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A fire burns in a beautiful old fireplace decorated with the initials "U and V" on the mantle above.

Electric Fireplaces, Inserts, and Wood-Burning Fireplaces: What Buyers Need to Know

Fireplaces add warmth and ambiance to any home. And no matter the type, a fireplace will increase the value of your home.

But when choosing a new fireplace for your home, the type you choose will depend on various factors, such as:

  • Why you want a fireplace;
  • Your budget;
  • The size of your home;
  • The location of your home;
  • The type of home; and
  • Local burning restrictions.

To help you with your buying decision, here’s a comparison of the different types of fireplaces available to homeowners.

Electric Fireplaces

These work like electric space heaters, but with the appearance of a fire. Electric fireplaces have heating elements and blow warm air from vents.


  • The cheapest fireplace choice.
  • Useful for localized heating in a home.
  • Great for smaller homes in the city, such as apartments and condos.
  • Safe for small rooms.
  • Easy on/off switch.
  • No chimney – easy to install.
  • Low-maintenance – only need vent dusting on occasion.
  • Eco-friendly – low emissions, don’t directly pollute.
  • Energy efficient for heating small spaces – 200 to 400 square feet.
  • Can use the flame without heat.
  • Some have timers to save energy.
  • Can use with a remote control.
  • Safe for kids, pets, and small areas since they are cool to the touch.


  • Not a real flame.
  • Doesn’t have the look, smell, and sometimes sound of a real wood-burning fireplace.
  • Not a cost- or energy-efficient heating source for large areas or entire homes.

Gas Fireplaces

These work like gas ovens, burning natural or propane gas to create a real flame spread out over ceramic logs.


  • Real flames.
  • Easy on-off switch and operation.
  • Heat localized areas of your home – blowers can push warm air through your home.
  • Some models come with remote controls.
  • Easy and affordable to install, depending on home’s natural gas line.
  • Natural gas burns clean.


  • Need gas-line hookups.
  • Combustion produces carbon monoxide, a common pollutant and potential health hazard.
  • Require proper ventilation and carbon monoxide monitoring.
  • Need professional installation to ensure it’s up to building safety codes.
  • Need professional inspections and maintenance.

Wood-Burning Fireplaces

These fireplaces are ideal for heating open-concept homes in areas where you can burn firewood.


  • Unmatched ambiance – the classic look and feel of a fireplace.
  • Real flames.
  • Flexible – add-ons and accessories can improve heat and energy efficiency.
  • Firewood is usually plentiful and easy to source – even on your own property.
  • Wood stoves and pellet stoves can be very efficient burners.
  • Can easily cook with a wood stove or fireplace.


  • Most expensive to install, and require a chimney.
  • Need proper ventilation.
  • Fires must be built by hand.
  • Particulate and wood sourcing can lead to greater carbon footprint.
  • Ash and soot must be cleaned regularly.

Fireplace Inserts

If your existing fireplace needs an upgrade, you might want to consider fireplace inserts. A fireplace insert can easily find a home in an existing masonry fireplace, and can burn wood, wood pellets, gas, or run on electricity.

These fireboxes use glass doors for safety and a view of the fire. What’s more, most inserts connect to an existing chimney and flue for easy ventilation.

Free-standing stoves are also considered fireplace inserts when they are vented out of your existing chimney.

Inserts contain and radiate heat back into the room, increasing the efficiency of your old fireplace by up to 70 percent.

Different Types of Fireplace Inserts

Gas and wood inserts in Ottawa come in a variety of sizes and types, including:

  • Freestanding – These inserts are ideal for homeowners with a fireplace alcove large enough to fit a stove and wood or pellets. Since they are freestanding, you can take these inserts with you if you move to a new home.
  • Masonry Stoves – These are built-in fireplace inserts with surrounding material that distributes heat evenly throughout large rooms.
  • Fitted Fireplace Inserts – These are designed to fit into a builders’ opening, creating a seamless built-in fireplace. Unlike stoves, they’re tailored to fit perfectly in a set space.

Sizing an Insert

When sizing an insert, you have to consider the size of your existing fireplace and the heat output.

Measure the height, width, and depth of your fireplace opening to find an insert that will fit. Once you’ve determined the right size, you can look for an insert that has the right heat output for your room.

Generally, heat output is measured in British thermal units (BTUs) per hour. Fireplace inserts typically deliver 30,000 to 85,000 BTUs per hour.

