After two attempts, we were finally able to replace our old, inefficient fireplace with a much better wood stove in the living room. Not only does the hearth look better, but with both the basement and living room stoves going, the entire house heats up to about 74 degrees quite easily (with no additional heat input from the central heating/cooling unit!). Given that we have had so many hazardous trees removed and cut up for firewood over the past two years, we now have PLENTY of material for burning in our two lovely stoves! I am excited to see a decrease in our winter time energy bill.
After a failed attempt to install a wood stove insert into the old fireplace, we went instead with a hearth-mounted soapstone stove: the Hearthstone "Homestead" model. Either stoves have come a long way in the three years since we last purchased one, or you really DO get what you pay for!: the Homestead stove is a glory of function and efficiency! A spiral "door" in the floor of the stove is actually a handy ash tray! - spin it to open and allow the ash to fall into the tray, then remove and dump for easy clean-up. The stove burns so efficiently that a load of wood will burn for nearly 9 hours and still have coals hot enough to begin a new fire at the end. And while the soapstone takes longer to heat up, it puts out a more even, comfortable heat, and the stove itself stays warm (and continues putting out heat off of the soapstone tiles) long after the fire has gone completely out. The only two things I do not like about this stove are the small firebox (unfortunately necessary with our narrow hearth dimensions) and the angle of the interior with regard to starting fires (you tend to smoke yourself out, because - instead of going UP and OUT the vent - the smoke goes out the doorway and into your face).
And now, I leave you with some before and after photos, so you can truly compare!