Which is Better - a Freestanding Stove or Fireplace Insert?

So you’ve decided to purchase a wood-burning heating appliance but can’t decide whether a freestanding stove or a fireplace insert would be best? There are several factors to take into consideration before making the purchase.

If there is an existing masonry chimney and fireplace available, most homeowners decide to go with the insert option. This is due to the fact that the fireplace will become much more efficient (75% vs 0%) and the space can be used for the insert rather than taking up additional space in the home that a freestanding stove would require. However, there are other factors to consider.

Where is the chimney located in the home? If the chimney is centrally located, and inside the building envelope, an insert may heat most of the home. However, if the chimney is located on one end of the house it is unlikely that heat will travel, even with fans, to the far end of the home. If bedrooms are located on the far end this may not be an issue since most people want to sleep in a cooler environment. However, if there are common living areas in this location it may be too cool.

Something to consider in this case is that an insert could be put into the fireplace, and a freestanding stove installed at the other end of the house in a large room such as a family room or sun room. This way, the whole house would be heated. If there is a second level in the home it will be heated by rising warm air by either type of appliance.

Another factor to take into consideration is that freestanding wood stoves have a larger surface area that is heated by the fire in the firebox, then distributed evenly from the top, front, and sides of the stove. No blower is required to move the air about, although most stoves have that option. A blower is required with an insert in order to move the heat into other areas of the home. If no blower comes with the insert, plan to install a small door fan designed for this purpose.

All freestanding stoves and fireplace inserts should be installed by a professional chimney sweep or hearth installer. This type of work is not a DIY project as there are many factors to consider including clearances to combustibles, local codes, and correct installation of the stove and the stainless steel chimney liner (for an insert) or Class A metal chimney pipe (for freestanding stoves) which is not common knowledge. Many jurisdictions require a permit for the installation and a special license and many cities don’t allow homeowners to do the installation themselves.

Your insurance company will need to be notified that you are having this installation completed, and they will want proof that it was done by a professional. Otherwise, you may not be covered for fire damage related to the installation of the appliance.


-      If electricity goes out, the stove - whether an insert or freestanding, will still work and provide heat which is especially important in an emergency situation.

-      Locate the stove or insert in a central location in the home if possible.

-      Consider purchasing two stoves to heat a larger home or ranch style home.

-      By placing a wood-burning stove in the basement or lower level, heat will rise and provide heating for most of the house, especially if there is a staircase nearby.

-      Consider adding open floor vents if placing a stove on a lower level so heat will migrate to the upper floor.

-      Resist the temptation to purchase a stove second-hand. Most of these are older, non-EPA approved dirty burning models that are not as efficient as the newer models. In many jurisdictions they are illegal.

-      Never install a wood-burning insert into a manufactured fireplace. This voids the warranty of the fireplace and is not to code. It could also be a potential fire hazard. Manufactured fireplaces were designed and listed with certain components and are not designed to be altered. 


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