A fireplace insert is a unit installed into a pre-existing wood or stone fireplace. Among the types available, those that offer the natural ambience of genuine wood burning are hard to beat. Unlike open wood fires, the best indoor wood-burning fireplace inserts offer high efficiency, and they are safer and easier to maintain. A number of features make them almost as easy to live with as gas or electric models. Another benefit is the low environmental impact. Whether people cut their own wood or not, it is a natural, renewable heat source.
Wood-burning fireplace inserts come in many configurations. Confusingly, they may also be called wood-burning stoves, and some may be technically quite complex. Keep reading to find out the features that can greatly affect which is the right model for a particular home and each individual’s needs.
- BEST OVERALL: Napoleon S20i Wood Fireplace Insert
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Osburn 1700 Wood Insert
- UPGRADE PICK: Napoleon S25i S Series Wood Fireplace Insert
- BEST HIGH-EFFICIENCY: Regency Pro Series Ci2700
- BEST CATALYTIC: Regency Cascades I2500 Wood Insert
- BEST CLASSIC: Napoleon Oakdale EPI3T Wood Burning Fireplace Insert
- BEST WITH BLOWER: Vogelzang Wood Burning Insert
How We Chose the Best Wood-Burning Fireplace Inserts
As someone who has renovated two sizable properties with wood-burning fireplace inserts, the author has direct experience installing them. The first thing to look for is construction quality. Manufacturer reputation also has a big impact because durability is of major importance. A wood-burning fireplace insert must 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 was chosen to suit different decors.
While the energy savings offered mean that wood fireplace inserts are an economical long-term investment, the initial cost is still considerable. Maximum value usually comes from models that include a blower in the purchase price.
Our Top Picks
The following wood-burning fireplace inserts have been chosen to represent a range of some of the best options. Each has been assigned a category so shoppers can quickly identify the ones most suitable for their needs.
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 Napoleon S20i offers a compact, high-quality heating solution that will suit a wide variety of different needs.
The unit is small enough not to overpower modest-size rooms. An output of 65,000 BTUs will warm areas ranging between 800 and 1,800 square feet, and a dual-blower system ensures effective circulation throughout the space. 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 is tougher than tempered glass alternatives and offers better heat transfer. The Napoleon S20i meets Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission standards, though at 2.25 grams per hour (g/h), it is higher than some.
- BTUs: Between 54,127 and 65,000
- Heating area: 800 to 1,800 square feet
- Burn time: 8 hours
- Impressive performance for its size; heats areas of up to 1,800 square feet
- Dual-blower system provides a steady, efficient stream of heat for a cozy feel
- Competitive price compared to similar wood-burning fireplace insert options available
- While this wood-burning fireplace insert satisfies existing EPA requirements, its emissions are relatively high
Get the Napoleon S20i wood-burning fireplace insert at Fireplaces Direct, North Country Fire, Fireside Chimney Supply, or Woodstoves-Fireplaces.
Photo: fireplaces direct.com
The Osburn 1700 will appeal to those on a tighter budget. Despite its competitive price, it is well made and sacrifices nothing in terms of performance. With a minimum fireplace opening width of just 27.5 inches, the Osburn 1700 can fit in relatively small spaces, yet with an output of 65,000 BTUs, it will comfortably heat areas between 500 and 1,800 square feet. Plus, optimum overall efficiency of 78 percent and particle emissions as low as 1.26 g/h make this model among the more environmentally friendly options.
While its firebox capacity is similar to that of competitors, this Osburn model burns through wood more quickly than some. With no blower fitted, it also takes a little longer to warm larger rooms thoroughly.
- BTUs: 65,000
- Heating area: 500 to 1,800 square feet
- Burn time: 6 hours
- Competitive performance at an affordable price compared to similar options
- With low particle emissions, this wood insert provides a cleaner burn
- Offers 78 percent optimum overall efficiency; relatively high compared to other wood-burning fireplaces
- With a relatively rapid burn rate, this insert can go through wood quickly
Get the Osburn wood-burning fireplace insert at Fireplaces Direct, Woodland Direct, or Osburn.
Photo: fireplaces direct.com
Napoleon wood fireplace inserts are known for their excellent build quality and durability. The smooth lines of the S25i balance the traditional and modern, and the fireplace sits well in large spaces with .
Performance is impressive. Maximum output of 70,000 BTUs will effectively warm an area of 2,100 square feet. The large door with its ceramic glass improves both heat transfer and room ambience. A twin-blower system helps spread the warmth quickly. The outstanding feature is the 2.51-square-foot firebox that provides up to 16 hours of burn time. For those who object to refilling a wood-burning insert regularly, this model may be a solution.
The Napoleon S25i has an efficiency rating of 76 percent, and thanks to lean burning, keeps emissions down to just 1.3 g/h. It is difficult to find anything to criticize, though it does require a significant investment.
- BTUs: 70,000
- Heating area: Up to 2,100 square feet
- Burn time: 16 hours
- Clean, modern appearance; this fireplace insert will look great in any home
- Outstanding burn time compared to all other wood-burning fireplace insert options
- Large glass viewing area creates a warm, cozy atmosphere in any room
- Premium price due to the enhanced performance compared to cheaper models
Get the Napoleon S25i wood-burning fireplace insert at Fireplaces Direct, Fireside Chimney Supply, or Woodstoves-Fireplaces.
