The Best Wood-Burning Fireplace Inserts of 2021

Modern wood-burning inserts offer high efficiency without sacrificing the look of a natural fire. Find out how to pick the best option for your home.

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Best Wood Burning Fireplace Inserts

Photo: woodlanddirect.com

Among the types of fireplace inserts available, the natural ambience of wood-burning inserts is hard to beat. Unlike open wood fires, the best wood-burning fireplace inserts offer high efficiency, and often include a number of features that make them almost as easy to live with as gas or electric models. Another benefit is the low environmental impact. Whether you cut your own wood or not, it is a natural, renewable heat source.

Wood-burning fireplace inserts come in many configurations and technically, some are quite complex. Keep reading to find out the features that can greatly affect which is the right model for your home and your needs.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Osburn 1700 Wood Fireplace Insert
  2. RUNNER-UP: Buck Stoves Model ZC21 Wood Stove Insert
  3. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Ashley Hearth AW1820E 1,800 Sq. Ft. Wood Stove Insert
  4. UPGRADE PICK: Osburn Matrix 2700 Wood Fireplace Insert
  5. BEST NON-CATALYTIC: Ventis HEI170 Single Door Wood Fireplace Insert
  6. BEST CONTEMPORARY: Supreme Fusion 18 Wood Burning Fireplace Insert
  7. BEST CLASSIC: Napoleon EPI3T Oakdale Wood Burning Fireplace Insert
  8. ALSO CONSIDER: Vogelzang Plate Steel Wood Burning Insert with Blower

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Wood-Burning Fireplace Inserts

Fireplace inserts of one form or another have been around since the late 19th century. The principle of capturing heat that would otherwise go up the chimney has long made them popular. For many years they have been little more than a steel box with a glass door, inserted in a masonry wall. Modern versions now offer a number of valuable performance advances which are detailed below.

Catalytic vs. Non-Catalytic

A catalyst, also known as a catalytic combustor or catalytic insert, is not unlike the device found in most vehicle exhausts. Hot gases pass through a chemical honeycomb and the reaction reduces the heat necessary for full combustion. On average the fuel burns close to 80 percent more efficiently. However, inserts with catalytic combustors tend to be more expensive. Also, the units do wear out, though a 10-year life is a reasonable expectation.

According to one leading manufacturer, around 80 percent of stoves and wood-burning fireplace inserts are non-catalytic. Though efficiency is lower, it still tops 70 percent on average, helped by a combination of preheated air, improved gas flow, and firebox insulation.

EPA Approved

Most new wood-burning fireplace inserts comply with EPA certification that reduce the amount of particles released into the air to under 2 grams per hour (g/h). In high concentrations, airborne pollutants can cause respiratory problems. Fireplaces that comply can carry a label stating they are EPA certified.

Although manufacturers of the best wood-burning fireplace inserts work hard to comply with the strict limits of certification, it’s actually a legal standard set for wood heaters. Somewhat oddly, fireplaces do not fall within the same category as wood heaters.

As a result, there is a secondary EPA-qualified rating. These fireplaces are limited to 5.1 grams per kilogram of wood burned. It is a far less stringent standard, and we would tend to recommend EPA-certified fireplaces because they are almost invariably more efficient. Still, both are legal.

Size and Performance

Wood-burning fireplace inserts are often used to replace an open fire in a masonry wall. Though fitting requirements will have an impact, physical size will be an important consideration to make sure a new insert fits the opening and performs satisfactorily.

The same is true of new installations. It can be difficult to assess suitability just by looking at photographs and dimensions, so making a simple template from cardboard can provide a useful guide.

Two figures are usually given for performance. The first is BTUs (British Thermal Units) which specify maximum heat output. Various charts are available that compare BTUs to square footage, but results vary. Fireplace manufacturers usually also give an approximate coverage area in square feet.

Features

A number of features make wood-burning inserts more efficient or easier to maintain.

  • A wood-burning fireplace insert with a blower (or a fan) will suck in cool air near the bottom and blow warm air back into the room, assisting circulation and warming the room more quickly. Many inserts have these included, but they may be an extra cost option.
  • An air wash system may be fitted. This is a clever trick where the air used for combustion flows along the inside surface of the glass, preventing soot buildup and keeping it clean and clear.
  • Several models have push-button ignition systems fitted as a standard feature, so no more newspaper or fire lighter cubes would be needed.
  • Decorative door trim—in brass, gold, nickel pewter, etc.—may be offered, but usually involves additional expense.

