Fireplace Inserts

   / Fireplace Inserts #1  

N80

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I have a log cabin where I spend most of my weekends. I built it myself from a kit with the help of friends. It is about 20 years old and when we built it we could not afford to put in a fireplace. It has had central heat and air for about 12 years. Now we have the money to put in a fireplace.

The purpose of this fireplace has more to do with enjoying a fire than as a primary heat source.

One contractor was a no go and we're having to go to court to get our money back. I posted that saga in another thread.

The contractor we are talking to now is legit but wants $30,000 to put in a full masonry fireplace. Inflation I suppose.

We are able to afford that but it just seems extremely high to me and I am inclined not to do it.

Some folks in the other thread suggested an insert as did the contractor. He can do that without hiring a specialized mason which is a big part of the cost I'm assuming. That and the fact that we're in the middle of nowhere and it is hard to get carpenters and masons to drive out to us.

Anyway, in the past I have lived in a couple of homes and apartments with fireplace inserts. To be clear, I'm not talking about a wood stove insert. I'm talking about a pre-fab metal firebox. Anyway, I did not like the ones we had. They were cheap. The firebrick lining looked fake and did not fit properly. They pinged and rattled when they heated up and cooled down. I am assuming these were low end units but I know nothing about them.

Our desire for a full masonry fireplace is based on those experiences combined with out positive experiences with traditional masonry fireplaces. My current home, which is over 90 years old, has four. They all draw great and put out a ton of heat.

So I'm interested in folks experience with fireplace inserts, good, bad and otherwise and would appreciate some guidance here. We have not gotten an estimate from the contractor on one but he implied that it would be much less expensive.
 
   / Fireplace Inserts
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N80

N80

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Just a quick clarification. As mentioned, not looking for a wood stove insert or other closed type insert. We want this to be open like a traditional fireplace.
 
   / Fireplace Inserts #3  

jaxs

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You've answered all your questions. You can get inexpensive fake or expensive but genuine. I've always been happy with free standing cast iron heaters. I even have a Ben Franklin on my patio where the majority have fire rings.
 
   / Fireplace Inserts #4  

Creamer

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Agree with Jaxs - you have answered most of your own questions. I have two fireplaces in my house - one a fieldstone on the main floor and one a brick unit in the basement both are very large and gorgeous and are the focal point of the room. If the is the look you want put one in - they are not cheap especially when you are adding them later.

Both of my fireplaces have inserts in them - closed door with air control and regulation capability. Not sure why you want an open fireplace - too much risk in fact you may have trouble getting insurance at all with an open one - I had difficulties with my insurance company after I had been with them for 7 years - nobody had listed the fireplaces.

I wouldn't want an open fireplace for the following reasons:
  1. Dangerous for sparks to get out
  2. No fire or airflow control to keep it from getting too hot or not hot enough
  3. With no control of fire there is more chance for chimney problems because you cannot control the make-up of your smoke
  4. No keeping inclimate weather out
  5. No keeping animals out - rodents and birds

Having said all those things I wouldn't let my inserts go because I do not have the issues since I learned how to burn wood. I love the wood heat as well. I can load mine up in the morning and come home later in the day and it is still burning, a small fill for the evening and then a large fill for overnight. Ashes are very minimal and light and contained.
 
   / Fireplace Inserts #5  

ultrarunner

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Does local code allow new fireplaces... no longer an option in some places... plus seismic code adds to cost if masonry.

I still see Heatalator fireplaces circa 1980's and a prefab like this was the least expensive option for a real open hearth fireplace
 
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N80

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You've answered all your questions. You can get inexpensive fake or expensive but genuine. I've always been happy with free standing cast iron heaters. I even have a Ben Franklin on my patio where the majority have fire rings.

My question was in regard to various levels of inserts. And after a bit of digging it is not as simple as you suggest. The expensive and genuine part is correct. But there are apparently inexpensive fakes and extremely expensive fakes. I'm seeing open wood burning inserts for $5000+. They look very nice in the pictures and other than the "fire brick" linings very obviously being panels they are hard to tell from a masonry fireplace.

