Opt for a gas fireplace insert and set flames ablaze with a flick of a switch.

By Ann Wilson

Gas fireplace inserts are heat-efficient options for homeowners wishing to add an easy-care hearth and for those weary of the log-stacking and ash-hauling chores associated with wood-burning fireplaces.

Essentially, a gas fireplace insert consists of a firebox equipped with a steel or cast-iron surround, a log and burner set, and a decorative faceplate that fills the gap between the insert's surround and the sides of a fireplace opening. Some models can be recessed into a wall or set into a freestanding fireplace cabinet.

Gas fireplace inserts require piping for gas and electric wiring for switches and thermostats as well as proper firebox and flue placement. Due to the complexity of installation and safety concerns, this is a job best left to professionals. Generally, it will cost between $2,000 and $4,000 to purchase and have a gas fireplace insert installed, with prices varying by insert model and difficulty of installation.

Gas Fireplace Insert Options

Available in a range of shapes and sizes, gas fireplace inserts are categorized as vented and vent-free types; your options will depend on your existing fireplace or available space and design preferences.

Direct-vent models are ideal for retrofitting existing fireplaces because their flue systems are designed to hook up to existing chimneys; they can also be installed to vent directly out an exterior wall. Top-vent or B-vent versions also directly vent to the outside but are less efficient than direct-vent options.

Vent-free gas fireplace inserts require no chimney or exterior venting and can be placed into an existing fireplace, a wall, or a freestanding cabinet. They draw oxygen from adjacent rooms and are best run for short periods of time. Look for models with oxygen depletion sensors that automatically switch off burners when a room's oxygen levels become too low.

When shopping for a gas fireplace insert, it's important to know the exact measurements of your existing fireplace opening or the space available for a vent-free version. Know the size of the room you want to heat as warming capacities differ. Evaluate models' efficiency ratings to ensure you get the most efficient model you can afford.

Gas Fireplace Insert Benefits

Switch on a gas fireplace, and you're likely to shun log-fueled versions forevermore. You'll find that gas fireplace inserts eliminate drafts, emit more heat, disperse fewer pollutants, and are much easier to maintain than wood-burning fireplaces. They are simply operated with the flick of a switch or via a handheld remote. Some burners blaze brightly, others glow like smoldering coals, while others let you adjust the height of the flames. Though most are equipped with ceramic logs, some gas fireplace burners set flames flickering amid beds of clear or colored fireproof glass rocks, stacks of smooth-sided river stones, or piles of faux charcoal briquettes.

Take time to compare decorative faceplates, fireplace cabinets, and burner systems. Though functionality trumps form when it comes to fire safety, fireplaces and the flames radiating within are meant to be gazed upon and appreciated for both their calm-inducing vibes and the warmth they produce.

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