Wood Burning Inserts vs. Gas Inserts

Choosing between a wood-burning and gas insert can be a challenge. The following points can help guide the decision to figure out the best solution.

  • Ambience. In terms of ambience, there really is nothing to compare with a real log fire.
  • Maintenance. A gas insert doesn’t produce soot, and doesn’t require regular cleanup like a wood-burning insert. However, an annual inspection is recommended.
  • Heat control. The output from gas inserts is much more manageable. Heat and flame intensity can often be controlled via remote, and a few can even integrate with smart- home systems.
  • Pollution. Gas is cleaner burning and although it is a fossil fuel, it produces less air pollution than burning wood. That said, modern wood-burning inserts that comply with the latest EPA certification produce very low particulate levels.
  • Placement. Some gas inserts are flue-less, and unlike wood-burning inserts, they can (in theory) be installed anywhere in the house without the need for a chimney. However, these need safety systems that shut them down in case toxic fumes reach harmful levels. As a result, some areas restrict their use.
  • Installation expense. According to the contractor pricing site HomeAdvisor, a gas fireplace is around 60 percent more expensive to install than the equivalent wood- burning insert fireplace.
  • Fuel expense. Prices of logs and gas can fluctuate dramatically. However, those with the acreage for a consistent log supply can obviously realize significant savings.
Best Wood Burning Fireplace Inserts Options

Photo: woodlanddirect.com

Our Top Picks

Having had the opportunity to learn about the features that can be found on the best wood-burning fireplace inserts, it’s now time to look at real-world examples. The following products have been chosen to represent a range of some of the best options. Each has been assigned a category so you can quickly identify the ones most suitable for your needs.

Best Overall

The Best Wood Burning Fireplace Inserts Option: Osburn 1700 Wood Fireplace Insert
Photo: woodlanddirect.com

Personal taste and required heating area have such a big impact on choice that it’s almost impossible to pick a single best wood-burning fireplace insert that will work for everyone. However, the Osburn 1700 offers a high-quality, medium-size heating solution that will suit a wide variety of different needs.

The unit is relatively compact so it won’t overpower modest-size rooms. It is also suitable for installation in most existing open fireplaces. Its 65,000-BTU output will warm spaces up to 1,800 square feet, with efficiency rated at 78 percent. Add a firebox capacity of 1.9 cubic feet, and it can be loaded up and left for hours at a time.

The ceramic glass offers good heat transfer and is kept clean by an internal air wash system. The included blower helps push warm air into the room, heating the space more rapidly. A brushed nickel door overlay is a decorative option.

Product Specs

  • BTUs: 65,000
  • Heating area: 500 to 1,800 square feet
  • Burn time: Up to 6 hours

Pros

  • High-quality build
  • Particle emissions of just 1.26 g/h
  • Blower included

Cons

  • Options are all an extra cost


Runner-Up

The Best Wood Burning Fireplace Inserts Option: Buck Stoves Model ZC21 Wood Stove Insert
Photo: woodlanddirect.com

The ZC21 wood-burning fireplace insert from Buck Stoves is primarily designed for situations where an existing masonry fireplace is not present. It is ideal for new builds and remodeling. Thanks to the way the heat is contained within the unit, it is also safe for use in prefabs and mobile homes.

This is a non-catalytic insert resulting in a lower efficiency of 70 percent. A BTU rating of 28,901 is also significantly lower, but while maximum heating area is quoted at 1,800 square feet, in reality this model is designed for smaller homes, guest houses, etc. Firebox capacity is 1.6 cubic feet. Emissions are 1.7 g/h.

A blower is available as an option, but at an extra cost. The standard black door is also available in gold or pewter.

Product Specs

  • BTUs: 28,901
  • Heating area: Up to 1,800 square feet
  • Burn time: Up to 4 hours (estimated, no manufacturer figures available)

Pros

  • Ideal for new builds or remodeling
  • Approved for mobile homes and prefabs

Cons

  • Blower extra
  • Non-catalytic


Best Bang For The Buck

The Best Wood Burning Fireplace Inserts Option: Ashley Hearth AW1820E 1,800 Sq. Ft. Wood Stove Insert
Photo: amazon.com

Ashely Hearth produces a range of gas, pellet, and wood-burning fireplace inserts that are popular for their value for money. The AW1820E is primarily designed for replacement of existing masonry fireplaces. There is an automatic spring-loaded adjustment for ease of installation, and a large faceplate surround seals the opening.

