Electric Fireplace Insert Buying Guide

Electric Fireplace Insert Buying Guide

The Best Fireplace Insert Reviews, Ratings and Prices

Seeking to repurpose your existing gas or wood-burning fireplace? Interested in upgrading your existing electric fireplace? Want to reduce the cost of heating your home?

Then consider installing an electric fireplace insert. Within minutes of installing one in your room, you can be enjoying soft, warm heat and an incredibly realistic flame effect.

Improve Your Home’s Beauty and Efficiency

We all know traditional masonry (brick) fireplaces look great, but most of us don’t know that traditional fireplaces are extremely inefficient ways to heat a living space. If you need inexpensive heat for your home but want to keep the beauty and comfort provided by your existing fireplace, then you may be interested in an electric fireplace insert.

An electric fireplace insert is an electrically powered, non-venting heating element that is installed into an existing space – either installed into a mantle or simply slid into the empty space. You “insert” the unit into the old fireplace space and instantly upgrade its efficiency and heating capabilities.

My goal for this website is to help you find the best fireplace insert for your home.

This website will help you understand:
– the available features of log sets, built-in fireplace inserts and plug-in fireplace inserts
– how to select the right fireplace insert for your home
– how insert installation works (it’s easy).

By the way, the use of the term “insert” can be confusing, as some professionals use it interchangeably when referring to zero-clearance fireplaces. These are not the same. Zero-clearance fireplaces can be installed into a wall or framed into a mantel cabinet, while inserts can only be installed into a pre-existing fireplace.

This guide deals with fireplace inserts, not zero-clearance fireplaces.

Not enough time to read it all? Email this guide to yourself!
Get Your Buyers Guide

How To Select The Right Electric Fireplace Insert for Your Room

Selecting an electric fireplace insert boils down to the following steps:
1. select the heating capacity you need for your room – if any; some inserts just for decoration & don’t heat a room.
2. select the style that best matches your decor: fireplace inserts break down into two styles, modern or traditional
3. select the type of insert you need for your particular installation: a log inserta built-in unit (called a “builders box”), or plugin-in unit. See below for an explanation of these.
4. select the size and trim: measure the width of your fireplace; decide whether you want trim around the edges; do you want glass doors? etc.
5. list any optional features you want. The most common are a remote control, a digital display and/or a timer.
6. shop for the best price.

Your buying decision should be made roughly in this order, so you don’t waste time or make mistakes.  

Heating Capacity, Style and Type of Insert

Heating Capacity

The first thing to get clear is whether you’re looking for a heater or just a decoration. There are pros and cons to each. Heating units often cost more and require a fan, which can be noisy (check our reviews).

There are two types of heat systems used in electric fireplace inserts: Fan-forced heat or infrared heat. Fan-forced heat is best for heating rooms up to 400 Sq Ft, while Infrared (IR) inserts can heat up to 1,000 square feet. There are also inserts available that provide the look and feel of a live fire without generating any heat at all (for decoration only).  Many built-in modern units are like this.

Styling: Traditional or Modern

Consider the aesthetic of your room and your existing fireplace. For a traditional room, choose a realistic-looking split log insert like the popular and inexpensive Dimplex DFI2309 or its upscale cousin, the Dimplex Opti-Myst Log Set.

Dimplex 23-Inch Deluxe Electric Fireplace LED Log Set & Trim Kit

Traditional Log Insert

For a sleeker, more modern look, choose a built-in or plug-in unit with a full glass front and flush trim.

Built In Electric Fireplace Insert Ubermodern

Modern Built-In

Type of Fireplace Insert

There are three types of electric fireplace inserts sold today: log inserts, plug-ins and built-ins.

Electric Log Insert

Electric Fireplace Inserts Log Type Electric log fireplace inserts make use of a simulated log set that sits on top of a realistic grate. The heating component is located underneath the log set. An electric log insert is the best type for anyone who wants to convert a standard gas- or wood-burning fireplace into an electric one with a minimum of fuss. Installation is easy: just insert the log set into your existing fireplace and plug it into a standard 110v household outlet. An electric log insert will provide heat for a room of up to 400 sqft. Most log units, like the top-rated Dimplex 28″ Premium Log Set, include a flame effect that is either projected directly onto the back of the fireplace wall or on a back shield. If you are looking for a fast and easy way to convert an existing fireplace to electric, then a log fireplace insert is a great choice.

Plug-In Electric Insert

Electric Fireplace Inserts PlugIn Type The plug-in electric fireplace insert is a simple and inexpensive solution for anyone who wants to install an electric fireplace into a cabinet or mantel. Plug-in units are completely self-contained units, like a space heater. The units are fully enclosed on all sides and have glass fronts, which make them great for modern-style homes. The fan-forced heat output comes from the top of the unit above the heating element. Like electric log inserts, most plug-in inserts plug into a standard 110 volt outlet and can heat up to a 400 square foot room. Infrared plug-in inserts can provide safe, comfortable heat for up to 1,000 square feet.

