Improving Fireplace Efficiency with Wood, Gas and Electric Inserts

Depending on where you plan on building, heating in the winter months will definitely be a concern. The crackling of a fire is a timeless winter tradition, but whether you want a fireplace for a yule log, making winter s’mores with the kids, or just recreating the feeling of a ski lodge in your living room there is one downside to a wood burning fireplace, and that is heat loss.

When a fire is lit most of the warm air is pulled out of the room to feed the fire. A lot of the heat energy produced by the fire is lost up the chimney and in the materials around it.  Though the charm of a wood burning fireplace sounds great, it’s not a very eco-friendly way to warm your house, especially when it is below freezing. That’s where a fireplace insert comes in.

The Merveille Vivante Small Home Plan is only about 1,421 square feet, but features a fireplace for supplemental heating. It would be perfect for an electric insert or a gas or wood insert. Not to mention the cottage design gives this house rustic charm. Take a look at our other cottage house plans here.

What is a fireplace insert? 

Fireplace inserts are designed to increase the efficiency of a fireplace. The fireplace insert is constructed as a fireproof box surrounded by steal or cast iron and fronted by insulated glass. This creates a closed combustion system  where the steal and cast iron help to trap the heat. Some inserts even have a blower that pushes hot air back into the room. If properly installed, a fireplace insert can be much more efficient than a traditional wood burning fireplace.

Electric Fireplace Inserts

Electric fireplace inserts are the simplest and least complicated to install. There is no combustion involved and therefore no chimney is required and thus no permit.  Electric fireplace inserts include a small heater which outputs to 5,000 BTUs (British Thermal Units). They also allow you to adjust the flame size and can be used with or without the heat component.

When it comes to installing an electric fireplace insert you only have to make sure that the insert fits the fireplace opening to work properly. The cost of operating an electric insert depends on the electrical rates in the area.

The Mountain Cottage House Plan has a log cabin exterior with loads of potential inside. This house plan has a fireplace that can be fitted with an insert to improve its efficiency. Take a look at our log house plans for homes with similar exteriors.

Gas Fireplace Inserts

If you have access to natural gas where you are building, you might want a gas fireplace insert. Installing a gas fireplace insert takes more time but the energy produced is between five and eight times as much as electric inserts (25,000 to 40,000 BTUs), enough to comfortably heat a medium sized room.

The gas fireplace insert is aided by two tubes that run from the insert and up the chimney. One tube draws in fresh air to feed the fire and the other is for exhaust.  Once it is installed there is very little maintenance needed aside from cleaning the fireplace door. The gas burns cleanly so there is no need to clean your chimney, but it can be difficult to determine if the gas is leaking, so a carbon monoxide detector is a must.

Wood Fireplace Inserts

Wood fireplace inserts offer the beauty of an open fireplace with the performance of a state-of-the-art wood stove. Wood fireplace inserts are less effective than gas fireplace inserts, with an efficiency rating of only 50 percent.

The main disadvantage of a wood fireplace insert is the emissions. The smoke from the wood sticks to the chimney as creosote, which is combustible, or released as air pollution. However, the EPA has stepped in and certified some wood fireplace inserts to make sure that they burn wood efficiently.  If sized and installed correctly, an EPA-certified wood fireplace will reduce fuel consumption and maintenance on both the chimney and insert.

When it comes to supplemental heating, a fireplace is a great way to add ambiance, but if you are concerned about heating costs, then a fireplace insert can improve the efficiency of your fireplace and bring many cherished memories.  If you aren’t ready to consider adding a fireplace insert just yet, but you are still concerned about heating costs, then take a look at The House Designers’ Collection of ENERGY STAR® approved house plans.

One thought on “Improving Fireplace Efficiency with Wood, Gas and Electric Inserts

  1. Shane

    Wow, great article. I never realized how much more efficient gas fireplaces were than traditional ones. I have to say that traditional fireplaces seem to give off more heat though, at least in my experience. I find a gas fireplace to be more of a convenience though and would probably opt for one over a traditional.

    How does this work for homes with two fireplaces? Like one in the basement and one in the family room right on top of each other? Is there another way on top of what you’ve mentioned that can improve efficiency in that situation?

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