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Best Wood Burning Fireplace Insert

By Lawrence Macmillan October 25, 2021

Wood burning fireplace inserts combine charm, an old-style heat, and if you include wood pellets in your definition of wood (Spoiler Alert – we do), they can give you great modern control too.

But there are moves away from wood burning fireplace inserts towards the infinitely more controllable and in some regards more economical gas burning fireplace insert. Certainly, in terms of convenience of shopping and supply, you’ll find many more gas inserts available these days than you will wood burning ones.

That’s the result of a fairly natural market shift over time, with the more controllable heat source winning more and more of the market and becoming the conventional “norm.”

With that in mind, we intend to commit a little heresy right here on this page.

Despite the title of the piece, we’re going to mix and match you. We’ll absolutely show you the best, most effective, most attractive, and most economical wood burning fireplace inserts available on today’s market.

But because of the growing move towards gas burning fireplace inserts, we’re going to give you just a hint of some of the best of those too, so you can make your mind up based on long-term potential. You may well end up going for one of the wood burning fireplace inserts – after all, that’s why you came here and they really do have something special about them.

But maybe – jusssst maybe – you might find temptation to come to the gassy side. We don’t exactly have cookies, but we do have vastly controllable heat-sources and relatively good economy figures to tease you away from the wood.

Want to take a look?

In a hurry? Here’s our top pick.

Comfortbilt HP22i Pellet Stove Insert

Yep – we went with a pellet stove insert, rather than whole wooden logs. Why?

Mostly because of the 21st century convenience factor that the Comfortbilt HP22i insert brings to your room and your lifestyle.

One of the big disadvantages with hardcore log-powered wood burning fireplace inserts is that you have to build, build, build that fire every time you want to be warm.

The ComfortBilt HP22i Pellet Stove Fireplace Insert is based on the standard free-standing HP22 free-standing pellet stove, but translates it into the traditional styling of a fireplace insert.

That means you get a certified 50,000 BTUs per hour output – enough to heat a room up to 2,800 square feet in size. But besides that, you get wood-heat that’s controllable, with five power settings and 18 hours of burn at the lowest setting.

You get the certainty of EPA certification for emissions, too, and a room blower that will help you deliver the heat to the room in even waves, so there are no sudden cold spots.

Add in a 37 pound capacity hopper, an easy-clean ash container, and a year’s warranty on the insert, and what you have is a fireplace insert that gives you the kind of heat you expect of a wood burning fireplace insert, but with lots of 21st century convenience and innovation thrown in.

Pros

  • 50,000 BTUs per hour is enough to heat a large room
  • Five control settings, including 18 hours of slow burn, give you the heating you want
  • A powerful room blower means you get even heat throughout the room
  • A large chopper capacity means you’re not constantly refilling just to keep the room warm
  • A 1-year warranty means you can use the insert without any worry

Cons

  • You need a cavity of at least 24.5” high, 18” deep, and 21” wide to fit the HS22i

Ashley Hearth AW1820E

Of course we wouldn’t leave you without an old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness, 100% log burning fireplace insert. What do you take us for?

The Ashley Hearth AW1820E can take logs up to 18 inches long, which is useful given that log bundles are available in a variety of lengths.

There’s some solid cast iron involved in the build of the Ashley Hearth, so not only does it give you real log-burning heat, it has that sense of old-fashioned solidity you remember from wood burning fireplaces from your childhood.

You can get enough heat out of the Ashley Hearth to heat a room up to 1,800 square feet. With a ceramic glass window, you can see the logs burn, and you also get a large hearth surround here, with a spring-loaded auto-adjustment, so it’s easier to install than many on the market.

What’s more, it’s blocks ahead of some wood burning fireplace inserts in terms of its heat efficiency – at 75%, you’re getting some pretty minimal wastage from a log burning fire.

Pros

  • It’s a true log burning fireplace insert, for that old-fashioned wood heat
  • It will heat a room up to 1,800 square feet
  • It’s easier to install than many wood burning fireplace inserts on the market

Cons

  • The firebox is pretty small, so you may well miss out on some of the flame-watching action

Vogelzang Deluxe Wood Burning Insert with Vent Kit

If you like the heat action of the Ashley Hearth, but you’re looking for something a little different, the Vogelzang Deluxe may have your finger on its “Buy” button.

