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A Beginner’s Guide To Fireplace Inserts
A fireplace insert is essentially a self-contained fire (which covers “real” wood burning fires and both electric and gas fires) designed as a box shape that conveniently fits most conventional fireplaces. Though these days the definition of a “fireplace” seems to be somewhat less rigorous than it used to be and there is frequently no requirement for either a chimney or indeed a fireplace sized hole in the wall.
The various allowable permutations depend largely on the source of the heat. For an electric fireplace insert there is clearly no need for any venting nor indeed any of the usual fireplace paraphernalia.
Modern designs are sleek and many are intended to be hung on a wall as a decorative feature, though many people do still like to fit them into an otherwise redundant fireplace in order to create a passing resemblance to a real fire.
It is as well though to seal off the chimney in this case, otherwise a good chunk of the heat will disappear straight up there (which ironically is the very problem that wood burning fireplace inserts were designed to address, but we’ll come to that in a bit).
Gas Fireplace Inserts
Gas fireplace inserts are not dissimilar to their electric cousins, though some require venting (either via the existing chimney if safe to do so or more commonly straight out through the wall) while others are what is termed “flueless”. The latter ensure that 100% of all the gas is burned (generally using the same type of catalytic technology found in cars and some “clean burn” wood stoves) and thus there are no fumes that need to be vented out.
All gas fires though require a pipe to supply the gas and installing them is thus a job for a suitably qualified specialist, whereas an electric fire can be fitted by just about anyone with basic DIY skills. Some of the more advanced gas fireplace “inserts” also incorporate an oxygen depletion sensor to prevent the fire consuming more than a safe percentage of the oxygen in the room. Again, not an issue with electric fires since they don’t really “burn” fuel and hence don’t need a suitable air supply.
The advantages that gas fireplaces have over electric ones are that they are a) cheaper to run b) more effective at heating the space and c) can be made to look a little more realistic since there is after all an actual flame present. For this reason, putting them in an original fireplace with hearth, chimney breast, mantle and so on is quite appealing to many.
Though with a contemporary design you often make more of a statement by hanging it on a wall rather than pretending to be a “real” fire. On the subject of which…
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