What is the Difference between a Zero-Clearance Fireplace and an Insert?

The choice between a fireplace insert and a zero-clearance fireplace depends on yours and your home’s needs.

And the right choice will completely depend on your own individual circumstances.

Below we’ll aim to give you all the information you need so that you can make the best decision for you. There are a few key differences between zero-clearance fireplaces and inserts.

What is the Difference between a Zero-Clearance Fireplace and an Insert?

What is a zero-clearance fireplace?

A zero-clearance fireplace is a self-contained firebox that is designed to be installed almost anywhere in your home. Zero-clearance means the fireplace has its own insulation and it needs zero inches of distance from combustible materials (e.g. wood, sheet rock or panelling) in the home.  


This type of fireplace is suitable for all houses, and even mobile homes. This is the ideal option for people with homes that don’t already own a fireplace. They’re much more efficient than a masonry fireplace and are designed to fit into a small space. Therefore, if you don’t have much space, zero-clearance may be a good option for you. 

Fuel options for a zero-clearance fireplace include wood, pellets, or gas, and many design options are available. Zero-clearance fireplaces tend to fit in the space you have available, unlike the insert fireplace, where it will only fit into the space vacated by the original fireplace. 

Another benefit of using a zero-clearance fireplace is that with recent technology advances, zero-clearance fireplaces have been proven to be quite efficient. Often much more than a traditional open fireplace which means less heat and energy is wasted up and out the chimney.


One big problem with lower quality zero-clearance fireplaces is that they might reduce temperatures low enough to prevent a fire but are still not low enough to avoid damage to surroundings or objects close by. This kind of damage can be very inconvenient and frustrating.

For example:

  • TV’s and other electrical equipment
  • Wood panelling can bend or warp
  • Paint peeling
  • Tile adhesive melting
  • Cracks to marble surrounds
  • Deformed walls

However, newer, and higher quality models will usually keep these temperatures down to prevent damage like this from happening, so you shouldn’t need to worry.

Zero-clearance fireplaces cannot be placed into an existing fireplace because of the firebox size. If you look at the back of a zero-clearance fireplace (even one that has the same size front as an insert) the box will look much bigger.

What is a fireplace insert?

A fireplace insert is a unit that is installed into a pre-existing stone or wood fireplace and serves as the primary heating element. An insert typically includes the interior walls of the fireplace, a grate, and life-like logs. Invented in 1896 by Joab R. Donaldson, these used smokeless coke fuel, a derivative of distilling coal, and an electric blower to make them more efficient. There are many varieties of inserts, and they can be categorized by fuel type.


One of the benefits of buying an insert is that they are smaller in size than wood stoves, which means they take up hardly any space in your home. A lot of people consider them to be more aesthetically pleasing than free-standing wood stoves, however, this comes down to opinion. Fireplace inserts are also very easy to install because you get to take advantage of an existing chimney for venting, which can save you time during installation.


When compared to wood stoves, fireplace inserts are the least efficient option. You probably won’t be able to heat an entire home with a fireplace insert. 

Fireplace inserts do not contain ashpans. This means that you will have to shovel out the ashes manually once the fire cools, which can be a very tasking and time-consuming job.

Both zero-clearance fireplaces and fireplace inserts are good home heating options in their own right.

They can both be low maintenance and energy efficient, but the main difference is the installation method.

If you have an old fireplace you want to improve, a fireplace insert may be the best option for you. However, if your home doesn’t have a fireplace already, and you live in a smaller home then a zero-clearance fireplace will probably be the best option for you.

We hope this helps, and for everything else home heating stick with CosyWarmer.com