People have been gathering around fire pits and places for as long as anyone can remember. Even as we moved from a species who roam outdoors, to living indoors, this tradition remained. But while the general concept of it – staying warm – has remained the same, there have been huge developments over the years.
One of the most popular ones has been electric fireplaces. They’re a great alternative to traditional wood or gas fireplaces and many people choose to have them installed in their homes nowadays.
Having been around for over 100 years, they’re no longer just a heat source. In fact, the main reason many people purchase them is for the aesthetic qualities and charm they bring to their home.
What are the benefits to having an electric fireplace instead of a wood or gas one?
Firstly they are totally efficient - no heat escapes your home and no gases are released. This saves on installation costs as well as energy.
They’re also eco-friendly, which is important these days, and a very safe option for people with children and pets. This is because they stay cool even when in use (only the heating vent gets a little warmer), making them the safest options on the marketplace.
Finally, in comparison to traditional fireplaces, they are far less messy – there’s no need to chop wood and no danger of ash!
The growing market for electric fireplaces offers consumers great choice, but also throws up many questions. When purchasing one, there are a number of different things to think about. Here, we outline the key questions to ask yourself, and the options available to you.
Should your electric fireplace give off heat?
A basic question, but the first one on the list. Most electric fireplaces give off heat, and the level of this heat can be adjusted by you. They tend to come with remote controls, which is perfect for the summer season, as you can turn the heat down according to the temperature around you. Some electric fireplaces also have built-in thermostats that will maintain a set temperature in the room.
However, it may be that you only want the visual look of a fire and no heat at all. People who live in a very hot climate tend to favor this approach. There are fireplaces that provide this option for you, and as you’d expect, they are cheaper to purchase as well.
What type of fireplace installation works best for you?
Do you want something easy and portable, or are you looking for a more permanent solution? You also need to consider the dynamics of your wall.
Built-in electric fireplaces
If you have wide walls with a lot of space, then a built-in, permanent fireplace unit is the way to go. Consider a rectangle one – you want to focus more on the width and less on the height. This will look slick, just like a traditional fireplace, especially if you go for a frameless unit. Try to create a contrast with the wall color as well – for example, a light-colored wall would suit a black fireplace unit inside it.
Be aware that a built-in fireplace will require a lot more installation work. You will need to build a niche where you insert the fireplace unit. Unless you have carpentry and electrician skills on hand, it’s best to hire a professional for this.
Portable electric fireplaces
If your wall has less space, then you may be better off with a portable electric fireplace. Wall-mounted ones are especially popular. You can hang them directly on your wall, in the same way you would do for a flat-screen TV. The mounting brackets come with the fireplace, so if you’re constantly on the move you can take these with you.
Electric fireplace inserts
Inserts are another good, portable option – but only if your home already has a fireplace opening. This tends to be the case with older homes. Often you’ll find they have masonry fireplaces that haven’t been used for a long time because of all the mess involved.
If your house does have an existing opening, then inserts are an ideal way to keep things simple. They just slide into the opening and plug into a standard outlet. There are two types of electric fireplace inserts – firebox and electrical logs.
Firebox inserts look just like a built-in fireplace. Meanwhile, the electrical log inserts are what you’d expect, given their name! They look like a grate with logs and have built-in lights. These lights create a look of flames on the walls of the existing fireplace. The remote that comes with the log inserts allow you to control the height of the flame.
How to ensure the efficiency of the fireplace?
The maximum size for any electric fireplace to work efficiently is about 1,500 square feet, which is more than enough for most rooms. Take a look at the area you are installing the fireplace. If it’s around 1,000 square feet, then you should opt for a fireplace with an Infrared Quartz Unit. These deliver infrared heat through invisible rays. The rays warm the objects they touch, rather than the surrounding air. Let’s face it, you want the heat to go on your sofa, not just the air around it!
If you have less space, then you should go for fireplaces that have fan-forced coil heaters. They contain a silent fan that blows air over the heated coils and the heated air comes out of a vent. This vent can be at the top, bottom, or front of the fireplace.
Something else to keep in mind when looking at your space is the ceilings. If your room has high ceilings, the fireplace may not be as effective because the heat will be retained differently. In fact, for those with larger spaces to cover, consider a newer build on the market – ceramic heaters.
These contain both ceramic plates and aluminum. When electricity passes through the ceramic, it is heated. The heat is then absorbed by the aluminum and a fan blows the hot air into your room. Despite the small size of these, they actually give off a great deal of heat and are regarded as highly energy efficient.
