Q: Jason – The wife is interested in getting a wood burning insert for the fireplace. We’re regular users of our fireplace and keep a supply of inexpensive hardwoods around. With upcoming increases in electricity costs around here, we thought it was about time that we sunk the $4-5K into a wood burning insert.
A: DW – Since your goal is to save money on heat and you mention your concern about electrical prices…I have to assume your home is now heated by electrical heat. Is that correct?
Well, if your goal is to save heat and therefore save money I would probably point you in an entirely different direction. First of all, stop using the fireplace for heat. Due to the stack effect in your home and the draw of combustion and rising air from the fire you are losing more heat than you are creating. Fireplaces are notoriously inefficient. The Department of Energy estimates using a fireplace raises your heat energy costs by 10% on average. The best thing you can do is plug the flue with a Chimney Balloon and look for other options.
Your other installed option, electric heat, is the second most inefficient type of standard heating. So I would also steer you from using that.
You could go with a fireplace insert and have the hassle of consuming wood, the maintenance of maintaining a clean flue and chimney, the constant feeding of the fire and the increased home insurance rates. With this option, you can get an average 60% efficiency for your labors. See below for a picture of a bad hack job of a fireplace insert install that leaks smoke. This picture is not my house, By the way.
Or, you could go a more traditional route by applying your money to a direct vent gas furnace and ducting that will give you a 90% efficiency. Granted this may cost you more since ductwork has to be laid, but it will be less laborious and costly than any other option in the long run. You won’t need a chimney either since it can be vented easily through the side of the house in a minimally invasive way.
I considered the very question you were pondering about 4 years ago when I had an aged furnace and an open fireplace. I decided to plug the fireplace tightly with a ChimneyBalloon to stop the heat loss through the bad damper and flue and upgrade the furnace to a direct vent 90% efficient. I have been so happy with this decision, and I would do the exact same thing again if I had the choice. I hope you find this input/testimony helpful – Jason