The principal benefit that a wood burning fireplace insert has over a standard wood burning stove is of course that you gain all the visual appeal that comes with a conventional open fireplace or wood burning stove, but without the downsides of either.
An open wood fireplace certainly looks every bit the part and is what most people envision when conjuring up images of curling up snug and warm on a cold winter’s day. The trouble is they are so inefficient it’s not funny – which means you don’t actually end up half as warm as you would like and of course it costs you a fortune burning all that fuel.
Most of the heat from an open fire (and quite a lot of the warm air in the room) gets sucked straight up the chimney, along with most (but not all) the smoke. Some of the smoke (you guessed it) finds its way back into the room. There are all manner of flue and chimney problems that can cause smoke to seep back into the house, or conversely extract warm air – in extreme cases an open fire can be so effective at drawing in the surrounding air that it actually makes the room considerably colder!
Wood burning stoves certainly deal with the inefficiency and smoke issues, but at the expense of intruding into the room. The very design of the wood stove assumes that it is free standing, with the heat able to radiate into the room from all sides. This of course means that it has to stand well away from the wall through which the flue pipe vents all the smoke to the outside.
A fireplace insert in many ways delivers the best of both worlds. It is of course set into the natural position (the fireplace) but the glass doors seal off the smoke. They also ensure that the combustion is controlled, which results in better performance, and allows for a much reduced draw on the air in the room.
But best of all, they invariably incorporate a fireplace heat exchanger that draws cooler air from inside the room and uses the heat that would otherwise disappear up the chimney to warm it up and blow it back out into the room. This adds an element of convection to the radiant heat, all of which combines to deliver a better overall result.
That said, the cost to have a fireplace insert installed is typically more than for a wood burning stove, plus there are a number of things you need to consider carefully before installing one. It cannot be stressed enough that any wood fireplace insert must be installed by a suitably qualified professional.
Invariably this means calling on the services of a HETAS registered installer. If you thought a poorly installed wood burning stove was a combined fire and health hazard, an incorrectly fitted fireplace insert can take this to a whole new level.
Bear in mind also that even if you personally have few qualms about installing your wood burning fireplace insert yourself, your household insurer is likely to be considerably less sanguine and you may discover that just when valid insurance cover would be a Good Thing™ (having burned your house down) it turns out you were breaching the terms of your policy and not actually covered after all.
So the bottom line on installation is… pay for a professional. They will do a much better job anyway, the odds of anything nasty happening are considerably reduced and should the worst happen then that’s why they carry professional indemnity insurance (or at least they certainly should – so be sure to confirm this).