Efficiency is quoted at 75 percent, and its 69,000 BTU output is impressive. A figure isn’t given for particle emissions, but the unit is EPA certified. Maximum log length is 18 inches, but the firebox is relatively shallow, with a capacity of 1.15 cubic feet. As a result, the quoted burn time may be optimistic.

An air wash system helps keep the glass clean, and the cast-iron door has a cool-touch handle. A two-speed blower is included.

Product Specs

  • BTUs: 69,000
  • Heating area: Up to 1,800 square feet
  • Burn time: Up to 6 hours

Pros

  • Easy installation
  • Blower included
  • Comparatively low price

Cons

  • Modest firebox capacity


Upgrade Pick

The Best Wood Fireplace Inserts Option: Osburn Matrix 2700 Wood Fireplace Insert
Photo: woodlanddirect.com

Built to the brand’s usual excellent standards, the Osburn Matrix 2700 offers a high-performance heating solution. It is intended to replace existing masonry fireplaces, but it’s important to check minimum dimensions as this is quite a large unit.

Specifications are impressive. The maximum heat of 80,000 BTUs is enough to provide comfortable warmth for 2,200 square feet of space. Firebox capacity is a huge 2.5 cubic feet, so even with the high output, the Osburn Matrix 2700 has a burn time as long as 8 hours. Efficiency is 74 percent, and particle emissions are the lowest in its class at just 1.14 g/h. A blower is included.

It is an attractive unit, but it will cost extra if a faceplate is required to blank off the previous fireplace opening.

Product Specs

  • BTUs: 80,000
  • Heating area: Up to 2,200 square feet
  • Burn time: Up to 8 hours

Pros

  • Excellent construction quality
  • High performance for larger spaces
  • Long burn time

Cons

  • Faceplate costs extra
  • Not for shallow fireplaces


Best Catalytic

The Best Wood Burning Fireplace Inserts Option: Ventis HEI170 Single Door Wood Fireplace Insert
Photo: walmart.com

The Ventis HEI170 is another wood-burning fireplace insert intended to replace masonry fireplaces in many average-size homes. What sets it apart is its high performance and efficiency, which are at unusual levels for a non-catalytic model.

Output of 65,000 BTUs is very competitive for a relatively compact model like this, but 78 percent efficiency is outstanding for an insert without a catalyst. This is partly due to a stainless steel airflow management system that improves combustion. The firebox capacity of 1.8 cubic feet helps obtain a realistic maximum burn time of up to 6 hours. It comes with particle emissions of 1.26 g/m, which is also impressively low.

A blower can be provided. A choice of faceplate sizes is also offered. However, it is a little frustrating that both cost extra.

Product Specs

  • BTUs: 65,000
  • Heating area: Up to 1,800 square feet
  • Burn time: Up to 6 hours

Pros

  • Excellent performance for its size
  • Secondary air system improves combustion
  • Competitive price

Cons

  • Faceplate and blower cost extra


Best Contemporary

The Best Wood Burning Fireplace Inserts Option: Supreme Fusion 18 Wood Burning Fireplace Insert
Photo: woodlanddirect.com

The Supreme Fusion 18 has smooth lines, hidden hinges, and a low-profile handle that make it ideal for a contemporary setting. While it can be used as a straight replacement for a masonry fireplace, variable fitting options mean it also suits remodels.

Output performance is an impressive 75,000 BTUs, so we are a little surprised that the maximum area quoted is only 1,500 square feet. Firebox capacity is 1.8 cubic feet, which is competitive, but the Supreme Fusion 18 benefits from adjustable air control which can offer longer burn time than many rivals. Efficiency is rated at 75 percent, and particle emissions are 1.9 g/m.

An unusual addition is a barbecue grill that sits inside the firebox. Though not intended for regular cooking, it does provide an alternative when the weather is poor or if there is a power outage.

Product Specs

  • BTUs: 75,000
  • Heating area: 1,500 square feet
  • Burn time: Up to 8 hours

Pros

  • Sleek contemporary appearance
  • Variable burn-rate control
  • Barbecue grill

Cons

  • Emissions are within EPA limits, but higher than some


Best Classic

The Best Wood Burning Fireplace Inserts Option: Napoleon EPI3T Oakdale Wood Burning Fireplace Insert
Photo: woodlanddirect.com

In a bygone era, cast iron fireplaces with bright enameled fronts were considered highly fashionable. The Napoleon EPI13T revives that style, but with all the convenience and efficiency of a modern wood-burning fireplace insert. A rear roller and large leveling screws assist with installation into an existing masonry fireplace.

