What to Know Before Buying an Electric Fireplace

by Jonathan DeesingDecember 11, 2017

You come in after a long day of stringing Christmas lights, kick off your boots, and warm your toes in by the dancing fireplace. You curl up in front of the flames on a cold, blistery evening and read a good book. You warm your hands in front of the fire after a snowball fight.

A fireplace is the perfect addition to any winter, but for some homeowners, installing a wood- or gas-burning fireplace is too expensive and invasive. Luckily, electric fireplaces allow you to enjoy all the warmth and comfort of a regular fireplace, with none of the installation costs, maintenance, or hassle. Here’s what you need to know before you invest in an electric fireplace.
White Electric Fireplace

A Different Type of Fireplace

While electric fireplaces are designed to mimic the look of a traditional wood fireplace, the actual function is much different. Instead of relying on combustion like a gas or wood fireplace, electric fireplaces are essentially attractive space heaters.

They come in all shapes and sizes – from log inserts to standalone units – but for the most part all of them offer a safer and cheaper alternative to a traditional fireplace. Because there is nothing burning inside of an electric fireplace, they are far safer in terms of fire risks. They also eliminate the mess caused by ash, soot, and coals.

An average electric fireplace costs between 7-13 cents per hour to run, compared to 20 cents for a gas fireplace. And you don’t need to worry about costly installation – electric fireplaces don’t require a vent or chimney and most simply need to be plugged in to operate.

How to Pick an Electric Fireplace

No matter what type of home or room you’re trying to warm up, there are myriad electric fireplaces to choose from. Lets start with the types of units available:

  • Fireplace inserts – inserts are a great way to modernize an existing fireplace, especially if you’ve already covered the chimney. These inserts are either fully enclosed or can look like a pile of glowing logs.
  • Freestanding – standalone units are the most common type of electric fireplace and are usually designed to look like a built-in fireplace. These units can be used as a mantle or centerpiece in a living room and can also display a crackling flame without heat.
  • Wall-mounted – similar to freestanding units, wall-mounted electric fireplaces allow you to display fire and heat just about anywhere in your home. Like any wall-mounted appliance, these fireplaces require a bit of setup, but it’s nothing compared to knocking out a wall for a chimney.

Electric Fireplace
Electric fireplaces also come in a variety of heating options, depending on how much heat output you need. This comes down to the size of the room you’re looking to heat and how much you plan to rely on the fireplace for warmth.

  • Forced fan – forced fan units force outside air over electrically heated coils and pump that hot air into the room. These are great for rooms smaller than 400 square feet.
  • Infrared – if you’re looking to warm a larger area, infrared is the way to go. This type of fireplace uses infrared light to provide ambient heat for areas up to 1,000 square feet.
  • Ceramic – ceramic fireplaces work in almost the same way as forced fan by blowing air over a hot ceramic plate. They typically provide heat for the smallest area of the three.

As fireplaces are no longer the main source of heat in most homes, more new homes are built without a fireplace, meaning that installation can be an expensive prospect. But if you want to keep your toes warm this winter without breaking out a wall, an electric fireplace may be the perfect solution.

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About The Author
Jonathan Deesing
Jonathan Deesing is a home improvement and real estate writer who has written for Auction.com, Modernize, and Apartment Guide. When he's not fixing up his duplex he splits time between running and beekeeping.
1 Comments
  • Michael Johnson
    January 29, 2018 at 10:07 pm

    Insightful article Jonathan, thanks for sharing!

    I just wanted to add two other things to consider if you’re looking at an electric fireplace.

    In addition to the three types you mentioned, electric fireplace built-ins are the other main installation type. More work than a wall mount fireplace, but it looks cleaner since it’s flush against the wall. You basically cut a hole in your drywall and install the unit that way.

    One of the biggest advantages electric fireplaces have over other types (in my opinion) is the ability to change the flame color. With some of the technology in certain brands, you can literally change the flame from orange to purple, to yellow, to violet, etc. with a click of the button. Really cool feature when you want to switch it up, create a different atmosphere, or just match the decor in the room.

    Again, awesome article and thanks for spreading the word about electric fireplaces!

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