What is a Fireplace Insert vs. A Fireplace

Curling up by a crackling fire in the winter months is enjoyable, but you may be surprised to learn that traditional wood-burning fireplaces are not as efficient as they are often portrayed. To get that same look and feel, consider upgrading to a wood-burning or pellet fireplace insert. 

A fireplace is the focal point of many homes and a favorite gathering place for families, so why not make it as functional and effective as possible? Especially if you live in an older home with a traditional wood-burning fireplace, inserts are the perfect way to transform the fireplace into something you’ll actually use on a regular basis. Read on to find out the differences between a fireplace and a fireplace insert and to see which is best for you.

Explore Forge & Flame wood fireplace inserts and pellet inserts to elevate the ambiance in your home and bring warmth to your space.

What Is A Fireplace Insert?

The easiest way to think about the difference between a fireplace versus an insert is whether or not you are working with an existing fireplace. A fireplace insert slides into an already built-out traditional fireplace. These inserts can still use regular wood, wood pellets or gas.

Due to their convenience and ease of use, they are a great way to repurpose an underutilized traditional fireplace while maintaining the same charm and ambiance. When you use a traditional fireplace, you often feel the comforting heat right at the opening, enjoying the warmth as you stand nearby. However, what you may not realize is that a significant amount of the already heated air from your room is being drawn up the chimney as the fire pulls in air to keep burning. This leads to heat loss and inefficient heating.

Installing a fireplace insert can transform your fireplace into an efficient heat source. A fireplace insert plugs the gap, preventing heat from escaping up the chimney and ensuring that more warmth stays in your home. Not only does this make your heating more effective, but it also helps reduce energy costs. 

With a fireplace insert, you can enjoy a cozy, warm home while maximizing the efficiency of your heating system.

What Is A Fireplace?

Traditional fireplaces are wood-burning heat sources often made of stone or brick and topped with an ornamental mantel. The use of fireplaces can be traced as far back as the Stone Age when pits were dug out in caves, and became a key component of homes for heat, light and cooking. 

Numerous advancements in cooking and heating have made the traditional fireplace change from a functional necessity to a cozy place to relax. There’s something nostalgic and comforting about seeing the flames, hearing the crackling of the fire and enjoying the warmth of a wood-burning fireplace. Contemporary and convenient options for fireplace inserts are perfect for creating ambiance, warmth and a decorative focal point in the home.

Get to know Forge & Flame and how sustainable heat can bring comfort and peace of mind to your home.

Types of Fireplace Inserts

Before installing a fireplace insert, you’ll want to make sure you understand the types available to you and the pros and cons of each.

If you are starting with a wood-burning fireplace, any insert you choose will provide better heat output and convenience; it’s just a matter of which will best fit your needs. The options available on the market today include electric, gas, pellet and wood-burning fireplace inserts. Let’s take a look at each one in depth to help you determine which one is right for you!

Wood-Burning Fireplace Insert

For those who still want to burn real wood in their fireplace but with increased efficiency, a wood-burning insert might be the option for you. Like traditional wood fireplaces, a wood fireplace insert emits a warming, crackling burn while extracting the most heat from the fuel, lowering costs and increasing burn time. In fact, a wood-burning insert can heat a home for up to eight hours whereas traditional wood fireplaces burn that wood up as fast as you can add it.

Technologies such as Quadra-Fire’s signature Quad Burn technology burn fuel in four stages, burning the wood, exhaust gas, smoke and byproduct for optimal burn times and efficiencies. 

Pellet Fireplace Insert

For those looking to live sustainably without compromising on warmth, consider a wood pellet insert. These inserts are known to boast both high efficiency and heat output by extracting heat from wood pellets. From creation to use, wood pellets are centered around sustainable practices to minimize emissions and minimize wood manufacturing byproducts from landfills.

Moreover, pellet fireplace inserts are simple to use. Simply filling the hopper with pellets allows the unit to do the rest, especially inserts with innovative technology such as a Harman or Quadra-Fire pellet insert.

Electric Fireplace Insert

If you aren’t tied to having authentic flames, electric fireplace inserts provide even greater efficiency, consistent heat output and ultimate convenience. For this option, you don’t need venting (or even an existing fireplace in the case of some models), just an electrical outlet.

However, electric fireplace inserts have limitations. With less heat output than their wood or pellet counterparts, they are designed for homeowners who are looking for convenience and willing to sacrifice warmth and authenticity. Moreover, electricity is often more expensive than biomass fuels, especially in the winter months.

Gas Fireplace Insert

A gas fireplace insert can be set up using propane but most commonly uses a natural gas line in your home. It requires little to no maintenance, but installing it requires professional help to run the gas line from the source.

Gas inserts are known for their high efficiency and consistent, reliable heat, paired with ambiance and aesthetics. While they can effectively warm spaces, for those looking to warm larger spaces, we recommend opting for a pellet or wood insert. 

Feel confident and know what to look for when hiring a professional installer for your fireplace insert or stove.

Cost and Installation Considerations

A key factor to consider in any home improvement project is cost—not just the upfront cost, but also the ongoing cost to operate and maintain the appliance. Expenses such as the price of wood versus wood pellets or maintenance costs like chimney sweeps should also be considered when deciding between options.

With fireplaces and fireplace inserts, the potential long-term cost savings gained by lowering your monthly heating bill can be very exciting, but knowing the specific expenses associated with each option is important to have confidence in your choice.

Fireplace Insert

When installing a fireplace insert in an existing fireplace, your costs can be cheaper overall because you avoid construction costs like drywall or tiling associated with creating a vent in your home. With a fireplace insert, you only have to worry about the cost of the product, installation and the fuel to run it.

