Fireplace insert. Advice?

Request some opinions/advice re alternatives for our existing fireplace which lives in an imposing rock wall in our family room.
A recent insurance survey identified that the open grate fireplace with a hanging metal curtain in front of it, should have an 18 inch hearth in front of it. The 22 inch high and 23 inch wide fireplace opening is about 12 inches up from the floor with a rock 'lip' projecting about 8 inches. We do have a semi-non combustible plastic shield laid on the carpet in front of it, which has prevented ash and cinders melting the floor carpet. The 'damper' originally operated by a turn-screw device has rotted away over some 25 years. The flue is presently blocked to prevent heat loss. The fireplace chimney has a 6 by 8 inch rectangular masonry flue in good condition. Such a fireplace while cheery when it was used is very inefficient and creates dirt/ashes and heat loss etc. There is no possibility of an ash dump because the back of the chimney is in a storeroom with same floor level. Chimney construction also provides a separate 6 inch by 6 inch flue which goes further down and is connected to a wood stove in the basement below this room. Insurance has approved that installation.
Alternatives may be;
1) Add hearth 18 inches out at floor level or very slightly above it. Repair or replace damper etc. Continue to burn wood etc.
2) Convert by adding a propane gas fireplace insert. This would require a gas line, large gas bottle to be located outside (with certain clearances), with regulator, ice snow protection, access for refilling etc. Also certain regulations may require a different flue and/or a special stainless steel flue liner? Propane heat with the use of the small electric blower in such a fireplace is nice and would add local warmth to the room .
3) Install an electric fireplace. Have never liked these because of their 'artificiality' etc. But since rest of house with exception of the basement wood stove is 'all-electric' anyway it would be easiest to install and with no combustion involved cleanest. While I have the skills to maintain most items electric would probably be simplest (and cheapest) to maintain, myself (aged 70+).
4) Although some interesting oil stoves are available fuel becoming more expensive? And the regulatory precautions for oil tank and fuel line are considerable and a concern; insurance against environmental damage would be another ongoing expense. So I omit this option.
Opinions/ideas welcome.
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Terry wrote:

What do you want, pretty fire or heat?
--
dadiOH
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dadiOH wrote:

Propane is going to be usually cheaper to operate than electric, looks nicer too.
Bottles come in various sizes with the larger ones able to be partially buried out of view. However, for just a fireplace, your propane use will be small, so its a small cylinder.
4" stainless steel exhaust flue routes up thru your existing chimney. Its not a special item, its INCLUDED with EVERY gas fireplace installation!! The use of a separate flue for combustion air is recommended so that you can keep the fireplace doors closed, and have the blower circulate air around the firebox to collect heat and push it out to the room.
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Robert, My father installed an electric fireplace in his gas fireplace. At first I didnt like the thought of it since it was so artificial looking to me...but I came to apreciate it more and more for its maintenance free features. I find myself turning it on while we are in the livingroom becasue of the feel it gives to the room. I know electrics can appear cheazy when you see them in a showroom, but they kind of grow on you, and it sure beats messing with tanks or wood.
German Jerry
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He wants pretty, anybody with all electric is not concerned with their utility bills.
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If you want a nice insert, go with one that uses ceramic glass that stays closed when used. Some are 85 percent efficient like a furnace. Get one with stainless steel vents that go up your chimney. They are flexible pipes and are easy to install. One is for intake and the other is exhaust.

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information; thank you. And, good question: I guess the answer is that with other heating including a basement wood stove and a retirement life style 'we want pretty'! i.e. less chimney heat loss and less mess in family room! Regarding the comment about electrical utility cost; in this province of Canada that is not such a great concern. Piped in gas is not available at all. Most of the electricity is generated by water power so that is less polluting and less expensive than electricity generated by burning coal, gas ,oil and/or atomic energy which seems to be proving very costly?
Also since the house is (apart from the occasionally used basement wood stove) all electric, using baseboard heaters, the occasional use of, say, an electric fireplace, to 'look nice' would merely provide some additional heat that would cause the room heaters to operate less! i.e. electric heat is, more or less, electric-heat.
For this 1600 sq foot house with a full concrete in ground but basically unheated basement the electric utility (total energy) cost is around $2500 per year, including all sales taxes. That includes cooking, refrigerator, freezer, home heating, washing clothes, daily showers, some workshop equipment, occasional garage heat, outside lights on at night and two computers running 24/7. Temperatures in this coastal climate are not that low but the cold season is long, requiring some heating almost every month of the year and it is windy.
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