For all the benefits of having a fireplace, they are a very old technology. One invention that greatly upgrades them though is a wood stove fireplace insert (or insert). With the right fireplace insert, upkeep is reduced, efficiency is significantly enhanced and the fireplace is upgraded for the 21st century. However, those buying them need to be aware of what to look for.
Wood stove fireplace inserts are a fairly new concept but have advanced significantly since they first came on the scene. They are basically wood stoves that fit within a masonry fireplace. When they first appeared in the early 1980’s, many regarded inserts as unsafe and expensive to maintain. Furthermore, they were much less efficient than what is on the market today.
New insert designs
New designs have made inserts much safer and more efficient. One of the most significant changes has been the chimney liners that they now come with. Many of the original designs did not include any direct connection between the insert and the chimney. Later, shorter inserts called “direct connects” were installed. These liners go from the top of the liner partially up the chimney.
Full chimney liners
While they improve operation, direct connects are not usually the best option. With them, the insert often needs to be removed when the chimney is cleaned, and this can be difficult. However, this is not necessary with a full relining system that has a stainless steel pipe that goes all the way up the chimney. This increases efficiency, reduces dangerous deposits in the chimney and allows the insert to remain in place during chimney cleaning. For these reasons, they are now required by law in some places.
Why wood stove inserts increase efficiency
If the fireplace does not have an insert, much of the heat is lost into the masonry of the fireplace. The chimney, exposed to the cold air outside, sucks out much of the heat through the masonry. Since inserts are specifically designed to minimize this heat loss, much more of the heat makes it into the room. Furthermore, with the better control of the air, less heat is lost up the chimney. All this gives a good insert nearly the same efficiency as a wood burning stove.
Heartmount stoves are a kind of a cross between a stove and an insert that some people prefer. They are basically wood stoves mounted in front of or partially inside the fireplace that vents through the chimney. Like a good fireplace insert, they should be connected to piping that goes all the way up the chimney. They are considered slightly more efficient than a regular wood stove insert.
Inserts are heavy and difficult to maneuver. Moreover, a poorly installed pipe in the chimney can lead to big problems down the road. For these reasons, it is not a good idea to install an insert without proper help.
Inserts sold in the US must comply with EPA clean air regulations. These limit the amount of emissions they can release. Some areas require that combustion air be drawn directly from the outside to reduce indoor air pollution. A good insert will be healthier while saving energy costs and the environment.
If the fireplace that is used for heating at all, it is certainly worth installing a good insert, if at all possible.