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Fireplace Inserts-A Toasty Alternative

One of man’s earliest discoveries was fire. Records indicate that fire was used by man over 1.9 million years ago. Its fire’s ability to produce heat that allows man to inhabit climates that he would not had otherwise survived.
Until just recently, I hadn’t thought about using fire for heat, but that changed one very cold day when the fan motor on the heat pump stopped working. Our repairman told us that he would have to order the part and it could take 4-5 days, which stretched into a week.


Fortunately, I said to myself, we have a fireplace and immediately collected the wood and started a fire. It soon became apparent that attempting to heat the house with the fireplace any further than the immediate vicinity of the fireplace was futile. It was then that I remembered the fireplace insert that my father had installed in the living room of the house where I grew up. Our home, having been built in the late 1700s or earlier 1800s, leaked air like a sieve. But after installing the insert and turning on the built-in fan, warm air soon filled the living room, traveling up the stairs to the second floor. This fireplace insert did a nifty job of heating the first two upstairs rooms. This memory, as I shivered in the cold, prompted me to begin researching fireplace inserts.
Fireplace inserts can be found using varying heat sources. The most common sources are wood, wood pellets, natural gas, and electric units. Each have they own advantages and disadvantages.
During the research it became obvious that the problem I was experiencing with my fireplace and its ability to heat the house stemmed from the fact that masonry fireplaces are only about 15% efficient. Fireplaces pull air from the room. This air supplies oxygen to burn the wood. Much of the heat generated then escapes up the chimney. What heat remains, and trust me it’s not much, can only heat a small radius from the hearth.
Fireplace inserts are similar to wood burning stoves because they seal the wood inside a metal box, which increases the heat at which the burns. This process allows the wood to burn more efficiently. Heat produced in the insert is returned to the room by a fan, thereby producing heat for a greater area.
Another problem with the masonry fireplace is the emission of pollutants into the air. New technology in fireplace insert design has reduced emissions of harmful pollutants, sometimes as much as 90%. The U.S. Environment Protection Agency certifies fireplace inserts, wood stoves and furnaces. When purchasing, check for the certification. It is also recommended that a full chimney insert be installed and in locations it is the law. Full chimney inserts allow emissions, smoke and any gases to escape out the chimney.
In additional to wood burning inserts to heat the house, wood pellets are often a source of heating. Because the pellet burning appliances feed the pellets into the fire at a controlled rate, they burn more cleanly, emitting lower levels of pollutants than wood appliances. Wood pellet appliances come in whole house furnaces, which are often situated outdoors. Because they are self feeding, these furnaces can burn for extended periods of time without refilling the wood pellets.
Natural gas inserts are an alternative to wood burning inserts. Producing fewer emissions when burning, natural gas’ impact on the environment occurs while it’s being extracted from the earth. With glass doors, it mimics a wood burning fireplace. Natural gas fireplaces can be installed in any room, without a chimney. Before installing, check the local regulations, because the other school of thought is that there is some gas discharge. Other advantages include an on/off switch and no soot, ash or creosote buildup in the chimney.
Electric fireplaces and stoves are handy, due to the fact that they can go wherever there is sufficient room. They are the sexy space heater.
Heat created by the electric fireplace is blown into the room and there is no loss up the chimney. They can easily be turned on and off, with a switch or remote and are generally less expensive than wood and natural gas inserts. There are no pollutants emitted from the fireplace itself, depending on the source of electrical generation, it could be emission free.
It would have been nice to have even an un-sexy space heater when the heat pump broke.

7 Responses to “Fireplace Inserts-A Toasty Alternative”

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  • admin says:

    Have you read the article?

  • i would still prefer to use the traditional log based fireplaces compared to electric firepalces”~’

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