Electric fireplace inserts can help to transform an old wood burning masonry fireplace into electric or provide a focal point for a bespoke installation such as an entertainment center.
Electric inserts can be easier to install compared to other types of fireplace insert because of their minimal venting and clearance requirements but you’ll still need to consider a few things before and during installation.
To install an electric fireplace insert in an existing fireplace:
- Remove any old fireplace inserts and ensure that the firebox is clear.
- Consider how to prevent water ingress into the existing fireplace, whether that’s in the form of a rain cap or a closure plate.
- Close the damper if your existing fireplace has one to help reduce drafts.
- Consider how the fireplace will be powered. It’s common to install an electrical outlet inside the firebox of the existing fireplace, or the cord can be run to a nearby electrical outlet outside the firebox but the length of cord and hiding the cord would need to be considered.
- Measure the existing fireplace opening to ensure that the back of the new electric fireplace will fit by being smaller than these dimensions, and consider clearance distances in line with your local codes or regulations.
- Plug the power cord into the electrical outlet or have the insert hard-wired into the electrics by a professional, depending on the model of electric insert.
- Place the electric fireplace insert into the opening of the existing fireplace.
- Install any surrounds, mantels or back panels to finish off the new fireplace.
- Add any other accessories to the electric fireplace insert such as the media.
We’ve recently been looking to install an electric fireplace insert in our existing kitchen fireplace and so we’ve discussed the above in more detail throughout this article.
This guide covers the installation of electric fireplace inserts.
See our buyers guide to the best electric fireplace inserts for existing fireplaces for the best electric fireplace inserts you can buy right now.
1) Preparing The Existing Fireplace
In order for an electric fireplace insert to be installed in an existing fireplace, that existing fireplace must be removed of all existing fireplace apparatus.
This is because an electric fireplace insert sits partially within the firebox of the existing fireplace.
The existing fireplace should therefore be cleared out to make it ready for the new insert.
As an example, we’re removed an old gas fireplace insert from our kitchen fireplace (more about that removal here) that didn’t work to allow us install this electric fireplace insert.
We’ve since tidied and cleaned up this fireplace ready for installing our electric insert.
2) Weatherproof The Chimney
As electric fireplace inserts are electrical appliances, it’s important to consider what you can do to help prevent water from getting into the existing fireplace firebox during wet weather.
This could be in the form of a rain cap located at the top of the chimney, or by simply closing the damper, which we discuss below.
3) Close The Damper
Many masonry fireplaces have dampers located in the throat of the chimney.
See our guide on the parts of a fireplace for information on where you can typically find a damper.
These metal or ceramic plates can be manually opened or closed using a handle by reaching in from within the existing fireplace firebox.
While dampers should be open for other types of fireplaces such as wood burning and gas, a damper can be closed when installing an electric fireplace insert in an existing fireplace.
This is because electric fireplace inserts don’t have any real flames and therefore don’t produce any by-products that would otherwise need venting out of a home.
Closing a damper before installing an electric insert can also help keep wet weather out of the firebox.
However, not all existing fireplaces have a damper that you can use.
For example, neither of our existing open fireplaces have dampers and so we’re going to place a draft excluder within the flue before installing our electric fireplace insert.
For more information about dampers see our dedicated article on fireplace dampers right here.
4) Provide Power To The Electric Insert
As with all types of electric fireplace, electric fireplace inserts are electrical appliances and so must be powered by a source of electricity.
Most electric fireplace inserts can be found as plug-in form where the units will come with a standard power cord and plug that you can plug into any of your home electrical outlets.
When it comes to installing an electric fireplace insert in an existing fireplace you’ll therefore need to consider where the insert will plug in.
The most common way to achieve this is to have an electrical outlet installed within the firebox of the existing fireplace, behind where the electric insert sits within the fireplace.
This arrangement also helps to hide the cord from view but requires a licenced electrician to install this electrical outlet for you.
Another way would be to plug the electric insert into a nearby electrical outlet outside of the fireplace. This would require there to be an electrical outlet nearby, the power cord to be the right length and the power cord would need to be hidden out of view for the most realistic experience.
For example, we need to get a professional in to install an electrical outlet inside the firebox of our kitchen fireplace before we install our electric fireplace insert, as there’s no electrical outlet nearby.
