The Wood Fireplace Insert...
Beauty & the Beast!

A wood fireplace insert is a great way to improve the efficiency and performance of an older wood burning fireplace.  The challenge is to create a unified look that integrates the insert face with the fireplace mantel, surround, and hearth.

wood fireplace insert

In the past,  wood fireplace inserts have been notoriously "beastly" in appearance. Finding a well designed unit that complemented an exist-
ing fireplace mantel and surround was virtually impossible.

wood fireplace insert

Generally, they were oversized, overextended, overpowering . . . . . and overbearing.  Looking like a giant behemoth emerging from the firebox to devour everything in its path, the wood fireplace insert was purely func-
tional in nature and couldn't "care" less about form.

Fortunately,  in the past couple of years,  a few manufacturers have be-
gun  to  take aesthetics into consideration when producing wood inserts. And  though  there  have been some remarkable improvements along the way,  many manufacturers -- quite frankly -- still have a long way to go. However, thanks to those manufacturers that do, indeed, "get it," we no longer  need  to  sacrifice  appearance for performance when installing a
new wood fireplace insert.


Taming the Beast

wood fireplace insert

One  of  the improvements that has been  made  along the way includes flush fitting inserts.  In other words, except for the facing,  the wood in-
sert  fits  entirely inside the firebox, rather  than  projecting beyond the firebox  opening  onto  the   hearth,
giving it a cleaner and more natural look. The example at right fits flush  with the face of the fireplace.



Another  improvement  made  by  manufacturers in recent years includes a wider  range  of  choices  in  decorative door facings,  some of which have changeable grills, as well as larger viewing areas, i.e., more glass.    Others offer  a  variety  of  finishing  options  such as pewter or nickel plating,  as shown in the example below right. These are significant improvements over earlier door designs.

wood fireplace insert



wood fireplace insert

Some manufacturers went even further -- particularly with traditional styles -- by creating attractive borders to frame the  new  door designs,  such as in the example at right.

So far, so good . . . . . right?    Right!

That is . . . . . until we get to the sur-
round  or extension panels supplied by many  (most)  manufacturers of wood fireplace inserts . . . . those manufac-
turers that don't provide an attractive border to frame the insert door facing. Those manufacturers that appear to have  ended the design process with the door facings and merely tossed in the extension panels as an afterthought, such as in the example below.


What were they THINKING?

wood fireplace insert

Why would they take the time to care-
fully   design   an  attractive   pewter-plated door facing, then simply "frame" it  with  a  wide band of black painted metal  that covers most of the beauti-
ful  marble  surround  on  this  elegant fireplace?

(In  all  fairness  to the manufacturer, steps  have  since  been  taken to im-
prove  the  extension panels,  as they now  have  the flexibility to be custom cut  for  an  inside-fit  to the fireplace opening.)

The fireplace is an important architectural element that frequently sets the tone for the style of decorating and decor in the home.  Consequently, it's important to "get
it right."



Points to Consider When Choosing a Wood Fireplace Insert

1. Select  a  wood  fireplace  insert that fits flush with the fireplace facing, rather  than  extending  out onto the hearth more than an inch or two,  as shown  below  left.    In other words,  choose an insert that will fit entirely within your existing firebox, except for the door facing. If the extra heating capability  of an "extended hearth" insert is important to you,  try to select a  model  that  doesn't  overpower  the  mantel and surround,  such as the wood fireplace insert shown below right.

wood fireplace insert
wood fireplace insert




wood fireplace insert

2. Make  sure  the  surround  or  extension panel that comes with your wood fireplace insert is no more than 1/4 to 1/3 the width -- less is even better -- of  your  fireplace surround  (that  area  between  the top of
the  firebox  opening  and the underside of the  mantel  shelf,   as  well  as  the  area between  the  sides of the firebox opening and the mantel legs) when installed. If the manufacturer  does  not  provide an appro-
priately sized/scaled extension panel, have  a  metal  working  shop  make  one to your specifications.

Alternatively, find a craftsman to fabricate a natural stone or tile extension to frame your insert door facing, as shown in the examples below.

wood fireplace insert
wood fireplace insert




wood fireplace insert


3. Conversely, if your existing fireplace surround  has  seen  better days,  you may  want  to  consider  covering it up completely.   Some manufacturers now make  attractive coordinated extension panels  designed  to go over the entire surround  when  paired  with  a   wood burning  insert,  such  as  shown in the striking example at right.


4. Try  to  select  a  wood  fireplace insert with as large a viewing area as possible.   Fortunately, many of today's manufacturers have expanded the viewing area of the insert doors on their latest models,  making it easier to see more of the flames in the fireplace.


wood fireplace insert


5. Another,  albeit  less common,  ap-
proach to incorporate an insert so as not  to  detract  from the overall aes-
thetic composition of your fireplace is to  recess  it  entirely,  including  the facing, inside the firebox, as shown in the  examples at right and at the bot-
tom of this page.


wood fireplace insert

6. And finally, if you're not happy with the  appearance  of  your existing fire-
place,  you  may  want  to consider a complete makeover,  or simply remove the  mantel and install your wood fire-
place  insert  as  a  stand-alone  unit. Several models -- many contemporary designs,  in particular -- are currently being manufactured that look great all by themselves.    Some,  such  as the striking  European example pictured at right,  look  equally  "at home" in both traditional  and contemporary settings . . . . . . with or without a mantel and surround.

wood fireplace insert

Please check back often or subscribe to our RSS feed,  as we fre- quently add new designs for wood burning fireplace inserts to our site.






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