Like the Ashley Hearth, the Vogelzang Deluxe takes logs up to 18 inches in length, and gives you enough heat to warm a room some 1,800 square feet in size. So far, so good, so similar.

Where the Vogelzang Deluxe comes into its own though is that where the Ashley Hearth has the full-on heavy cast iron you know from fireplaces of decades past, the Vogelzang is all about the stainless steel – which is lighter, cleaner, and allows for the use of a vent kit and a 150 CFM blower, to give you waves of even heat across the room.

One thing to remember about the Vogelzang Deluxe is that if you’re looking for a wood burning fireplace insert for a mobile home, this is not your option. It’s fundamentally unsuited to that usage, to the extent that you can’t install it in a mobile home. It’s not a huge thing unless it applies to you, but it’s worth going into the buying process with your eyes open.

Pros

  • It can heat a room up to 1,800 square feet
  • It comes with a dent kit and a 150 CFM blower to give you even heat distribution
  • It takes real logs up to 18 inches long

Cons

  • It’s not suitable if you happen to have a mobile home

So much for our three favorite wood burning fireplace inserts – gold, silver, and bronze, right?

You came here for the wood burning insert content, and that’s cool, but we promised you a little gas burning temptation too. Here are our favorite gas burning fireplace inserts – just for your consideration. Just… in case…

Empire Tahoe Deluxe 36" Direct-Vent NG Millivolt Fireplace

The Empire Tahoe gas fireplace insert comes from a company with a strong reputation in the field, but we’re not about to tell you it can heat as high or as wide as any of the models you’ve seen so far. You’re looking at a thermal output of 20,000 BTUs per hour – which sounds like, and is, a huge drop from the likes of our list-leader with its 50,000 BTUs per hour.

Space-wise, you’re looking at evenly heating around 1,000 square feet of room. That’s still significantly more than you need for what’s judged as an ‘average’ room – anything over 15,000 BTUs per hour should do the job for you if you have standard sized rooms.

The gas option gives you instant ignition, and near instantaneous heat – if you’ve been out shoveling snow and you come in frozen, you’re going to feel the appeal of that instantaneous, Harry Potter heat, for sure.

The ‘NG’ in the title denotes that the Empire Tahoe runs on natural gas – though if you have propane or prefer it, there’s a version that can give you all the gas heat you want on propane too.

One of the special joys of the Empire Tahoe is that it has a depth of just 16 inches. That means you can use it in some shallow, shallow spaces, which makes it pretty darned versatile compared to plenty of both gas and wood burning fireplace inserts on the market.

And you can also directly vent it either behind or above, so again, it’s the puppy that came to play, and it wants to fit into your family or your lifestyle.

If you want to rock the ultimate control, you can even get a remote control for this model too, though a little irritatingly, that’s not supplied as standard with the unit.

You’re also going to need to buy a screen or a door set to be absolutely sure of safety with the Empire Tahoe – and again, that might feel irritating because it’s not supplied as standard.

Overall though, it’s a relatively low-cost option that brings the heat, delivers efficiency levels over 80%, and is keen to fit into your space and make you happy.

Pros

  • It can heat a room to 1,000 square feet
  • It’s available in natural gas or propane options
  • It fits easily into narrow spaces, increasing your choices
  • It can vent at the top or the rear for extra versatility

Cons

  • Some things you might expect to be supplied as standard, like a remote control and a screen or door set are available only as extras, so the price goes up.

ProCom 29 Inch Vent-Free Dual Fuel Firebox Insert FBNSD28T Gas Fireplace

Like some of our leading wood burning fireplace inserts, the ProCom 29-inch vent-free is all about giving you both power and control.

A maximum heat output of 26,000 BTUs per hour is enough to keep you toasty even in larger rooms, up to 1,350 square feet, and thermostatic control cycles mean you can easily maintain the heat level you want.

