Imagine putting on your favorite pair of PJs, settling back into a comfy chair with a good book and hot toddy, and then relaxing the night away beside the flickering flames of a cozy fireplace — all without the hassle of lugging in logs or building a fire.
It's possible with an electric fireplace. They're essentially heaters that use electrical components to emulate the look and warmth of traditional wood, coal or gas-burning fireplaces.
They're also simple and safe to operate: Once they're installed, you just plug them in to an electrical outlet and turn them on. And you can add mantels, inserts and logs to make them feel just like the real thing. Best of all, they don't have to be vented or professionally installed, so you can enjoy one anywhere, from your bathroom to your kitchen.
"Electric fireplaces are certainly rising in popularity due to their combination of convenience and modern features," says Glenn Sebring, president and founder of Chicago-based Sebring Design Build. "By simply flipping a switch, a room can be heated in minutes. They are popular not just because they heat the room so easily, but because they provide a sense of ambience as well."
How Electric Fireplaces Work
The three basic types of electric fireplaces include standalone models with a mantel and heater; custom versions that can be mounted on or built into a wall or piece of furniture; and inserts that can be placed inside an older hearth, complete with LED glowing logs and different flame effects.
Electric fireplaces use metal coils to create heat. As the coils heat, a blower motor (or fan) forces the warmed air into the room. Some electric fireplaces also use infrared technology to directly heat a room. As for those realistic-looking flames, a refractor reflects light from an LED bulb to create a realistic flicker and flame. Some electric fireplaces even have a device installed to emit a crackling fire sound.
If you're looking for the heating power of a central-heating system, then electric fireplaces probably won't do the job. If you want to warm an immediate space, however, they're ideal. Electric fireplaces can be plugged in wherever you need heat the most; they produce an average of about 4,000 BTUs of heat, which can adequately warm a 400-square-foot (37-square-meter) room.
An added bonus? An electric fireplace's heat is 100-percent contained, unlike traditional fireplaces that lose about 50 percent of their heat via the chimney or flue.
Advantages of an Electric Fireplace
Low operating costs: Since you never have to replenish wood or pay for gas, you can save money right off the bat. The typical electric fireplace uses around 1,500 watts of electricity to power its heating coils, which translates to about 8 or 9 cents an hour.
Running a flame-only electric fireplace? Operation costs can range anywhere from 0.003 to 3 cents per hour. Overall, the average homeowner with an electric fireplace will spend between $50 and $100 per year on operation costs, depending on whether the fireplace is being used to produce flames only or to fully heat a room. Lastly, there's also no need to have your chimney cleaned or inspected.
Easy install: Electric fireplaces can be installed anywhere there is access to a power outlet. They work with standard 120-volt electrical outlets, and some larger models can fit 240-volt outlets.
Less mess: "Electric fireplaces don't create real flames, which is why they don't produce the mess that traditional fireplaces make," says Glenn Wiseman, sales manager at Canada-based Top Hat Home Comfort Services. "Even though the flames may look real, they're just an illusion from light components in the machine." Instead, there's a simple on/off switch that gives you access to instant heat, with an effect that mimics real flames, but avoids any of the hassle or cleanup.
Safer: Electric fireplaces have zero emissions and no hazardous byproducts. Wood-burning fireplaces, however, can release cancer-causing agents and dangerous fumes (such as carbon dioxide and monoxide) into your home. When inhaled, these fumes can be dangerous to you and your pets. They're even safe for use in bathrooms. Just be sure if you install one in your bath, it's rated for use in a bathroom or areas prone to moisture.
Customizing an Electric Fireplace
Electric fireplaces come in a variety of styles and options to match any home decor or architectural style. They also can be installed where you normally can't have a fireplace — apartments, condos, small homes and RVs, for example — and even into various types of furniture, such as bookshelves or entertainment centers.
"If there's one thing an electric fireplace can bring opposed to a traditional wood-burning or gas fireplace, it is its modern look," Wiseman says. "Any traditional wood-burning or gas fireplace will bring out a luxurious feel to your home as well, but an electric one will modernize it."
Custom accessories are available to further modify the look, including different log installments (such as burnt driftwood to imitate the look of real wood), as well as black rocks that resemble coal, natural river rocks or white stones that appear hot under the faux flames. You can also choose LED light sets to modify the color of the flames as well. Popular colors including orange, red, pink and blue.