Fireplace Inserts - Alternative to a full open fire
If you have a fireplace and want to use it as a source of heat, but you don't want the hassle of a full open fire, a fireplace insert could be for you. Fireplace inserts are specially adapted stoves, typically fuelled by wood or gas, which sit in the hearth without making all the mess and effort associated with an ordinary open fire.
They are usually made of cast iron and their heat efficiency can be increased by means of an electric fan attached in an inconspicuous place. As with all heating appliances fireplace inserts vary in price, but can be more than $1,000 according to design and efficiency. Depending on the size of the hearth, they can sit within it, or extend out of it.
There is also the possibility of creating a place yourself for your insert. Lots of houses have bricked up fireplaces, and it's not that difficult, if you know what you are doing, to open up a fireplace. The first thing to do is to find out whether you have a hidden fireplace: if you tap the wall at the suspected spot and it sounds hollow, you may well have found what you're looking for. The next step is to really make sure you do know what you are doing. The fireplace and/or chimney may need restoration or repair which need the skills of someone qualified. For an idea of whether it's something you can do, and instructions on how to do it, it's best to carefully consult a DIY book or attend a course.
With fireplace inserts, as with all heating sources, it's important to keep safety at the front of your mind. The National Fireplace Association (www.nfa.org.uk) and the National Fire Protection Association (www.nfpa.org) are among the UK and US bodies which provide information on fire safety. Although it was not always done in the past, it is essential that fireplace inserts, like regular fires, are fitted to a flue. If there were no ventilation, there would be a danger of the build up of fumes or of creosote on the hearth surfaces - a health risk and fire hazard respectively. Some inserts need to be removed when the chimney is being swept, some don't. If yours does, bear in mind that it is not like a portable heater - inserts are heavy and difficult to manipulate. If in doubt, consult a qualified chimney sweep (e.g. in the UK through the National Association of Chimney Sweeps).