Assisted ignition means you can get warm in a hurry, and oh yeah, the important thing – this is a dual fuel fireplace insert, so you can switch from natural gas to propane and back at the twist of an extremely neat patented valve.

Heat, power, and the dual fuel option for rapid, easy room-heating make the ProCom 29-inch worth considering, even if you had your heart set on that whole wood burning glow.

Pros

  •         It’s a dual fuel fireplace insert, so you can use natural gas, propane, or both at the turn of a valve.
  •         26,000 BTUs per hour is enough to warm most traditional rooms
  •         Assisted ignition means you can be warm in a handful of heartbeats

Cons

  •         To make use of its signature feature, you’re paying for both natural gas and propane

Buyer’s Guide

Before buying a fireplace insert, there are a handful of things to consider.

Fireplace size

If you have the money, you can absolutely go out and buy the biggest, the best, the most glorious wood burning fireplace insert in town.

One question – did you measure the space you have?

If you buy blind, you could end up in a world of fireplace insert-returning hell because your insert doesn’t fit into the gap you have. Measure first – it will pay you dividends by narrowing down your list of options to only those that fit the space you have.

Efficiency

There are two ways to think about a fireplace insert. The first is the way everybody thinks about a fireplace insert – the source of heat that makes their lives better when they come in from the cold. The second way is the way that will cost you money every month you run the fireplace.

The way to be both warm and solvent is to choose a fireplace insert with a high efficiency rating. The higher the efficiency, the more heat you get for your money. Even if the initial outlay on a more efficient fireplace insert is higher, every month of use that goes by, you’ll be clawing back money, so it’s worth thinking about.

Heating area

If you have a room that’s 3,000 square feet – well, first, where are you living, Yankee Stadium? But second, if you have a room that size, buying a heater that only effectively heats 1,350 square feet is going to be no good to you. You’re going to need at least two of the same heating area – or you’re going to have to trade up to a gigunda-insert.

Match the size of the room you intend to put the fireplace insert into with the stated heating area of the insert. That means you’ll never be in an unpleasantly cold spot, and you won’t waste energy overheating the space you have.

Installation

Usually, with a modern fireplace insert, the installation process should be straightforward.

But depending on where you put them, how much technology is involved and quite possibly depending on the way your fireplace insert vents, you may need to get a local professional in to help you with the install. It’s important to think about this in terms of potential addition to your purchase costs, but also, first and foremost, safety.

In most cases, the installation is very simple and straightforward. No fireplace insert is a bargain if it’s going to be dangerous, so never hesitate to get a professional in if you even suspect the amount of installation is going to take you out of your technical comfort zone.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Wood Burning Fireplace Inserts Economical?

Some can be – it’s usually a case of checking their individual efficiency ratings and room heating areas. But check how much control you have, too. Log burning fireplace inserts give you little by way of control, whereas pellet burning inserts can give you different modes, thermostatic control, and controlled slow burns, to regulate the heat you get for your pellet-dollars.

How Do I Measure For A Wood Burning Fireplace Insert?

The space you have available is, as you’d expect, a matter of the length and height of your fireplace space. But it’s also important to check the depth of the space you have available, because wood burning fireplace inserts are available in a range of depths to suit a variety of spaces.

Getting this wrong will not only mean your insert won’t necessarily connect correctly, it could give you issues with how and where you vent the insert. Also, if you get it wrong and your insert sticks out into the room too far, it’s not going to be an insert anymore, so much as a weird-looking feature.

Always measure the available depth before you choose a wood burning fireplace insert.

Should I Only Be Looking At Log Burning Fireplace Inserts?

That depends on whether you feel that only log burning fireplace inserts will give you the experience and the warmth you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for a specific nostalgic effect, then wood burning fireplace inserts are the way to go. If you’re looking for economy, control and a higher heat output, it’s worth considering wood pellet burning fireplace inserts.

These can give you the sensation of burning wood, but can give you a lot more control, instant ignition rather than having to set and lay the fire, remote and thermostatic control, and often, a higher fuel efficiency than traditional log burning inserts.


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