So my question stands: Are higher priced inserts better than the cheap ones like I have experienced? I'm not sure there will be an easy answer to that question or an easy way to find out. And if I were to pay $5-6K on an insert I probably wouldn't be making much of a dent in the estimate for a full masonry unit. And that would leave the question unanswered but moot.

I wouldn't want an open fireplace for the following reasons:
  1. Dangerous for sparks to get out
  2. No fire or airflow control to keep it from getting too hot or not hot enough
  3. With no control of fire there is more chance for chimney problems because you cannot control the make-up of your smoke
  4. No keeping inclimate weather out
  5. No keeping animals out - rodents and birds

I agree that getting an open fireplace is not the most practical or pragmatic decision. And if heat was the only issue then a freestanding wood stove with a pipe exiting through the wall would be the most pragmatic. But my wife and I and our grown kids just enjoy a standard wood burning fireplace. Call it romantic or silly. Whatever.

So I can't defend the decision in practical terms but most of the reasons you cite do not have to be a real issue. Also, insurance is not an issue. It will go up a very small amount.

1. Sparks are something you have to be concerned about. But not much. A good screen, a little common sense and burning the right wood is all that is required. The only real limitation there is that you cannot walk away (leave home) with a roaring fire going. I've been enjoying open fires my entire life and this has never been a real issue.

2. True. No precise control. But anyone who has experience and knows his fireplace (and in this case I do) can easily regulate an open fireplace enough to avoid extremes. As mentioned, our house has 4 fireplaces. All four are extremely well designed and draw very well. I can keep a room quite comfortable. Of course it requires more attention and active participation compared to a stove.........but that's part of what I enjoy.

3. Most chimney issues come from not burning the right kind of wood. My house is nearly a hundred years old. It was my grandparents home so I've known it all my life. The fireplaces were well used all my life. When we moved in we had them inspected. The chimney sweep said they were clean as a whistle and in excellent shape. Knowing how to build a fire and what wood to burn will prevent chimney problems....along with regular inspection.

4. Keeping weather out is no problem with a proper flue. We do not live up north so heat loss is not a big issue.

5. A proper cap keeps critters out. No problem.

Now, if the fireplace I end up is poorly done, draws poorly, has a bad flue or no cap, then yes, these things could be an issue. But any system that is poorly done can cause issues.

Anyway, thanks for indulging my thinking out loud.

I'm not at all convinced about the inserts. Even the expensive ones. Even on the makers website they don't tell you why one insert is $750 and the next one is $6000.

This is all going to come down to whether we can justify the cost for our romantic notions about ambience etc. The only thing I can say is that the cabin will belong to my kids (who helped us build it). They are very attached to it and it will probably stay in the family for at least 2 more generations. In that regard doing things right, even if expensive, might be worth it.
 
   / Fireplace Inserts
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N80

N80

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Does local code allow new fireplaces... no longer an option in some places... plus seismic code adds to cost if masonry.

I still see Heatalator fireplaces circa 1980's and a prefab like this was the least expensive option for a real open hearth fireplace
Local codes will not be an issue.
 
   / Fireplace Inserts #8  

mikester

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Heads up - Your home insurance may require your insert me installed by a WETT certified installer in order to get coverage on your home.

I had a neighbor who ended up removing an existing home built field stone chimney, hearth and insert because nobody would certify it and the insurance gave them an ultimatum.
 
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   / Fireplace Inserts #9  

dodge man

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I’ll throw out some features. Mine is about 20 years old. The doors are not air tight. It does have an outside air draw though. The idea is for it to pull air from outside so it’s not drawing air from your room. Mine would be a lot more efficient if the doors were air tight. Mine is drawing air from my attic but they make it so you can mount a vent on an outside wall.

Mine has a variable speed blower, this moves heat around the box and blows out hot air. Some are passive and just allow natural air flow to circulate heat around the box and out.

There is also the firebox size, some are pretty small, I got one that is bigger.

It seems like most are designed to be run with the doors closed but with mine you can leave them open.

For your use in a cabin that is used part of the time I’d go cheaper.
 
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