If your fireplace is in a smaller room, opt for a lower heat output value. That being said, if you plan to heat a larger area, choose a fireplace insert with a higher BTU value.

To find the right heat output for your home, consult with a fireplace specialist! These experts assess your home’s insulation, heating sources, and other variables that determine the ideal heat output for your new insert.

Installing an Insert

Unless you have experience installing fireplace inserts, you’re better off leaving this job to the pros, especially if your building codes require a qualified professional installation.

Before installation, you should have your chimney cleaned. Your professional installer may provide this service as part of the installation.

The installer will place a stainless-steel chimney liner into the top of your chimney, feed it down the chimney, and attach it to your insert. This liner will prevent creosote buildup on your chimney flue and exhaust smoke directly outside.

For inserts with blowers, the insert must be wired to your home’s electrical supply. And for gas inserts, a professional will need to hook up the insert to a gas line.

Wood Fireplace Inserts

Wood fireplace inserts are ideal if you have access to plenty of firewood and you want to burn wood as a main heating source for your home.


  • An authentic wood-burning fire.
  • Affordable home heating solution.
  • Will heat your home in power outages.


  • Sourcing, storing, and hauling firewood.
  • Building and tending to fires.
  • Cleaning after every use.

Gas Fireplace Inserts

If you want a convenient, easy-to-use fireplace that doesn’t require much work, gas fireplace inserts are for you.


  • Easy to use—can start, stop, and adjust the heat/flames with a remote control.
  • Low-maintenance.
  • Efficient heat output.


  • The cost of gas.
  • Lacks the ambiance and feel of a wood-burning fireplace.
  • Some can’t be used in power outages.

Can Your Existing Fireplace Support an Insert?

The size of your existing fireplace will determine if it can support inserts available on the market.

Therefore, it’s important to accurately measure the opening of your fireplace (depth from the front to the back, and the back and front height and width) and the distance from the firebox to the mantel.

With these measurements, you can shop around to find an insert that will fit and be supported by your existing fireplace. Some manufacturers also offer decorative surrounds and flashing to match inserts.

What Kind of Venting Can You Install?

Really, it all depends on the size of your chimney, and will also determine the type of insert you can install.

For smaller chimneys, it’s easier to vent gas and pellet inserts. But if you have a lot of chimney space, then a wood fireplace insert will work. Fireplaces that are installed centrally in the home are ideal for venting wood stoves, while fireplaces along exterior walls are ideal for direct venting gas inserts.

Gas fireplace inserts often require direct venting, which can be installed in the chimney. One vent will take fresh inton to the fire while another vent will work as an exhaust.

With an electric fireplace insert, then you won’t have to worry about venting since these don’t create combustion materials that need to be exhausted from the fireplace.


Fireplace inserts come in a variety of designs and styles so you can find one that suits your unique interior décor.

  • Finishes – There’s a wide range of finishes to choose from for a contemporary or traditional fireplace look, including metallic finishes and modern black steel.
  • Viewing Area – The viewing area refers to the amount of flame that you can see in the fireplace insert. If you want a good view of the fire, opt for an insert with a larger viewing area. This will have a glass front and less framing.
  • Bay Windows – While most inserts feature flat fronts, you can find some with bay windows that stick out from the fireplace. Bay windows usually consist of three glass panes that protrude from the fireplace in an angular box shape.
  • Simulated Logs – Gas and electric fireplace inserts can come with simulated ceramic logs for the look of a real wood-burning fireplace. Or, you can find alternatives to logs, such as stones and decorative fire glass.

Additional Features

Fireplace inserts come with various features that will make using them that much easier.

  • Adjustable Flame – This feature allows you to adjust the flame size for both changes in heat output and to improve the visual appearance of the flames.
  • Control System – With the push of a button or the flick of a switch, you can turn gas and electric fireplace inserts on and off. And pellet stoves often come with controls to automatically feed pellets into the firebox.
  • Circulation System – Most fireplace inserts have circulation systems, such as fans, to spread heat throughout the room and home. These systems vary in size and power, so if you want efficient circulation, opt for a larger, more powerful fan/circulation system.
  • Thermostat Controls – Some gas or electric fireplace inserts can hook up to a thermostat, letting you easily control the temperature of the heat output in the room. Simply set a preferred temperature range and the insert will automatically adjust its heat output to maintain the ideal temperature.

Keep these costs and benefits in mind when buying fireplaces. While they all offer warmth and ambiance, you’re sure to find one that suits your home, budget, and lifestyle.