10 Best Fireplace Inserts | March 2017
- scratch-resistant glass front
- very lifelike flame display
- no timer function
- very easy to turn on and operate
- three brightness settings
- flame pattern is not very realistic
- relocates easily from room to room
- includes all installation parts
- fan can be noisy
- convenient digital thermostat
- infared heat helps maintain humidity
- timer and auto shut-off
- carefully welded trims
- heats up to 400 square feet
- realistic resin logs
- almost no maintenance required
- doesn't produce any smoke or soot
- safety cut-off prevents overheating
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- can be hardwired with junction box
- includes an attachable 3-prong plug
- comes with wall-mounted thermostat
Cleaner, Safer Fire
Tending a real fire is a messy, dangerous business. There's almost no end to the things that can go wrong, and any attempt at fixing a problem is almost guaranteed to get you covered in soot. You have to keep the space clean, maintain the flue, sweep the chimney, and guard against an attack from stray sparks or embers.
Fireplace inserts take just about all the hassle out of the experience with little to no sacrifice in the soothing experience of having a fire in your space. You almost have no choice but to make a little hot chocolate and grab a fluffy pair of slippers in their presence.
Interestingly, very few of the inserts on our list actually deal in real fire. The vast majority of them operates electronically, producing the illusion of a real flame through a variety of clever tricks. Any of the actual fire-bearing inserts on our list utilize small gas burners that are easily replaceable and that burn in and around flame-retardant logs made of resin.
The electric fireplace inserts on our list create the appearance of flames most often by utilizing refracted light. LED, halogen, or incandescent bulbs, usually orange or red in color, sit beneath an artificial log structure. The light they produce has its waves bent and slowed through three-dimensional panes of glass designed to creates the appearance of flames.
Some fireplace inserts will utilize additional variables like water vapor to further distort the light, or even to create the appearance of smoke, though no smoke is present. That's probably the most alluring thing about these fireplace inserts: there is no smoke, there are no fumes.
But what's a fire without the heat, right? Well, these fireplace inserts, in addition to creating the appearance of a fire, also contain metal coils that heat electrically. Behind those coils is a quiet fan that distributes the heat throughout a room, allowing your fireplace insert to double as a space heater. If you want the look of a fire on a hot summer night without the heat, you can simply disable the heat function, and enjoy the show.
Can The Fire Fit?
I recently moved into an apartment that has a lovely faux fireplace, and the first thing my girlfriend and I talked about when we saw it was setting up a fake fire there. The thing about that spot, however, is that it's mostly meant to be a decorative space so it's decidedly shallow.
As you look at all of the fireplace inserts on our list, you'll probably notice that they vary significantly in their depth, as well as their other dimensions. In a space like ours, the deeper fireplace inserts designed to fit into an otherwise fully functional fireplace would stick out and look incredibly strange to any guests.
The brick around our decorative mantle is all white, as well, so there's something just a little off about having an overtly traditional insert on display. In the end, we decided to go with one of the more modern designs, and we were delighted to find out that they worked as space heaters, as well, since there's not any heating infrastructure in the building.
So, as much as you will make your decision from a fundamentally aesthetic perspective, that perspective will inevitably be constrained by the practicality of your space. Take stringent measurements of the fireplace you intend to fill to begin your process of elimination.
Once you've whittled the list down that far, you can ask yourself the easiest question, which is whether you want an electric or a gas insert. Some gas inserts operate by connecting to existing gas lines, but the odds of one such line running to your fireplace are slim. Others utilize canisters, which you need to replace far more often than the bulbs in an electric fireplace.
If you do choose electric, the big balancing act exists between the look of the flames and the amount of heat produced. As you spend more money, you'll get a little more heat and a little more realism. In the mid-range, however, you'll likely have to prioritize one over the other.
Fire For Aeons
If you look around at anything in your house, you can thank fire for it. Without fire, or, more specifically, our burning of fossil fuels for energy, none of the electricity we've enjoyed all our lives would be present. Sure we have some infrastructure for wind, solar, and hydrodynamic power, but these industries still only account for a fraction of our energy consumption.
Fire's an old friend of ours, as well. According to archeological finds in Israel, as well as evidence of contact on flint tools before and after certain points in the carbon dating, most scientists believe early man–specifically hominins, a predecessor to mankind–used flint tools to create and control fire as many as 350,000 years ago.
The technology behind artificial, electric fire is much more recent. From about the late 1960s onward, the inherent dangers in live pyrotechnics led some concert organizers and stage designers to seek alternative methods of delivering the thrill of the flame to the audience without all the risk. Refracted light did the trick, and it looked alright from a distance, but rather cheap up close.
Advances in the physics of refraction, as well as an integration of multiple colors of LEDs, has given the market an artificial fire so convincing that it can live and work beautifully in the home.