Author Topic: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?  (Read 2037 times)

Bitey_Barkface

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Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« on: June 15, 2016, 12:11:39 PM »
As mentioned in a previous post, we just bought a 70 year old place that needs a bit of work.

Out home inspector told us the chimney needed re-pointing, the damper was broken, and the bricks in the back needed to be touched up.

I got 3 quotes and two places told me that to fix the damper they'd need to tear apart the face of the fireplace at enormous cost and then tried to sell me a wood burning insert. The third guy came in, fixed the damper in one minute (for no cost) and gave me a quote for the brickwork in the firebox and said he'll send a quote for the chimney that actually needs to be rebuilt, not repointed (which the other guys said too).

I've been doing my research and I'm thinking about installing a wood-burning insert (which the company for guy #3 also does and they're sending me someone for a quote on that). It seems the beautiful open fireplace I've always wanted is crap at heating the house and actually sucks out warm air. :( My question for you is, is it worth it? We're on oil now with baseboard hot water heaters and it's only warm here for about 3-4 months a year. I think I can find affordable firewoord, but would an insert actually heat the place well, or would I be on oil all the time anyway?
« Last Edit: June 15, 2016, 12:17:31 PM by Bitey_Barkface »

lthenderson

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #1 on: June 15, 2016, 12:27:57 PM »
I have a woodburning insert and I would say it most definitely wouldn't heat your house efficiently unless it is very tiny. We have ours (with an internal blower fan) in the downstairs family room and it heats it up nice but if you go to the other rooms in the basement, not so much. We however bought and installed ours mostly for aesthetics and because with our large lot, I have more than enough "free" wood to burn. You have to also realize that wood for your sole source of heat (used to live that way decades ago) is a lot of work. Think of the old saying that it warms you twice, once cutting it and once burning it. You also have to stay up late to stoke the fire and get up early to get it going again. Anytime you leave for a day, you essentially have to winterize the home to prevent pipes from freezing.

Those are the negatives. However, I think there is nothing like having a nice warm fire on a blustery winter day that the entire family can gather around. Although it won't keep my house warm, no doubt it does reduce the energy used in my gas forced air system. An insert is also sealed up much tighter than an open fireplace with a damper so you don't lose so much energy up the flue when not in use.

BDWW

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2016, 12:33:22 PM »
If you really want wood heat, get a stove. You can pipe it into your chimney (sounds like it probably will still need repairs.

It's really the only way to heat efficiently with wood. Fireplaces and inserts both are very inefficient. If you're really looking for the most bang out of your woodburning, research rocket mass stoves. Can be a fair amount of work, but definitely the best way to extract as much heat as possible from wood.

Telecaster

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #3 on: June 15, 2016, 01:05:08 PM »
I have an insert that is sort of like a stove, in that in sticks out of the fireplace a bit.   It does quite a good job heating the house.  I live in Seattle, so my heating needs are low, but it really takes the edge off on cold days. 

Fishindude

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #4 on: June 15, 2016, 01:19:01 PM »
Many of the inserts are air tight with blowers and work just as well as a good wood stove.   If you want to use your fireplace to heat your house, that is the easiest way to go, just make sure the flue is in good shape prior to installation.   Assume your contractor will do all of that.

Having said the above, I have a good old fashioned open fireplace at our lake house and absolutely love it because you can watch the fire.   We bake potatoes and do marshmallows in it too and it really warms that end of the house.  But being open it consumes a lot of wood, plus continues to suck warm air out of the house while it's smoldering out and you can't shut the damper.


mousebandit

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #5 on: June 15, 2016, 01:32:24 PM »
We heat our home with only wood.  Open fireplaces are pretty, but not an efficient heat source.  Fireplace inserts are better, but still not efficient.  Too much heat is lost out the back and sides and up the chimney.  Rocket mass is awesome.  Freestanding wood stoves are very good.  After all these years of wood heat, I'd never go back to relying on an electric company or gas company for my heat.  Between costs and the self-sufficiency factor, I'm a woodstove girl all the way. 

If your house is big and not well insulated, though, expect to burn through a LOT of wood!  And yes, it will warm you twice, haha! 

CanuckStache

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #6 on: June 15, 2016, 02:08:39 PM »
Absolutely love our wood insert. Heats the bottom floor of the house nicely, but you ideally need a fan or two to help circulate the hot air. Ceiling fans really help for that too.