The insert is rated for a maximum of 55,000 BTU, heating an area of up to 1,500 square feet. There is a 1.8 cubic foot firebox, which is a reasonable capacity. However, given an efficiency rating of 72 percent, we are unsure about the claimed 8-hour burn time. Particle emissions are not provided, though the Napoleon EPI3T is certified to the latest EPA standard. It can safely be installed in prefabs, but it’s not recommended for mobile homes.

A choice of black or majolica brown fronts is offered, and a blower is included. It’s a style that will appeal to many, but it does require a significant investment.

Product Specs

  • BTUs: 55,000
  • Heating area: Up to 1,500 square feet
  • Burn time: Up to 8 hours

Pros

  • Classic enamel-style design
  • Easy installation
  • Prefab approved

Cons

  • Performance is modest for the money


Also Consider

The Best Wood Burning Fireplace Inserts Option: Vogelzang Plate Steel Wood Burning Insert with Blower
Photo: amazon.com

While the Vogelzang wood-burning fireplace insert didn’t qualify for any of our top awards, it is still worthy of consideration by those looking for a relatively straightforward installation to replace a standard masonry fireplace.

For a budget model, specification is very competitive. Output of 69,000 BTUs provides ample warmth for an area of up to 1,800 square feet. A firebox of 1.8 cubic feet is typical of midrange inserts, as is a burn time of 6 hours. However, efficiency of 65.5 percent, while far better than an open fire, is somewhat low for a wood-burning insert. It does comply with EPA certification in terms of particulate emissions, though no figures are given.

The wood-effect handle is a nice touch, though the style and construction is perhaps best described as functional. A blower is part of the package and, unusually, the faceplate is included in the price.

Product Specs

  • BTUs: 69,000
  • Heating area: Up to 1,800 square feet
  • Burn time: Up to 6 hours

Pros

  • Modern efficiency at a modest price
  • Faceplate and blower included

Cons

  • Plain appearance


Our Verdict

The Osburn 1700 comes from a company with a long-standing reputation for quality and offers the average user a very capable heating solution while remaining comparatively affordable. The Ashley Hearth model has similar performance for a good deal less money. However, materials are not of the same standard, and its smaller capacity means you’ll be putting logs in more often.

How We Chose the Best Wood-Burning Fireplace Inserts

As someone who has renovated two sizable properties with wood-burning fireplace inserts, I have direct experience installing them. The first thing I look for is construction quality. Manufacturer reputation also has a big impact because durability is of major importance. A wood-burning fireplace insert needs to last a minimum of 10 years, and it will experience considerable heat stress. The firebox needs to be extremely robust, so a substantial steel or cast-iron structure is necessary.

Heat output and recommended heating area are also key considerations. All the models selected are capable of heating substantial spaces. Visual appeal is highly subjective, so a range of styles has been chosen.

While the energy savings offered mean that wood-burning fireplace inserts are an economical long-term investment, the initial investment is still considerable. Maximum value usually comes from models that include a blower in the purchase price.

FAQs

At this point in our wood stove insert review, there has been a wealth of information shared to help you pick the best model for your needs. However, it is a complex subject and during our research a number of questions cropped up quite frequently. We have provided answers to some of the most popular questions below.

Q. Is it safe to use a wood-burning insert?

When properly installed, wood-burning inserts are very safe and are much safer than an open fire. However, the glass and surround can get hot so some care is needed, particularly if there are young children around.

Q. Do wood-burning fireplace inserts need electricity?

Unlike electric fireplaces, basic models do not need electricity. However, those with fans or advanced controls need a standard household supply.

Q. What is the difference between a wood stove and a fireplace insert?

It can be confusing. Traditionally a wood stove is freestanding. A fireplace insert is built into a masonry wall. However, the terms “wood stove insert” and “wood-burning stove insert” are also used. In our view, appearance and performance are more important than what it is called.

Q. Can a wood-burning fireplace insert heat my entire house?

It depends on the layout of the house, the level of insulation, and the efficiency of the insert. Some can heat up to 3,000 square feet of open space, but any barriers (doors, for example) will reduce how far the heat can travel.

Q. Do fireplace inserts increase home value?

According to research by the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders), fireplaces are one of the most desirable features in a new home. A fireplace insert is easier to keep clean and more efficient than an open fire, so there’s every chance it will increase the value of a home.

Q. How long does a wood-burning fireplace last?

Somewhere between 10 and 20 years is the average lifespan, though some components are replaceable so it could last even longer.