I am thinking about getting an insert for my log burning fireplace. The fireplace is in the family room. It is not used for whole house heating. Are the benefits to an insert worth the money? And what are some of the things I should look for or avoid?
I have a Lopi Revere insert, which I had installed last summer. My house is a ~2000 SF colonial. The insert is located on the first floor, in the family room which is located behind the garage, offset of the kitchen, dining room and living room. Our master bedroom is directly above the family room.
When I bought my house, the primary heat was an electric heat pump/central air system. The first two winters my electric bill averaged $400 a month from December to March. That was with the thermostat set at 64-65. With the wood insert last year, my electric bill averaged $160 wth the thermostat set at the same temperature, but when the stove is being fed constantly, the house will be 70-72. I load wood into it before I leave for work at 6 am and the stove will still have coals in it when I get home a 330-400. However the heat pump will have kicked on durning the late afternoon when the stove stops producing heat. The heat pump will also kick on in the early morning hours if I don't get up to reload the stove. With that said, If I were home all day and could keep feeding the stove, it would heat my whole house, and keep it at 70 degrees fairly easily. Last winter I burnt about 2 cords of wood.
I'm very happy with mine, even with the initial steep investment. I cut my own wood, so cost for wood are minimal. You will have to get your chimney cleaned every year though. It's nice to have a house with real heat in the winter.
Make sure you meet the minimum clearances for the stove. My fireplace is surrounded by built in shelves, which made it difficult to meet the side clearance of most stoves. You will most likely also need a stainless chimney liner.
Currently run two inserts. One Buck and One Brunco. Both are fantastic.
The Brunco is now only used when the temp is below 20 degrees.
The items I would want in an insert:
Glass in door
Adjustable blower fan
Firebrick 3/4 (minimum) on sides
Large ash pan
As mentioned be sure of all the safety features and installation is done properly. I purchased from a local dealer and he offered installation. I think it was the best money I spent. My fireplace has a miserable flue. It did not phase him.
Get a chimney sweep every year. Have him use the camera to check all connections etc.
I had an insert years ago in a basement family room just under the bedrooms. Despite some days around zero, it did a fair job of keeping the temps inside at comfortable. We would leave the door to the basement open to let heat up the stairs. I also found that the heater return system could be used to help spread the heat. There were only four return vents in the house. I blocked two of the upstairs return vents so when the fan went on it would pull more of the warm air from the basement ceiling return vent and distribute that warmer air through out the house. The natural gas heat was reasonable back then, but still dropped substantially when I figured out the return vent trick. I did have the chimney and stove insert top cleaned every year in the early fall.
A friend has had a pellet stove insert for about ten years now. It does a great job heating his entire house. I think a special chimney liner flue needs to be added, and the insert itself was not cheap. But he has no easy source of wood so the pellets made sense. We heated a house all last winter with a pellet stove and one infra red heater on really cold days. Two tons of pellets to heat a three bedroom house was not bad. $500 to heat for the winter and I did not need to go out cutting any wood. Not a bad deal.
It works ok - not great. If you close the returns in the rooms farthest away from the heat source. What worked best for me was putting a box fan blowing into the room where the heat source is, which pushes the hot air out.
I 2nd the Lopi's I had a Freedom Bay in my old house and it heated the entire place, using the 2 fans on the insert, and ceiling fan to move the heat up to the 2nd floor area (split level contemporary).
Rock solid construction, I know you want to look at the direct vent and positive connect for the flue.
Can't remember which is which but my chimney guy (close friend) recommended the one that has a liner all the way from the insert to the top of the chimney.