Check out hearth.com for reviews and stuff.


Bitey_Barkface

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #8 on: June 16, 2016, 06:37:06 AM »
I knew this was the right community to ask! I don't mind being warmed twice (hehe) however, the cost is a big point of concern for us, especially since we're hemorrhaging cash right now with the purchase of the house and the work that needs to be done on it. Perhaps the best thing to do is fix up the fireplace and leave it as an open one, putting a pin in it until next year. I like the idea, and it would help reduce our dependence on oil heating, if not eliminate it all together.

cambridgecyclist

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #9 on: June 16, 2016, 11:10:23 AM »
   We have an insert with a catalytic converter and a blower. It is about 87.5% energy efficient, which is better than most wood stoves. It easily heats the entire house (~1800 square feet).

Fishindude

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #10 on: June 16, 2016, 11:18:14 AM »
I'm not a fan of the wood stoves with catalytic converters, although most of the new models have this feature.
It's basically a series of dampers with the idea that it holds the heat in the stove longer until it sends it up the flue pipe.  Problem with these is it you don't have perfectly seasoned, dry wood this type of stove doesn't draft as well and tends to smolder and smoke.   I had a brand new Vermont castings stove like this, got rid of it and went back to a good old fashion Buck, plate steel stove I am much happier with.

BDWW

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #11 on: June 16, 2016, 01:30:49 PM »
I'm not a fan of the wood stoves with catalytic converters, although most of the new models have this feature.
It's basically a series of dampers with the idea that it holds the heat in the stove longer until it sends it up the flue pipe.  Problem with these is it you don't have perfectly seasoned, dry wood this type of stove doesn't draft as well and tends to smolder and smoke.   I had a brand new Vermont castings stove like this, got rid of it and went back to a good old fashion Buck, plate steel stove I am much happier with.

I just kind of glossed over it in my previous post, but anyone who's serious about efficient wood heat should look into rocket mass stoves. A friend of mine uses wood heat, and we researched and built one for his old house (built ~1900). He's now able to heat his house with ~1/3 the amount of wood he was using previously.


FIREdancer

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #12 on: June 16, 2016, 01:40:30 PM »
My parents' house has a wood burning insert, that's what I grew up with and I loved it.  It kept the house (about 1600 sq ft) warm and toasty.  Their woodstove is in the basement and they had a grate cut into the floor directly above to help the heat spread upstairs, plus their stairway is open to the upstairs, so it does a pretty good job of heating the entire house.

As others have mentioned, it is a bit of a pain because it keeps you up periodically to tend during the night, but you just can't beat that cozy, woodstove fire warmth.

jacksonvasey

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #13 on: July 15, 2016, 09:47:24 PM »
I have a Napoleon 1402 insert, and it is able to heat my 1300 square foot house pretty easily.  It gets the living room into the mid 80's when it's 0F outside in CT, and I have a big box fan mounted on the wall using a french cleat, which moves air way better than any wood-stove specific wall fan could, and it's easy to just take it down whenever I don't want the fan up there (keeps DW happy).  But the Napoleon has two pretty powerful blowers, which blow away the crappy single blower on the Vermont Castings Montpelier we used to have, which was an awful stove (though it was a gorgeous-looking stove).  And it's got the secondary burn tubes, rather than the catalytic converter.

Interestingly, I just saw this week that there is a pre-fab rocket mass heater that's UL-compliant and NRTL tested, so presumably it would pass an inspection by the city fire inspector, and you won't lose your homeowners insurance by installing one (again, presumably, what do I know?).
http://www.rocketheater.com/

The thing with stove EPA efficiency numbers is, in my understanding, the rating is only the efficiency of combustion, meaning how complete the combustion is within the stove, and how much pollutant (CO and smoke) goes up the chimney.  It does not cover the efficiency of heat transfer into the house, versus how much heat goes out the chimney.  So even a 100% efficient insert could only push 10% of the heat energy from the fire into the house, and heat the out of doors with the other 90%.

That's what makes rocket mass heaters so appealing; the combustion efficiency is very high, and because the exhaust has to pass over a huge mass, it's able to transmit most of the heat into the mass, and then into the house.