How are your electrics set up?
Most electric fireplaces can be plugged into a standard household outlet. However, you need to make sure that this outlet is on a dedicated circuit breaker or fuse. This means it’s not sharing the circuit with any other outlets.
If you were to plug an electric fireplace into a shared outlet, you could overload the circuit and create a real safety hazard.
Take a good look at where you’re planning to set up your fireplace and speak to an electrician if need be. Is there an easily accessible outlet? Don’t think you can use an extension cord either – this is a massive no-no!
Are electric fireplaces safe?
From a safety point of view, you’ll need to make sure that the fireplace is kept clear of fabrics that may overheat and ignite. Even though there is no real fire, which means less of a hazard, you still don’t want flammable fabrics to get caught within the heating vents.
To create a really homely feel, you can get a mantel fireplace. It’ll allow you to put ornaments and other items near the fireplace, so it becomes a more welcoming feature. This is especially important if the wall around your fireplace is bare, because that can make your fireplace seem small. The same applies if the color is completely plain, although this can be negated if you have things like pictures on the wall.
A mantel fireplace is extremely easy to set up. You put it together in a similar way to flat-pack furniture and insert the fireplace, which plugs into an outlet.
Can I install an electric fireplace under the TV?
Your electric fireplace will probably be a core part of the room! Most people have it in the communal or living room, and want everybody to gravitate towards it. This means you will want things near it.
A prime example is your TV. Many people like to be able to watch TV and keep warm by the fireplace at the same time. Many adverts have been created of people cozily huddled by the fireplace while watching a movie together!
This is fine – generally, all electric fireplaces are safe to install under TVs. However, the distance between the top of the fireplace and the bottom of the TV needs to be at least 12 inches. Check that the dimensions of your room allow this.
If you want to be practical, you can actually get a free-standing fireplace that doubles up as a media cabinet. Essentially these are TV stands with an electrical fireplace, and as they have to follow the correct standards, the minimum 12-inch gap mentioned above will always exist.
If you are having a TV nearby, it’s best to select a fireplace with a bottom or front heat. This reduces the chance of the heat blowing towards the TV.
What flame effects do electric fireplaces come with?
One of the safety benefits of electric fireplaces is the lack of a real flame. This means no harmful emissions and no risk to children or pets. But don’t think this means you can’t have a true flame effect.
In many cases, LED lights and mirrors are used to create a realistic flame look. Long-lasting LED lights consume little energy and don't need to be replaced until around 50,000 hours of use.
The choice for you is what type of visual you want. The classic option is the one which looks like a regular fire. However there are modern fireplaces which change flame color – you can control this at will. Perhaps you want a different color to suit your mood or the season. Alternatively, if you have a mantel fireplace and the ornaments on top of it are ever-changing, you could adjust the flame color accordingly.
There are also various effects you can add. For example, if you want a bit of flickering, there are fireplaces that use rotating mirrors for this. Some will give you a ribbon flame effect. This is done by using a fan to blow air over a piece of ribbon to simulate dancing flames, while a bulb illuminates it from below.
You might prefer an effect which doesn’t look like fire at all. Instead, you can use lightbulbs under loose pebbles to create a smoldering look – this makes it seem as if the fire has been burning for a long time
Technology has developed to a level where you can have pretty much any type of effect. Just be conscious that the more extravagant options tend to be costly.
WHEN CHOOSING YOUR ELECTRIC FIREPLACE, ASK YOURSELF:
- Do I need heat, or do I just want the fireplace ‘look’? People in hot climates are likely to have less of a need for heat.
- What’s the best installation method for me? Do I want something permanent or portable? A wider wall lends itself to a built-in fireplace, whereas a wall with less space means you’re better off with a mounted one or an insert – which can still look high quality!
- How big is my room? Fan-forced coil fireplaces are best for areas around 400-500 square feet, while Infrared Quartz Fireplaces are best suited for rooms around 1,000 square feet.
- Are my circuits set up for a fireplace? If not, am I willing to pay to get these set up?
- What will be around my fireplace? Will it be the central attraction? A mantel fireplace is a great way to get ornaments around the fire, while a free-standing fireplace can hold a TV.
- What type of flame do I prefer – regular or multi-colored?
Once you’ve answered the key questions above, you should be in a great place to make your electric fireplace purchase. There’s no doubt that it will bring a great ambiance to your home and will do so with very little maintenance needed from your side. Good luck!