How Does a Fireplace Insert Work?

How Does a Fireplace Insert Work?

Learn how a fireplace insert can warm your home

By Kathryn Keep

Fireplace Insert and Chair in Modern Room
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A fireplace insert is like a manufactured stove meant to fit into a masonry fireplace. It provides heat and ambiance by burning fuel like a regular fireplace or hooking up to electricity, and it is built to look like a regular fireplace. Today's fireplace inserts can be incredibly energy efficient and provide your home with warmth for many years.


The first fireplace inserts in the 1980s did not gain a good reputation. They were not very efficient and were difficult to maintain. The first models did not connect directly to the chimney and led to excess smoking. Later models used a short length of stainless steel to act as a chimney liner, but it did not go up the entire length of the chimney and still caused smoking problems.


The most important part of the modern fireplace insert is the chimney liner. The chimney liner provides a more reliable draft and can be used in older chimneys that are otherwise cracked and unsafe. While the older, shorter version of the chimney liner had to be removed to be cleaned, new full liners are safer and easier to maintain. In Canada, full chimney liners are mandatory, but in the United States chimney liners are not required.


Many people choose traditional wood-burning fireplace inserts, but several other types are available. A gas fireplace insert can burn either natural gas or propane. An electric fireplace insert provides heat and a realistic looking flame. Pellet stove fireplace inserts burn pellets made from corn and other biomass.


The safety and performance of a fireplace insert depends largely on proper installation. In some cases, part of the masonry has to be removed to make room for the chimney liner. Installation should be done by a licensed professional who guarantees the work, which should be considered permanent.

Costs and Credits

Fireplace inserts can vary from a few hundred dollars for a small electric heater that fits in your fireplace to several thousand dollars for an intricately designed fireplace insert. There may be tax credits available to help with the cost of an efficient fireplace insert. For example, through December 31, 2010, you can claim 30 percent of the cost (up to $1,500) of a biomass- (wood or pellet) burning fireplace insert that has at least 75 percent efficiency.

About the Author

Kathryn Keep is a regular contributor to DexKnows. She is an eco-consultant, with expertise in environmental issues, home decorating, green building, and general sustainable living.

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