Tips for buying a gas fireplace or insert

Today's gas fireplaces and inserts are 50 percent to 70 percent more efficient than their 1990s-or-earlier counterparts, say experts.

Besides increased efficiency, newer models offer many more options, including remote-controlled flames that can go from glowing embers to roaring blaze. Particularly popular with bedroom units, timers are available to ignite or extinguish the fire, so users can wake up to a cozy room or put out the fire after they've nodded off to sleep.

Besides realistic, wood-like logs, gas fireplaces or inserts can come with glass beads, stones or ceramic pieces for a totally different look.

Before shopping for an insert, measure your room and current fireplace. Ask yourself what you want from your fireplace — warmth, an attractive focal point for a room or both?

Models with more BTUs (British thermal units) offer more heat. Also look at louvers — the slanted grill that's above or below the firebox that helps circulate warm air into the room. Louverless models typically look cleaner and more streamlined but offer little heat circulation.

Lennox Hearth Products offers a detailed shopping guide with online glossary at

Including installation, a new gas insert can cost $2,500 to $4,500, with a big selection around $3,000.

Incentives, tax credits or rebate programs can help with those costs. Contact your local natural-gas provider or fireplace-insert seller for more details.

Actual installation takes about half a day if an existing gas line is available to the fireplace.

Among the best-selling brands are Fireplace Xtrordinair, Kozy Heat and Valor.

Other major fireplace, stove and insert brands include Lennox Hearth Products, Vermont Castings and Monessen.

Gas logs give the look of a full fire for a lot less — $300 to $600. These logs are a popular option for otherwise unused fireplaces. The downside is that their heat goes up the chimney. They look great, but they're not energy-efficient, costing about $1 to $1.50 an hour to operate.

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