Fireplace InsertsIn fifteen words or less, can you describe what a fireplace insert does?

It’s a tough definition. The name “fireplace insert” isn’t entirely descriptive of its renovation potential, or its unique ability to make old fireplaces fully functional again without the need for extensive reconstruction. They also tend to offer greater fuel efficiency than traditional, chimney based fireplaces thanks to their comparatively more modern design and construction.
In the simplest terms, fireplace inserts are fully self-contained fireplaces that are placed inside the firebox (the open area at the bottom of the chimney) of an existing fireplace. Several different manufacturers offer them in many different styles, and there are additional accessories and add-ons that help increase the beauty of their physical appearance.

Different Kinds of Inserts, Different Kinds of Fuel – Wood, Gas, and Electric

Fireplace inserts can be organized into three varieties according to fuel type. Though gas fireplace inserts are the most popular with the general public, electric and traditional wood burning fireplace inserts are also available from some manufacturers.

One of the chief advantages to the gas fireplace insert, in terms of fuel variety, lies in its versatility. Many natural gas fireplace inserts are also capable of operating on propane. Some gas fireplace insert models come with propane orifices already attached as a standard accessory; others rely on conversion kits to help them shift from using natural gas to propane.

Electrical fireplace inserts are prized for their economy and for their low-maintenance construction. Of course, traditionalists will insist on the classic wood-burning fireplace insert. As a means of giving a second life to an existing fireplace, the wood-burning fireplace insert does offer a one-step solution. When choosing which fireplace insert is the best option for your home, consider what fuel type works best for you, and what venting capabilities your home or fireplace already possesses.

How to Choose A Venting System

Fireplace InsertsIn most cases, fireplace inserts will use one of two venting systems, or ways to remove their exhaust. Direct vent fireplace inserts function much the same as traditional fireplaces, with exhaust funneled through the fireplace chimney. One advantage of the fireplace insert over the fireplace itself is that the combustion exhaust is kept sealed and away from the room air. This provides a cleaner, safer fire than conventional fireplaces can offer.

Vent free fireplace inserts are entirely self-contained. They produce no harmful byproducts, and burn cleaner than direct vent and conventional fireplace models. They also offer additional energy efficiency than direct vent fireplace inserts, since they are able to retain all the heat they produce rather than allow some heat attrition through the vent. Vent free fireplace inserts also provide the opportunity to make older fireplaces with non-functioning chimneys usable again. The insert simply fits inside the old firebox but does not use the chimney flue.

Installing a Fireplace Insert – Models and Accessories

Fireplace insert models are much like motorcycles, cars, or other heavy machinery. There’s a wide selection of accessories to fit most models, and getting your fireplace insert up to top functioning capacity – and appearance – will likely involve investing in some optional extras.

Surround kits are sold to help frame your fireplace insert within the firebox, giving it a seamless, “built-in” appearance. Surround kits may include flashings, which close the gap between the fireplace insert edge and the edge of the firebox, and fronts, which fit over the fireplace insert and work to conceal that gap.

Other optional fireplace insert accessories include decorative panels that fit inside the insert itself, safety screens, and operable front doors. Such accessories vary by manufacturer and model, so it’s important to make sure you’re buying the right accessories at the time of purchase to avoid the hassle of returns and exchanges.

Gas FireplacesMarch 20 marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, meaning the days and nights of enjoying your gas-burning fireplaces are nearing a close for another year. Your spring cleaning plans should definitely include your gas fireplace, as keeping it clean and in top running condition helps add years to its life while helping make sure you, your family and pets are at their safest in your home.

Clean All Vents and Check All Valves

A licensed gas technician should inspect your fireplaces’s vents at least once a year, ideally at the beginning and end of each cold weather season. The technician will check for any stoppages, cracks or other malfunctions that can lead to the fireplace not working properly.

The fireplace’s valves should also be checked and inspected, Some fireplace owners may wish to turn the gas line off with the coming of warm weather, extinguishing the pilot light; in more humid summer climates, keeping the pilot light burning low will help to keep humidity from accumulating inside the firebox.

Cleaning Out The Firebox

Although the gas-burning logs, coals, or stones can be removed from the gas fireplace, they should never be rearranged from their factory-set conditions. Altering their configuration can cause malfunction and – in some cases – a possible gas leak. If this happens, consult a gas technician for help in resetting them.

Gas logs, stones, and coals can all be cleaned by scrubbing them outside with a soft-bristled brush. Vacuum the firebox, making sure to use nozzle attachments to thoroughly clean any nooks or crannies in which trash or dust has accumulated. As the spring and summer seasons stretch on, additional vacuuming will likely become necessary to remove dust, pet hair, and other contaminants that can pose a danger when the gas fireplace is re-ignited come winter.

Gas Fireplaces

A gas key with a Victorian motif

Pet- and Child-Proof The Firebox

Gas fireplaces sitting idle for weeks or months can sometimes become a source of curiosity to small children and pets. Make sure the firebox is closed off using a screen or cover, as pets and small children can shake lose or damage pipes and valves by climbing inside the firebox.

Gas FireplacesGas fireplaces offer their users a unique combination: the elegant, traditional charm of a wood-burning fireplace as well as the convenience and technology of electric models. However, gas-burning fireplaces share many of the same maintenance and care requirements as both wood-burning and electric fireplaces. Owners need to take regular precautions to keep their units in top operating condition.

When to Get Your Gas Fireplace Inspected

Owners of gas fireplaces that use vents should have their units inspected at least once a year by a licensed gas technician, who will ascertain any malfunction or defect.

Before returning the unit to regular use, experts recommend checking the gas fireplace’s firebox, gas logs and gas lines for any damage or excessive wear and tear. During spring and summer, the gas line’s main valve can be shut off and its ignition key removed, and the pilot light can also be extinguished. On the other hand, some experts recommend leaving the pilot light burning to reduce humidity inside the firebox.

Vents should always remain clean of debris or other non-fireplace materials.

Preventative Care and Cleaning

Logs, coals, or stones in a gas fireplace should never be rearranged as this can present a serious risk of malfunction. Consult a licensed gas technician for help in restoring the logs, coals or stones to their original configuration.

When cleaning, take the parts outside and use cleansers recommended by the manufacturer as well as soft-bristled brush. Clean the firebox by vacuuming dust and other debris from the floor and walls. Clean the glass front panels with an ammonia-free window cleaner.

Never burn any additional materials inside the gas fireplace. This can present an additional fire hazard as well as risk clogging the gas vents with burned-up debris.

Getting Additional Help

Many gas fireplace manufacturers, as well as retailers, offer expert and certified help in answering cleaning and maintenance questions and concerns. In many cases the information is available free of charge to consumers.