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Going From a Traditional Open Hearth to a Wood Burning Insert? Here’s What You Need To Know & Do

Wanting to convert from an open hearth fireplace to an efficient, cleaner burning wood insert? Here are the steps you need to take to make it happen and what you should budget for the transition…

Step #1 – Schedule a Level 2 Inspection

 

By code, the very first thing you should do when wanting to convert your open hearth to a wood burning insert is have a level 2 inspection performed by a Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) certified chimney sweep. This is the type of inspection required by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) whenever you’re switching appliances or fuel types. 

A level 2 inspection involves the use of video scanning equipment, and will help your chimney professional determine whether or not you can actually have a wood burning insert installed, or if there are any modifications that need to be made before you do that. This inspection also allows the sweep to get size requirements, flue length requirements, and those kinds of things, so you know what size of unit you should be looking for.

Step #2 – Start Shopping

 

Once you know you can install a wood burning insert in your fireplace and what size restrictions you have, start shopping. If your chimney sweep offers inserts, look at the different models available to you and get some pricing. If your sweep doesn’t sell inserts, check out a local hearth store.

Why Go With an EPA-Rated Wood Insert?

 

If you’re going to burn wood, there’s a best way (environmentally) to do so, and that’s with an EPA-rated appliance. These units burn and reburn the particulates in the smoke, so that what’s coming out of the appliance and out of the chimney is putting significantly fewer particulates into the atmosphere than appliances of the past would have. With these inserts, you also get more heat, without burning up so many natural resources. 

You see, when you’re burning in an open fireplace, you’re wasting a lot of resources: a lot of the air that you’ve already paid to heat is going right up the chimney, and you’re burning a lot of wood. It’s also the dirtiest type because there are no cleaning systems of the wood. 

 

If you’re concerned about what you’re putting into the environment, and you want to burn wood, you want to use an EPA-rated stove or insert. For the environment and energy efficiency, an EPA-rated wood stove insert is a very good option. They’re highly efficient, cleaner burning, and wood is a renewable, carbon neutral resource. (How is it carbon neutral? The carbon the tree sucks in while it’s growing is released when it’s burnt, so it’s a 0/0 type of fuel.)

Don’t Forget to Factor in Installation Costs

 

One thing you want to factor in when budgeting and shopping for your new insert is installation. Many people are surprised to learn that the cost of venting and installing the insert can be almost as much as the unit itself. A lot of people mistakenly think, “Oh, the insert is $2,500 so I’m sure it’s only going to be another $500 to install it.” They’re surprised to find it’s maybe another $2,500 to vent it and install it. So that’s a big AHA for a lot of homeowners. 

 

So what should you budget for the unit and installation? Typically between $3,500 and $6,000. A good rule of thumb is to take the cost of the unit and double it to get an idea of total costs, including installation. 

What Goes into Installation/Venting Costs? 

 

There are a couple of factors that make installation and venting of a wood insert more costly than most homeowners expect: 

 

  • First is the actual weight of the insert itself. These are typically very heavy, and transporting the insert into the home safely usually requires a couple of techs and a piece of equipment to lift it and get it in place. 
  • Second is that your installer essentially has to put a new chimney inside of your old chimney, by running a stainless steel liner all the way through. The stainless steel liner itself is an expense, and you typically have to insulate the liner with a wrap insulation as well. This process typically requires the labor of one or two techs.

Two Things That Will Change With Your New Wood Insert

There are a couple of things that will change with your new insert that most homeowners don’t think about: 

 

  1. In order to fit the new stainless steel liner into the top of the unit, we typically have to either cut out or remove the damper system. Sometimes the damper flap can be held back, but other times, the entire damper, frame, and the masonry that holds the frame has to be removed. 
  2. When you have an insert installed, you’re going to reduce the size of your fireplace. That means the wood you’re going to be using will be smaller than what you’re used to using.  But the good news is, an insert is much more efficient than an open hearth fireplace, so you’ll get a lot more heat out of each piece of wood, and lose less heat through the chimney. 

 

Ready to schedule a level 2 inspection so you can start shopping for your new wood insert? Give us a call. Our CSIA certified techs are happy to help.