A “fireplace” is the complete fireplace structure.  It can be masonry true brick and mortar style or a factory built zero clearance metal style.  Either way the fireplace is the entire structure that you burn inside of.  You need a “fireplace” if you don’t already have one and you want to install a fireplace in your home or you have one already and are going to be removing the structure from the wall and installing a new one into the opening in the wall that is left over.  In our area here in northern California most of the time a “fireplace” is a prefabricated metal box that either burns wood or gas.  That box will get framed into a wall or opening and a flue pipe will run off of the unit to the outside for exhaust.  When you install a new fireplace there is construction involved in the prep phase and in the finish phase.  After the fireplace gets installed into the wall there is typically drywall, tile, and stonework that will accompany the later portion of the project.  Fireplaces will have large viewing areas and box dimensions because they are designed to be built into new construction and not limited by the existing fireplace opening size.  The common terminology issue comes up when people are wanting to remove and replace their already built in fireplace.  People will call this an insert because they associate putting a new box into the opening that they just created as inserting.

fireplace insert is basically a stove, wood or gas, that is designed to be inserted into  a fireplace that is already there.  Usually a wood burning fireplace built with the home will get an “insert” put inside of it.  Inserts require very little if any construction because you are utilizing the existing fireplace and opening for the insert.  Inserts are much smaller than fireplaces again because they are designed to fit into the opening, they will have much smaller glass fronts for the same reason.  Inserts are designed to replace the inefficient wood fireplaces with new, cleaner burning appliances inside of them.  Inserts are one of the most common things that we do.

When do you need an insert?  You need an insert not a fireplace when you already have a fireplace in the home, you don’t want to do any construction, when  you want the simplest conversion.  Most people, when looking to do a conversion to try to help the home heating will do inserts and eliminate the fireplace from the home.  There is an increasing number of customers now that are doing the entire removal and re installation of fireplaces instead of the inserts mostly for the larger viewing areas and glass that fireplaces have.

To sum it up, an insert goes into a fireplace that you already have.  If you don’t want a construction project and you want heat you are after an insert.  If you don’t have a fireplace in the home or you want to remove and entirely replace the existing one (tear open the wall, remove tile, drywall, paint, etc.) then you need a new fireplace.