Wood-burning stoves and fireplace inserts appear to be fairly similar, but they heat in different ways, and have very different installation requirements. Wood-burning stoves are free-standing units that vent to a chimney. Fireplace inserts are wood stoves that have been specially designed to fit into fireplaces where the logs normally go. Inserts often have glass covers and blowers to push warmed air into the house.
Wood-burning stoves and fireplace inserts are similar in cost. An insert will also require a fireplace trim kit and a blower.
Effect on home value
Fireplace inserts are valued in homes since, without them, most fireplaces are not efficient heat sources.
The placement of a wood-burning stove requires careful consideration. Placing a wood-burning stove in the same room as your fireplace would decrease your home's value since it would simply look wrong. Only wood-burning stoves called "hearth" stoves are manufactured so that they can be placed on the fireplace hearth and use the fireplace's chimney. Others will not draw properly if used that way, and could cause excessive creosote resulting in a chimney fire.
Placing a wood-burning stove in a different room from the fireplace -- for instance, placing a wood-burning stove in the family room when the fireplace is in the living room -- could increase a home's value since it would have two sources of heat.
A wood-burning stove needs to be placed on a concrete slab, on a cement underlayment board with brick, ceramic tile or stone above it, or on a prefabricated UL-approved wood-stove board. They must be placed a safe distance from walls, doors, or furniture. That distance varies depending on the manufacturers, running from 20 to 90 cm (8 to 36 inches). A stovepipe connects the stove to a chimney which must vent to the outside.
A fireplace insert must have a stainless-steel liner placed in the chimney. The liner attaches to the insert. If the fireplace is prefabricated rather than masonry, it will most likely have a small firebox that will greatly limit the choice of inserts.
Wood-burning stoves radiate heat into the room. They can get very hot to the touch. Some are equipped with blowers.
Inserts work by blowing heat from inside the fireplace, which circulates the warmed air through the entire home. Blowers require electricity to operate. Without the blower, inserts do not generate as much heat into the house as wood-burning stoves. In areas with frequent power outages, a backup generator might be needed if an insert is used.
Maintenance and durability
Both stoves and inserts must be loaded with wood, ash needs to be removed as it builds up, and routine chimney cleaning must be done to remove creosote. Both can last many years. A wood-burning stove without a blower has no moving parts and is nearly trouble-free. An insert's blower could need repair or replacement if it stops working.