Built-In Insert (Builders Box)

Electric Fireplace Inserts Built In Type A built-in electric fireplace insert, often installed using a builder’s box, is for people who want to remodel or upgrade their fireplace mantel. A built-in is designed to be a permanent fixture, whether you choose to install it into an existing fireplace or recessed in a wall. Built-ins require more work for installation, but each unit comes with detailed instructions and can be installed by a home owner with a decent toolset. Built-in units can be hard-wired into your home’s electrical system or plugged into a standard outlet using a plug kit. Built-in fireplace inserts provide heat for up to 800 sqft. A 110v insert will warm 400 sqft, while a 220v will heat an 800 sqft space. Built-ins are available in styles that work with both traditional or modern homes.    

Size & Trim

electric fireplace insert measurements Electric fireplace inserts come in many different sizes to fit most fireplace openings, so you should be able to find an insert that fits yours. The main dimension to be concerned with is the width of opening, which is typically between 2 and 3 feet. Some ultra-modern built-in units are extremely wide, however. One measurement many overlook is the distance between the firebox and the mantel. Without knowing this, you could end up with an insert that doesn’t even function!

Flashing and Trim Options

Some inserts offer decorative flashings and trim to enhance the look and style of your installation. For example, instead of a basic black sheet metal flashing, some inserts offer a cast iron surround trim. In the rare case that none of the appropriate flashings or surrounds will cover your entire fireplace openings (particularly for those with very large fireplaces), it is possible to purchase the insert only and then have a custom surround fabricated by a local machine shop or sheet metal expert. Some of the best retailers offer services to help you do this.

Optional Features

Many electric fireplace inserts offer special features that you may or may not care about.

Flame Effects

Opti Myst flame animated gif

All electric log inserts and fireboxes are designed to pulsate and glow while the flame effect is in use. The result is a realistic flame effect without the nuisance of smoke or the dangers of burning logs. How the effect will look, however, will differ based on the design and style of each of the inserts.

Some flame effects are generated using a pan of water that mists. Originally patented by Dimplex, this is the most realistic-looking approach. Others mimic flames using blown air and fireproof materials.

Remote Control

electric fireplace remote control

When considering a unit, look for the flexibility and controls that fit your needs.

Some electric fireplace inserts offer a digital temperature setting to set and forget the target temperature for a room.

Additional features such as flame brightness, on/off timer displays, and flame speed settings are also important to consider when comparing units.

Finally, you can get a remote control for your fireplace, which definitely ratchets-up the cool factor. I have one and use it a lot more than I thought I would.

Shopping for a Fireplace Insert

Now that you know your size, trim, style and optional features, it’s time to shop!

The good news is that the vast majority of electric fireplace inserts cost less than $2,000, making them affordable for almost every homeowner.

Some smaller plug-in units cost less than $200. For example, the very popular 4.5 star rated Comfort Smart 23-Inch Electric Fireplace Insert/Log Set – ELCG240 retails for just $130.

For a larger traditional fireplace look w/ good room heating, the 4.5 star rated 28″ AKDY Electric Firebox has a beautiful curved face and realistic log fire effects; it retails for $199.

Shopping online is definitely the way to go, because most local hardware stores won’t carry that many choices on their floor and the online market is extremely price-competitive.

When shopping online, you will notice that steep discounting (20-50% off) is common. This is normal practice in the industry, so make sure you take special care to look at the actual, not list, price.

In addition to steep discounts, some retailers including ElectricFireplacesDirect.com and Amazon.com also provide free shipping on orders. Shipping a fireplace insert can cost as much as $100, so take note.

Time To Enjoy!

Once you place your order, the hard part is over.

Installing an electric fireplace insert is really easy. It took me less than an hour to install mine. Got it done just in time for the holidays!

the fam around new fireplace

Want to keep this page as a reference? Email this guide to yourself now:


  • Dolly Barton says:

    Do I build the fireplace first

    • Gary says:

      You can buy electric fireplaces, but on this website you will see reviews of “inserts”. If you own an older home with a wood burning fireplace and you want to convert it to something else that is when these inserts come into play. So, yes you need to build a fireplace 1st or already have one.

  • Melissa Ramirez says:

    Hello, I am getting a costum made entertainment center made and I would like t add a fireplace. Not sure night is the right one for this kind of job.

  • Linda says:

    1. I have an old brick fireplace in my 1400 sq ft home. The living room is very small so I don’t need a lot of heat. The fireplace opening is 29 in height and 31 in width. Should I get a glass covered insert that would be close to these specs or just a log insert that would be open.

    2. The chimney is stuffed with insulation. Is that dangerous ?

    • admin says:

      Re. your 2 questions:

      1. Either type of insert would work fine.

      2. Insulation in a chimney can be very dangerous if the insulation is not covered w/ an up-to-code fireproof blanket/lining. That said, if you are looking for an electric insert, you probably don’t need to worry too much about this because they don’t vent off that much heat.

      Hope this helps!

      Brian S.

  • Scotty says:

    I’ve only ever really considered a freestanding electric fireplace, big fan of the insert ones now too! Going to have to pick one up for our old farm house. Thanks!

  • Shane says:

    Nicely put together Brian


  • Fred Brown says:

    I have an open fireplace that sits between my living room and kitchen. Both rooms can view the flame.Presently I have a gas insert in the opening and the propane fumes make it impossible to run because they are so pungent. Can you suggest a unit I should buy that is electric with a heater?

  • Paula says:

    Are there any electric units for a double sided fireplace?

Leave a Reply

Name (required)

Email (required)