Previously published at highschimney.com
There is a lot of confusion about these terms. After all, a "fireplace" ought to be any place you can have a fire, right? Yep, but there is a difference anyway and today I'll lay it out for everyone.
When folks talk about a "fireplace" they generally mean an open fireplace. This usually means an opening in the wall with a flue above it so you can have a fire. The key here is that it's open. To confuse the matter more, a lot of fireplaces have glass doors on the front. You might point out that it's not open anymore, and you'd be right, but it's still "a fireplace."
Fireplaces can be either masonry fireplaces or factory-built fireplaces (also called prefabricated or "prefabs.) A masonry fireplace is almost always built of bricks. There are some specialty types that are more exotic and use refractory materials, but 99.9% of them are made with bricks.
A factory-built fireplace is a metal box with refractory bricks inside manufactured to be framed into a house, without masonry. Sometimes they are gas fireplaces, but they are often for burning wood. These are perfectly safe when installed according to the manufacturer's instructions.
There's also sort of "an in-between" situation, commonly called the Heatalator. Heatalator is a brand name which is applied to products which are generally like it. Just as all tissues aren't Kleenex brand, it's pretty common to just ask for a Kleenex and everybody understands. The same is true with Heatalator. It's a metal firebox which is built into a masonry structure. Even though it was built in a factory, this is still considered a masonry fireplace. This is because of clearance and heat transfer requirements etc. Too much information? Suffice to say Heatalators are also fireplaces.
So what's a fireplace insert? In a word, it's a stove. Either gas or wood, it's a stove which is inserted into an open fireplace. Fireplace inserts are almost exclusively installed into masonry fireplaces, though there are a few very special models which are listed to be installed into prefabricated fireplaces, such as the Regency Alltera CI1250.
A fireplace insert must always be installed according to the manufacturer's instructions and listings or you'll put your house in serious jeopardy. Following these two bits of advice will go a long way toward keeping you and your family warm and safe at the same time!
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