With our electric fireplace insert placed within the opening of the existing fireplace, there’s enough space behind to plug the appliance into an electrical outlet.
If we choose to plug this insert into a nearby electrical outlet then we’ll need to consider how we’ll hide the cable out of view, potentially running the cord down the back of the hearth.
It’s typically advised not to use an extensions cord with an electric fireplace but check the owner’s manual for your electric fireplace insert for more information.
With electric insert units that need to be hard-wired into the electrics, you’ll still also need to consider how you’ll provide an electrical supply to near the unit.
5) Measure For An Electric Fireplace Insert
An electric fireplace insert must be of the right dimensions in order to fit inside the opening and firebox of an existing fireplace.
Electric inserts typically have a:
- Front area that sits outside of the existing fireplace and covers the sides and top of the existing fireplace opening. This is often finished off with a trim.
- Back area that sits within the firebox of the existing fireplace once installed.
To measure for an electric fireplace insert take dimensions of the existing fireplace including the height, width and depth. Choose an electric insert that has a back area just smaller than these dimensions for the most optimal fit.
If the electric insert is too big for the existing fireplace then it won’t fit in though the opening.
If the electric fireplace insert is too small then the front (trim) area won’t cover the sides.
If the electric insert is too deep then the insert won’t fit snug inside the firebox and stick out when installed.
For example, as our existing fireplace has obscure dimensions, we chose an electric fireplace insert based on the width of the existing fireplace.
This ensured that our electric insert could fit nicely inside this fireplace and cover the sides with the trim.
The top of the fireplace isn’t covered by the insert but we’ll use a back panel to cover this area over.
There’s enough clearance out the back of the insert when installed for air circulation and the heater air inlet isn’t blocked.
6) Plug The Insert In
To plug in an electric fireplace insert before being installed, take the power cable out the back of the electric insert and plug it into the electrical outlet located either inside or outside of the existing fireplace firebox. Ensure that the outlet is turned on before installing the insert.
You typically won’t have any space to work behind an electric insert before it’s installed and so it must be plugged in before you do.
For electric fireplace inserts that need to be hard-wired, this is when you’d have an electrician do so.
7) Install The Electric Fireplace Insert
To install an electric fireplace insert into an existing fireplace, place the insert into the opening of the existing fireplace, ensuring that the back of the insert sits within the firebox and the trim/surround of the insert is located outside covering the edges.
An electric fireplace insert is designed to sit both within and just in front of the firebox of an existing fireplace.
Electric inserts will have a back area that you’ll need to push through into the opening of the existing fireplace.
Electric inserts will also typically have a widened front area that you push up against the outer wall of the fireplace to provide a flush finish.
Depending on your model of electric fireplace insert you may not need to do anything more than leave the appliance pushed up against the fireplace opening, but some may require connection to the existing fireplace using brackets etc. Check the owner’s manual for guidance.
Furthermore, an electric fireplace insert may come with a removable front trim.
Depending on the model of insert and the situation, this trim can either be installed before or after the insert itself have been installed.
For our electric fireplace insert, we needed to install this trim on the main unit before installing it in our existing fireplace.
This trim simply slides down onto the insert from above.
8) Installing The Surround
If bought as standalone units, electric fireplace inserts won’t come with any form of surround.
However, installing a surround with an electric fireplace insert can make the whole fireplace look more realistic.
We’re going to paint the surround we removed alongside the old gas insert from this existing fireplace and install it back onto this chimney breast alongside our electric fireplace insert.
As our electric fireplace doesn’t cover the top area of our existing fireplace, we’re going to have to cover the area between the insert and the surround with a back panel, such as one like we removed along with the gas insert.
9) Add Any Accessories
With an electric fireplace insert installed, any additional accessories or loose parts can be placed onto the unit to finish it off.
For example, our electric fireplace insert came with three different media to choose from, depending on our preference.
Once our electric fireplace insert is installed we’ll place this media onto the platform, which will make the fireplace look much more realistic.
How To Hide The Cord For An Electric Fireplace Insert
To hide the cord for an electric fireplace insert, either install an electrical outlet behind the electric insert or run the cord behind another object such as partition wall, hearth or cable cover.
Can I Install An Electric Fireplace Insert Myself?
The installation of an electric fireplace insert may not require professional help, but any installation of an electrical outlet within the firebox of an existing fireplace should be undertaken by a licenced electrician.