Zero-Clearance Fireplace Vs. Fireplace Insert

Zero-clearance fireplace vs. fireplace insert that’s the question you’re asking yourself. Are you 100% sure of the difference? Because the terminology can be confusing to most people, in fact, zero clearance fireplaces go by several names such as prefabricated, zc, prefab, metal, or manufactured, so it’s understandably a little baffling.

When did you last hear a discussion about fireplaces mention the term zero clearance anyway? The fact is no-one thinks that much about fireplaces unless they need one or thinking of changing their current one, and in 9 out of ten situations, people think unless it’s free-standing or a chimney, they are mostly inserts.

This article will discuss the differences between a zero-clearance fireplace and an insert and point out both merits or downsides.

Zero-Clearance Fireplace Vs. Fireplace Insert

A Zero-Clearance Fireplace And A Fireplace Insert

Choosing between a fireplace insert and a zero-clearance fireplace will depend on what exactly you want for your home. Either choice will offer you different fuel options and advantages, but there are some vital differences between them.

Zero-Clearance Fireplaces

With the heat a fireplace gives off, you would think there needs to be space surrounding the fireplace, and it must not be anywhere near combustible material such as wall studding or wood in case it catches fire. But zero-clearance fireplaces don’t follow those rules.

Zero-clearance fireplaces feature a ‘firebox’ usually manufactured from metal that prevents high temperatures from building up. Because they can restrict temperatures, there’s no reason why they cannot be in close proximity to the home’s walls or wood in the walls.

There are several reasons why a homeowner might choose a zero-clearance fireplace, such as their immense versatility, and they fit into rooms or walls that cannot contain conventional fireplaces.

Because they inhabit far less space than, say, an average fireplace with a chimney, they can fit in homes where you wouldn’t expect to find a fireplace. Also, they are a  terrific choice for couples that wish to add a fireplace to their home. Another plus is they are more cost-effective because they run more efficiently than traditional fireplaces.

There are no real limitations in reference to zero-clearance fireplaces’ size; it’s more about the space you have available, unlike the insert fireplace, where it will only fit into the space vacated by the original fireplace. There are ways around this, but that requires building work to expand the fireplace, and not everyone is keen on creating so much mess and dust.

When we refer to zero-clearance, we mean the distance between the fireplace and flammable materials in the wall. Even though ‘zero’ is the terminology, it doesn’t literally mean that; there is a small amount of clearance.

Disadvantages Of A Zero-Clearance Fireplace

If you’re asking yourself why a zero-clearance fireplace cannot fit into an existing fireplace the same way an insert can, then the answer is all about the size of the ‘firebox.’ If you compare the two, it’s easy.  Look at the back of each, and you can see just how much bigger the zero-clearance one is when side-by-side to an insert fireplace.

Because the zero-clearance sits so close to combustible material, the fireplace requires a second firebox to reduce the initial firebox heat.

Of course, there’s a massive choice of zero-clearance fireplaces, as you would expect. But are they all as good as each other? One big problem with this type of fireplace and lower quality units is that they might reduce temperatures low enough to prevent a fire. They are still not low enough to avoid damage to surroundings or objects in the vicinity.

Zero-clearance fireplaces are still capable of generating temperatures in some cases that can reach as much as if not above 380 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat like this will cause damage to:

  • Electrical equipment such as a TV
  • Cause cracking to marble surrounds.
  • Wood paneling can bend or warp.
  • Peel paint
  • Tile adhesive can melt.
  • Walls can deform.

Any damage like this is a very unsatisfactory outcome, having spent money on a new fireplace. Plus, it’s not convenient; for example, many homeowners love to put their TV above the fireplace, and excessive heat from the fireplace can ruin an expensive piece of equipment.

However, high-quality zero-clearance fireplaces keep these temperatures under control, and at least one manufacturer is offering Cool Wall Technology. This kind of technology aims to keep temperatures down even more. It seeks to keep temperatures above zero-clearance fireplaces even cooler, so concern about your TV being above the fireplace shouldn’t be a worry anymore.

A Fireplace Insert

A Fireplace Insert

What is the difference between a traditional stone or brick fireplace and a fireplace insert? If you already have a fireplace, why go to the trouble and expense of a fireplace insert? For one thing, the fireplace insert is more energy-efficient, the glass doors radiate heat into your room, saving you money in the long run.

They have greater versatility in the choice of fuels you use, such as choosing between propane, pellet, coal, wood, or natural gas. Fireplace inserts also have built-in fans and thermostatic controls with which to regulate how much heat you require at specific times of the day and season.

What Manner Of Fireplace Insert Can I Install?

Presently you have a brick or stone (masonry) fireplace; therefore, you would be able to install a gas fireplace insert or an air-tight wood burning.

What if I live in a newer build property and have a stainless steel chimney? In this case, similar to a masonry fireplace, your fireplace insert would most likely be either a gas fireplace or air-tight wood or a pellet-burning fireplace.

Zero-Clearance vs. Fireplace Insert – Which Do You Choose?

These fireplace designs are far more efficient in energy savings than a traditional fireplace and are lower in the maintenance department. If you live in a house with a fireplace with a chimney, your best option is a fireplace insert. But if your home is a more recent build or an apartment, then most likely it won’t have a full chimney. In those cases, a zero-clearance fireplace might be your only choice.

Zero-clearance vs. fireplace insert? There is no clear winner as such. It comes down to the home-style you have or how much work you want to do on the home. But both fireplaces are terrific options.