This is a consumer guide exploring the pros and cons of fireplace inserts versus alternative options. It should help homeowners to choose the right fireplace for their situation.
A steel box designed to be inserted into an existing fireplace and surround, most fireplace inserts make use of the chimney and there are several fuels available. They tend to improve upon the energy output of traditional fires as the insulated glass door means that combustion is complete and large areas of the home can be heated. However, they can be more expensive to install because of parts and labour.
Electric inserts are one of the simplest types and they plug in to a socket, making it possible to operate via remote control. However, some people find the flame-effect unrealistic and less 'cosy' than other options. Gas remains a popular choice for the availability and cost of natural gas or propane, as well as the more convincing reproduction of a real fire.
Standard options use the walls of the fireplace as an insulation cavity and either simply radiate heat into the room or use a blower to circulate it. Blower-systems do prevent heat being lost up the chimney and are cheaper to install but their circulation is less effective than inserts.
Traditional wood-burners are popular for their aesthetic appeal but can also be fuel efficient, by burning wood waste or wheat and corn bi-products as fuel. However, sending heat straight up through the chimney can create hot and cold spots in the house and confuse the thermostat and if you're not using the more expensive pellets, these types of fireplace do require more time and energy to fetch wood.
One of the newer options are vent-free fires, using logs which burn gas extremely efficiently, with no need for ventilation. They have a safety mechanism built in which shuts off the gas supply if the oxygen level drops by a certain amount, but there's still a risk of carbon monoxide so it's important not to use them for long periods and to get regular safety checks.
At the end of the day, individual households will have different priorities as regards fuel types, design and practical concerns like cost. While 'real' fires have an unparalleled look and feel, they can fall short on heat efficiency. Most consumers are looking for good heat distribution when replacing a fire and it is here that the fireplace insert seems to come out on top.
Kathleen Gibson is a property developer and expert on period properties and loves it when period features have been retained.