A masonry fireplace can be a drain on your home's heating resources. It may seem counter-intuitive, but building a roaring fire in a masonry fireplace can actually increase your heating bill. The amount of warmth created doesn't compensate for the draft produced which draws warm air into the firebox and sends it up the chimney.
If you don't like these associated costs, it can cost quite a bit to have your masonry fireplace remodeled to be energy efficient. A simpler solution is to purchase a fireplace insert for anywhere from $900 to $2,100. A fireplace insert is just what it sounds like. It's a self-contained unit that inserts into your existing masonry fireplace. It is designed to be energy efficient and to control draft in a way that puts your fireplace to work for you instead of against you. You can install it yourself, or have it installed for under $300.
A fireplace insert can allow you to still burn wood in your fireplace. It just puts that heat to better use. Some inserts need to be removed in order to have the chimney swept and cleaned. Since the inserts can weigh upwards of 400 pounds, this can be quite a chore and is best left to the professional chimney sweep. This may seem like more trouble than it's worth and may even encourage you to delay having your chimney cleaned. That's dangerous!
With a little work, you can find a fireplace insert that can remain in place while the chimney is being cleaned. This requires a stainless steel pipe that runs from the insert all the way up the chimney. It may also require accessories such as a blower and a catalytic combustor. So the hassle is increased up front, but the maintenance down the road is lessened.
Perhaps, though, you're tired of the hassle of wood fires. Gathering or buying wood, storing it, cleaning up the ash, and risking a chimney fire may seem more like hard work and less like a ruggedly romantic lifestyle these days. In that case, an insert is the perfect answer to switch your fireplace from wood burning to gas.
A gas fireplace insert consists of a gas "log" or "logs" installed in a steel or cast iron heat exchanger. Some units will also have blowers to control the draft, making sure that the fire burns hot and the fumes are fully exhausted.
Gas fireplace inserts can output anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 BTUs at over 80% efficiency. That makes them a low cost as well as an eye-catching alternative to the traditional wood fire.
Add to that the complete ease of use. Starting a fire is simply a matter of flipping a switch or pressing a button. Many gas inserts come with a remote control so you don't even have to get off the couch to press that button! For even more control, get an insert with a wall-mounted thermostat. You can set it to the temperature you want and let the appliance control the size of the fire to accommodate that need.
Gas fireplace inserts are quite safe. But as an added precaution, you may want to install a carbon monoxide detector nearby. This will give you the peace of mind that the unit is working properly.