an electrical blower to draw air into the firebox. Check your insert to see which side of the unit has the electrical connections and run an electrical line with a certified electrical outlet in the back of the fireplace cavity on the same side.
We recommend hiring a certified electrician to install the electrical outlet and ensure the voltages are correct. Safety first!
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