What is a Fireplace Insert?

Want to upgrade your old, drafty wood-burning fireplace to something more efficient but not sure how? Fireplace inserts can make the switch easy and convenient. They also offer a cheaper alternative than completely refurbishing your fireplace. Inserts come in a variety of fuel types, like wood-burning, gas, or electric models. See why fireplace inserts might prove to be the best option for you!

What is the difference between a fireplace and an insert?

Fireplace inserts work as self-contained units that install directly into an existing masonry fireplace opening. They use a closed combustion system and include all the necessary components within the unit. Much like a traditional fireplace, you can find inserts that use wood, gas, or electricity as a fuel source. If the fuel type requires it, a fireplace insert may need exterior venting. Fireplace inserts commonly feature a trim that can cover leftover gaps or spaces around the unit.

Fireplace inserts differ from traditional fireplaces. A traditional fireplace includes the entire structure, typically designed using masonry such as brick, stone, or metal. While the term ‘fireplace’ often means a wood-burning, masonry design, they also include factory-built units framed into the wall. Fireplaces may use wood, gas, or electricity as a fuel source. Gas and wood-burning units mostly require venting, though some ventless gas units exist as well.

Benefits of a fireplace insert include:

Besides their sleek and stylish appearance, fireplace inserts offer a variety of benefits over drafty masonry fireplaces.

Increased heating efficiency - Open masonry fireplaces lose a lot of their heat through the chimney or flue, or air leaks. Generally, these types of fireplaces lose a majority of the heat generated as it rises through the chimney. Inserts use a closed combustion system consisting of a sealed glass front or air-tight door and air controls to regulate the air flow to the combustion chamber. This system helps trap the heat and controls the amount of air going to the fire, leading to higher heating efficiency. Open fireplaces are notorious for their lack of efficiency so installing a closed insert can drastically improve heating efficiency.

Reduced emissions - Old wood-burning, masonry fireplaces generate a lot of smoke and, therefore, emissions. These gases contribute to air pollution and reduce the indoor air quality in the home. Inserts reduce the amount of smoke generated by the unit, reducing emissions, and improving air quality! They also trap the heat more efficiently, reducing air leaks.

Lower energy bills - By sealing the air leaks and improving efficiency, an insert can cut down on your heating expenses in the wintertime. If less air leaks out, it means the furnace won’t have to work as hard to compensate which means it uses less energy.

What type of fireplace inserts are there?

Commonly, you can find gas or electric inserts, but some manufacturers make wood-burning options as well. Wood-burning inserts maintain the look and feel of a wood fire while updating old, drafty wood fireplaces. This increases the capacity and efficiency of the unit while still allowing for real flames and the crackling sound everyone knows and loves. However, wood-burning inserts demand the most work out of all the fuel types. They require venting and need you to haul wood in and out of the home. Additionally, they expel ash and soot which requires regular cleaning. As with any wood or gas fireplace, proper maintenance remains critical as any problems can lead to a safety hazard or carbon monoxide risk.

Gas fireplace inserts may use either natural gas or liquid propane as fuel. They use a combustion and exhaust system to create efficient heating. Like wood-burning units, gas inserts need proper venting and maintenance. Because they use gas, they require professional installation.

Electric fireplace inserts offer a cheaper initial cost and safer option. Electric units use a series of multi-color LED lights to provide a flame effect. Since they don’t involve a combustion process, they don’t give off toxic fumes. This means they don’t require complicated and expensive venting processes like other fuel types. These easy-to-use options may hardwire or simply plug in to an outlet to start up!

When to choose a fireplace insert:

Not sure when to choose between a fireplace and a fireplace insert? If the space already has a masonry fireplace, an insert can work better than installing an entirely new fireplace. When building a home or installing a fireplace in a space that doesn’t already have one, a fireplace works better as the insert requires an existing fireplace opening.

To determine the size of the unit you need, measure the fireplace opening. Measure the height, width, and depth of the fireplace from the back wall to the opening of the fireplace.


Stay warm this winter with the right fireplace insert! Browse HomElectrical’s selection of quality fireplaces and fireplace inserts from brands like Napoleon, Amantii, and Sierra Flame.

Avery Dietzen
Avery Dietzen

Originally from Wisconsin, Avery earned her degree in English before making the trip down to the Atlanta, GA area. Writer by day, reader by night, she prides herself on having a creative outlook and tries to instill that in everything she writes. As a content writer for HomElectrical, she uses her skills to share tips and tricks about lighting, HVAC, and going green. If she’s not writing, she’s reading, painting, hanging out with her dog, or spending time with family and friends.

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