While traditional fireplaces can sometimes only convert around 20 percent of their fuel into heat, the closed combustion system of a fireplace insert like this one can be as much as 60 to 80 percent efficient. Shoppers looking to heat their home during the cold months could consider this option from Regency Fireplaces, which boasts a heating value efficiency between 74 and 79 percent.
The large ceramic glass viewing area provides both an attractive focal point in the room and excellent heat radiation to help warm up the space without losing too much of the energy up into the fireplace chimney.
- BTUs: 78,000
- Heating area: Unspecified
- Burn time: 14 hours
- Large glass viewing window allows users to see inside easily
- Provides the highest heat output on our list; great for heating large spaces
- High-efficiency model means less heat energy is wasted when used
- Expensive compared to other wood-burning fireplace inserts available on the market
Get the Regency Pro wood-burning fireplace insert at Fireplace and Stove Center.
Regency is a renowned maker of high-quality wood-burning inserts. The Cascades I2500 is the company’s midrange model, combining a stylish, modern appearance with catalytic technology for dramatically reduced emissions of just 1 g/h.
Heat output is 78,000 BTUs, and efficiency of up to 82 percent results in an impressive burn time of as long as 12 hours. Regency notes that the heating area is between 1,000 and 2,200 square feet—perfect for large rooms.
At first glance, pricing seems competitive, but the door, backplate, and fitting kit come at additional cost. These are all necessary items, not extras, so the final price soon mounts. A blower is not fitted, and while a two-speed model is available, this also adds to the total. This makes the Regency Cascades I2500 among the most expensive wood-burning inserts we researched, though to be fair, this is typical of catalytic models.
- BTUs: 78,000
- Heating area: 1,000 to 2,200 square feet
- Burn time: Up to 12 hours
- Digital catalytic temperature monitor helps stove reach maximum burn times and efficiency
- Very low emissions provide a clean burn; long burn time means wood lasts longer
- Expensive up-front cost compared to similar wood-burning fireplace inserts available
Get the Regency Cascades wood-burning fireplace insert at Chadwick & Hacks.
In a bygone era, cast-iron fireplaces with bright enameled fronts were considered highly fashionable. The Napoleon Oakdale EPI3T 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 BTUs, 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 were 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.
- BTUs: 55,000
- Heating area: 1,500 square feet
- Burn time: 8 hours
- Classic enamel-style design provides a rustic look that looks great in most homes
- Rear rollers and large leveling screws make for easy installation
- Approved for installation in prefabs; great for replacing drafty masonry fireplaces
- Performance is modest for the money when compared to similar options
Get the Napoleon Oakdale wood-burning fireplace insert at Woodland Direct, Woodstoves-Fireplaces, or Discount Fireplace Outlet.
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. An output of 69,000 BTUs provides ample warmth for an area of up to 1,800 square feet. Its 65.5-percent efficiency, while far better than an open fire, is somewhat low for wood-burning stoves. 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.
- BTUs: 69,000
- Heating area: 1,800 square feet
- Burn time: Unspecified
- Provides modern efficiency at a modest price compared to other options
- Faceplate and blower included; great at heating up spaces quickly
- Large window offers great view of the burning fire and creates a cozy atmosphere
- Somewhat plain appearance compared to other wood-burning fireplace inserts available
Get the Vogelzang wood-burning fireplace insert at Northern Tool+Equipment.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Wood-Burning Fireplace Insert
Wood fireplace inserts of one form or another have been around since the late 19th century. 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 that maximize the energy from burning wood. These are detailed below.
Catalytic vs. Noncatalytic
A catalyst, also known as a catalytic combustor or catalytic insert, is not unlike the device found in most vehicle exhausts. Hot gasses 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, a catalytic wood fireplace insert tends to be more expensive. Also, the units do wear out, though a 10-year lifespan is a reasonable expectation.
According to one leading manufacturer, around 80 percent of stoves and wood-burning fireplace inserts are noncatalytic. Though efficiency is lower, it still tops 70 percent on average, helped by a combination of preheated air, improved gas flow, and firebox insulation.
Most new wood-burning fireplace inserts comply with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certification that reduces 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 strive 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 British thermal units (BTUs), 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.
A number of features can 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 cost extra.
- 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 door, 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, usually as an 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’s nothing quite like a real wood fire. The fake logs and flames of gas units may be attractive in their own right, but even the best of them cannot duplicate a real 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 flueless, and unlike wood-burning inserts, they can (in theory) be installed anywhere in the house without the need for a chimney. However, gas inserts 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.
You’ve received a wealth of information on wood-burning inserts 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 and vented, wood inserts are very safe—much safer than an open fire, in fact. 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, while 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 the device 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 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?
The average lifespan is somewhere between 10 and 20 years, though some components are replaceable, so it could last even longer.
Why Trust Bob Vila
Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series including “This Old House” and “Bob Vila’s Home Again,” he popularized and became synonymous with “do-it-yourself” home improvement.
Over the course of his decades-long career, Bob Vila has helped millions of people build, renovate, repair, and live better each day—a tradition that continues today with expert yet accessible home advice. The Bob Vila team distills need-to-know information into project tutorials, maintenance guides, tool 101s, and more. These home and garden experts then thoroughly research, vet, and recommend products that support homeowners, renters, DIYers, and professionals in their to-do lists.