But I'm damn happy with my Napoleon, especially as the front sticks out about a foot, leaving a flat top on the stove you can use to heat water.  After we lost power in CT for 6 days in October/November a few years back, I'm not willing to live without a wood stove ever again.  That thing kept our house nice and toasty through several freezing nights with no power to run our baseboard radiators.  And now we'd be able to cook on the Napoleon, which we couldn't do with the Vermont Castings.
« Last Edit: July 15, 2016, 10:05:27 PM by jacksonvasey »

dilinger

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #14 on: July 16, 2016, 01:19:47 AM »
Another consideration,
Ductless heat pump

I second this. I stuck a piece of 2" thick XPS foam in our fireplace (painted black and sealed with black caulk around the edges) and got a heat pump mini split for each floor.  Cost: $1500 per mini-split (self-installed).  Puts out a nice bit of heat, pretty low cost to run, and saves a huge amount of money over oil.  We're now in the process of having our oil tank/furnace removed.  If we ever want to use the fireplace, we can just pull out the foam; but honestly, it's extra work and just not worth the hassle to burn wood.

Vic99

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #15 on: July 16, 2016, 03:25:50 AM »
I've had a woodstove for nine years and I love it.

Factors in determining if you will get the heat you need from wood for your home:

1) Size of your home vs stove/insert firebox size
2) Air sealing your home
3) Insulating your home
4) Properly seasoning firewood

Obviously outside temps matter too.

1) When choosing an insert or woodstove look at the fire box size.  This is the biggest factor in determining heat output, I think.  Unless your home is under 1000 sq ft, you should go with a minimum of 2.0 cubic feet firebox.  Look at what manufacturer says you can heat with that stove.  If company X says their stove/insert would heat 2,000 sq ft, assume that is for a really tight new construction with code level insulation done properly, all margins taped, proper air sealing, etc.  If you live in a drafty old house, cut the number in half.  Thus 2,000 sq ft would be 1,000 sq ft.  Then resolve your self to get insulation under control.  If house is "typical" assume stove would heat 2/3 of the claim is a safe bet.

2) Air seal your home.  Go look for leakings in basement, around windows, etc.  Use caulking or canned spray foam (plan ahead with spray foam - it is messy and you usually can't reuse the can).  If you can feel cool air coming into your house through a hole, imagine all the heat you are losing.  I have a 1920 built home.  Over the years I have probably used a couple of standard sized window surface area worth of caulk and foam.  If you can afford it - hire a pro to spray foam the sill plate where the basement meets the first floor.  Lots of older homes lose a lot of heat here. 
Another cheap fix is unscrewing light switch and outlet plates on outer walls and putting in foam pads under plate.  Will reduce air flow through the plate and they cost like 19 cents each.

3) Insulate to code.  This is especially helpful if you have not sized your stove properly.  This will make your family way more comfortable.  After air sealing, do celing, then walls.  Plenty of posts here about insulation.

4) Often overlooked.  Use seasoned wood.  Stack off ground and cover top in place that ideally gets sun and wind.  Most wood needs 1 yr to season properly.  Oak-sugar maple-hickory and other dense woods need 2-3 yrs, but you could get away with one.

Plan ahead.  Start getting wood NOW to season.  If you buy from someone, assume it is not seasoned even when they tell you it is.  Then stack it for a year if possible.  Seasoned wood has lots of checks and cracks in it, is lighter, and often grays.  You could also get your own wood.  Neighbors lose trees, maybe you have a wooded lot, etc.  Cutting up pallets otherwise disposed of from box/haardware stores can be good as well.  Stay away if pallets treated with chemicals.  Don't load stove only with pallet wood as its usually kiln dried and will burn very hot.  You don't want to overfire your stove. and cause damage.

Finally I would advise on getting the installation and chimney liner (if you need one) inspected.  Piece of mind that your house won't flood with smoke or burn down is nice.

Good luck.

Lots of people new to wood burning ger

Vic99

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Re: Wood burning insert instead of fireplace?
« Reply #16 on: July 16, 2016, 03:28:04 AM »
continued

Lots of people new to wood burning get frustrated because they undersize firebox, don't have air sealed/insulated home, or use unseasoned wood.

Nothing beats having wood heat penetrate your body when you come in from the cold.

Good luck