Fireplace inserts start at a few thousand dollars and increase depending on the quality and features they offer. Professional installation fees will vary significantly depending on which type of fireplace insert you choose. Electric inserts are the easiest to install and therefore the most affordable, followed by wood or pellet inserts and gas inserts. Don’t forget to factor in maintenance costs when thinking through the total cost of your project, like cleaning and replacing parts.


If you don’t have an existing fireplace, inserts are not an option so you’ll have to start from scratch with a new fireplace. As you might imagine, the costs related to installing a new fireplace can be pricey due to construction costs, including materials, labor and potentially, building permits, especially if you’re creating a custom design. Furthermore, choosing between a wood-burning fireplace or a gas fireplace will greatly impact your up front and long term expenses as you examine the price of gas in your region.

Alternatively, a ventless fireplace can be a great addition to your home and may be a more affordable choice for your needs. These options can cost anywhere from $650 to over $5,000, depending on your exact preferences.

Regardless of which type of fireplace you choose, understanding all the variables, from purchase to maintenance costs, is important when finding the right heating solution for your home.

Discover how the right heating solution can reduce your heating bill

Heating Performance and Efficiency

As a whole, when comparing the heating performance and efficiency of a fireplace insert versus a fireplace, the insert will almost always win. As we’ve mentioned, traditional wood-burning fireplaces are not the most efficient method of heating your home and can create unwanted air pollution. Let’s take a deeper look at the performance and efficiency of both fireplace inserts and traditional fireplaces. We’ll use the standard heating output measure of British Thermal Units (BTUs) when making heat output comparisons. 

Fireplace Insert

The heat output of fireplace inserts will vary based on the type of insert you choose, ranging from 5,000 to 85,000 BTUs. For electric fireplace inserts, you can expect to be at the low end of that range. Gas fireplace inserts will provide slightly more heat output at around 25,000 to 40,000 BTU, and wood fireplace inserts are closer to the 70,000 to 80,000 BTU range.

Because fireplace inserts are a closed combustion system, the amount of fuel that is converted to usable heat is often higher. Wood fireplace inserts, for example, are up to 80% more efficient than their traditional fireplace counterparts. To get the best results in warming your home and minimizing energy waste, work with a professional to determine the type and size of unit that is best for your space.


While they certainly provide warmth and ambiance to your home, traditional fireplaces release only about 10% or less of the heat back into the room. Open fireplaces lose the majority of the heat through the chimney. Drafts pull that warm air up and out through the chimney instead of circulating throughout the room. Fuel consumption is also increased with traditional fireplaces as the firewood will burn more quickly than it does in a closed-box system. 

Learn more about choosing the right wood to burn to have the most heat possible in your space.

Fireplace vs. Fireplace Insert Maintenance

Maintenance requirements will look different depending on the fuel type and whether you have a fireplace or a fireplace with an insert.

Traditional fireplaces require more frequent maintenance due to the build-up of creosote that happens in the chimney. It’s also common for the flue to become cracked, which can lead to larger problems with continued use. Even if you have a lower-maintenance fireplace insert, regular cleaning, and inspection are important to ensure the unit is working to its full extent and will last for years to come.

  • Regular Cleaning: Both inserts and fireplaces will require regular cleaning, whether it’s just cleaning the glass front or scooping out the ash.
  • Component Inspections: Check with a professional about the core components of your fireplace or insert annually to ensure everything is functioning properly, including vents or gas lines.
  • Chimney Sweeping and Other Services: For wood-burning fireplaces, have a professional do a chimney sweep annually to remove deposits and check for any cracks in the flue to prevent soot fires and other damage.
  • Troubleshooting: For any issues that come up throughout the year, your local fireplace professional can provide troubleshooting tips to find the right solution for your problem.

Fireplace vs. Fireplace Insert Environmental Impact

Pellet and wood fireplace inserts are two of the most sustainable options because they extract heat from a renewable fuel—wood. Moreover, as compared to traditional wood fireplaces, biomass fireplace inserts produce minimal pollutants. Traditional wood fireplaces use incomplete combustion, resulting in an inefficient burn and sometimes harmful black smoke, while biomass inserts extract the most heat from the fuel, minimizing emissions and reducing fuel usage.

At Forge & Flame, we take great pride in offering innovative and sustainable heating options and are committed to environmental stewardship in every area of our business. 

Home Design and Aesthetic Considerations

When selecting between a fireplace insert and a traditional fireplace, it’s important to consider the overall design of your home and your unique style preferences. Fireplace inserts offer efficient heating with sleek designs to fit the modern home, or classic and rustic options perfect for the cabin or a farmhouse design.

Fireplace mantels offer a way to customize the design even further by choosing between marble, granite, or wood and adding shelves. Taking it a step further with personal touches like family photos and your favorite home decor customizes your fireplace even more to suit your aesthetic. No matter the style you choose, a fireplace insert is sure to level up the ambiance of your space. 

Stay Warm and Cozy With The Perfect Fireplace Insert For Your Home From Forge & Flame

Finding the perfect fireplace insert ensures not only warmth and ambiance but also elevates the look and feel of your home. Wood and pellet fireplace inserts provide the perfect balance of continuous heat, low air pollution and updated style at an affordable price with little maintenance. Find out which pellet fireplace insert is right for you and discover other factors to consider when shopping for your fireplace insert.

Not sure where to start? Check out our inspiration gallery to see how others are adding warmth to their homes, or visit us in person to work with the professionals directly.

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