The main benefit of a wood fireplace insert is that it gives you the beauty of an open fireplace with the performance of a state-of-the-art wood stove. The efficiency rating for wood fireplace inserts generally runs around 50 percent [source: Kaufman] -- less than gas inserts but better than traditional fireplaces.
A disadvantage of burning wood is the emissions. Wood smoke is wasted fuel that sticks to your chimney as creosote (which is combustible) or is released as air pollution. Some areas have "burn free" days during which homeowners aren't allowed to use their standard fireplace because of air pollution levels [source: EPA].
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certifies all wood fireplace inserts to ensure that they burn wood efficiently, safely and with less smoke. Sized and installed properly, an EPA-certified wood fireplace insert will also reduce wood consumption and reduce maintenance of the insert and the chimney.
The fireboxes of a wood insert run from 1.6 cubic feet (.04 cubic meters) (running hot, this size will kick out about 65,000 BTUs an hour) to 3.1 cubic feet (.09 cubic meters) (85,000 BTUs per hour). Loaded up with wood, they can burn as long as six to eight hours.
The National Fire Protection Association requires a stainless-steel connector between the insert and the chimney's flue liner, or a connector that runs all the way up the chimney (this setup is easier to clean). In many cases, some internal realignment of the chimney is necessary. Wood insert models can cost up to $2,000; installation and the chimney lining will add several hundred dollars more to the cost [source: Lemoff].
Here are some safety and maintenance tips to get the best out of a wood fireplace insert:
- If you smell smoke, your insert is not working right and could be dangerous.
- Have your insert, chimney and vents professionally cleaned and inspected annually.
- If using manufactured logs, use ones made from 100 percent compressed sawdust.
- Remove ashes regularly, placing them in a covered metal container. Store this on a cement or brick slab, away from wood.
- Burn only dry wood that's been seasoned, sitting dry for at least six months.
- Install a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector in the general vicinity of the fireplace.
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