How Electric Inserts Differ from Vent-Free Gas Fireplaces

Updated on April 5, 2016

Wood vs. Electric vs. Gas Fireplaces

Electric fireplaces are the latest thing in home heating and decorating. They provide safe and comfortable heat combined with the same ambiance of a wood-burning fire. However, electric fireplaces do not create the same mess as a wood fire, nor do they require running gas lines or the addition of chimneys, flues, or vents. The electric heat is cost-efficient and today's models have fire that resembles an authentic fireplace. With electric fireplace inserts, homeowners can even convert wood and gas fireplaces instantly into an electric fireplace.

Let's take a closer look at electric fireplaces and electric fireplace inserts and compare them to vent-free gas fireplaces.

Realistic-Looking Flame

How Electric Fireplaces Work

Electric heating itself is not a new technology. Instead of relying on the combustion of gas or wood, heat is provided by running electricity through a heating element. The warmth generated is transferred directly to the room, rather than escaping through the chimney. Also, the heating elements are not exposed, allowing for their safe operation around children and pets without needing a fire-guard or wasting clearance space around a fireplace. There are no combustion gases or products, no carbon monoxide, water vapor, nitrogen dioxide, or sulfur dioxide. There is never any cleanup of ash or soot or chimneys to sweep or flues to keep clear.

Electric units have a simulated flame facade. The flames are a generated image using the latest graphics technology and are typically indistinguishable from a real fire when viewed more than a foot away. Best of all, these features can be independent from the heating function, allowing you to enjoy the ambiance of a fireplace without any heat for year-round operation.

Electric fireplace inserts come in two varieties: a fireplace package or as a log insert. Packages are electric heaters that can be integrated with a media center, mantel piece, end table, or any other piece of furniture. Essentially, it is a combination heater and functional room piece. Media centers with integrated electric fireplaces can really become the focal point of a living room, family room, or den. The wide range of styles allows for flexible design options when putting electric fireplaces in any room of a home.

The log-type electric fireplace inserts are stand-alone units typically placed in existing fireboxes. Many homeowners use them as replacements for wood and gas fireplaces when they want to convert to a cleaner, simpler form of supplemental heating. The inserts come in many varieties and sizes, from a small pile of simulated logs to a coal basket design.

In order to see how simulated flame technology has come a long way, compare these two videos of an older model to a newer model electric fireplace.

Converting to Electric Heat

Many homeowners have successfully and easily converted their gas and wood fireplaces into electric heating. Installation is very quick and easy; electric fireplace inserts can be directly placed into an existing firebox and plugged directly into any wall outlet. There is no need for technicians, home demolition, or rewiring. Units can run off of either the standard 110 volt wall plug or the 220 volt plug that is typically used for a washer and dryer.

Converting to electric heat has many advantages to traditional wood and gas fireplaces. Electric heating is cost-efficient on many levels. First, most heat from a fireplace actually leaves the home through the flue while only the radiant heat stays in the home. With electric heating, all the energy generated stays insides since nothing is vented outdoors. Second, it costs about twelve cents per hour to run an electric fireplace, whereas gas prices are usually around 50% higher.

Electric heating is also very convenient. There is never any need to clean up ashes or soot, install fire guards, or clean out chimneys. There is no risk of carbon monoxide emissions or a leaky gas valve. Pets and children do not have to be supervised around the heating facade since it is cool to the touch; the heating elements are safely tucked away in the back of the unit. Flues and chimneys can be sealed to prevent drafts after converting.

Overall, electric heating is superior to gas and wood in nearly every way thanks to the latest models available for homeowners.

What About Vent-Free Gas Fireplaces?

When discussing how electric heating is efficient and safe due to the lack of a chimney and flue gas, many people also consider vent-free gas fireplaces to be in the same category. However, models that do not require vents are not equivalent to electric units.

Vent-free fireplaces still have to burn gas with all of the associated issues, such as combustion gases, safety concerns, and gas line installations. All ventless units have to be designed and maintained to code like traditional units. Some people are concerned about units that are either inexpensive or have aged significantly and whether or not they are still up to code. A mistake during installation, improper operation, insufficient maintenance, and the natural aging of any appliance can all create the potential for a unit to fall out of code and no longer produce a safe flame.

Without vents, the combustion gases stay inside the house. This actually presents a new problem: moisture buildup. Despite being incredibly hot, combustion gas is actually very wet. You may notice this if you ever hold your hand near (but not too close) to a fire and then have a damp feeling after you pull your hand away. The combustion of any material produces moisture. All of this water vapor will stay in the home, promoting the growth of mold and mildew in fabrics and possibly damaging furniture, walls, and other appliances.

Vent-free units still hold some appeal, especially for bathroom or bedroom installations. They do produce a real flame which is an important aspect to homeowners who are willing to deal with the consequences. They do not require chimneys, saving on installation costs and labor, but a home still needs good ventilation to prevent potential carbon monoxide and water buildup. In the end, however, electric units are still more economical and are safer to operate.

How to Choose the Right Electric Fireplace

There are really a myriad of options when choosing an electric fireplace. Design options range from classic to contemporary with everything in between. Units can be built around modern media centers or a light mantelpiece. Electric fireplace inserts and logs can match any stonework or existing firebox design. Homeowners can choose from a wood-burning log appearance, an antique coal basket, or a modern stainless steel design. With so many styles, colors, shapes, and sizes available, finding a complimentary design is an easy task.

Unit types also include flat heaters that can be hung on a wall similar to a flat screen TV. Standalone and portable units can be used as zone heaters or taken along in campers and RVs. Corner pieces can easily blend away into a home's d├ęcor. Elegant, built-in wall units can become a permanent fixture in a living room or formal dining room. There is no limit to how these versatile heaters can become central to your home's design.

Home Heating Techniques Using Electric Fireplaces

Electric heaters provide the opportunity to practice zone heating in homes. Zone heating is a principle that is used to save on energy and heating costs. This method works by focusing heating energy on the parts of the home that are currently and commonly occupied. For example, when a family is asleep, only the bedrooms need to be heated. Conversely, during the evening, family rooms should receive more heating, so the thermostat for the rest of the home is turned down to help energy savings.

Electric heaters work in this role for a number of reasons. First, they are the most efficient form of supplemental heating since no heat leaves the home through a chimney and electric heating is less expensive than gas. Since these units do not require a firebox, fire guards, safety clearance, and masonry, they can be placed in any and all rooms of a home. In the end, a few electric fireplaces or electric fireplace inserts on a standard timer can keep a home warm and comfortable while keep utility bills down.

Homeowners across the country are enjoying the comfortable warmth and cozy ambiance without the hassles and worries of traditional fireplaces. Best of all, converting to an electric fireplace is an easy, do it yourself project that will save money in the long run.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        patti 

        13 months ago

        I have a pallet board wall. The top is where i have my tv recessed. i would like to install a recessed electric fireplace at the bottom. Do I have to have a special firebox install to do this, or will it just fit into the recess in the wall?

      • profile image

        Zoey 

        3 years ago

        I love fireplaces, but they don't fit into a small flat.

        So for this cause I will stick with my virtual fireplace :)

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QusPYimLi8&in...

        But when I move to a bigger apartement I definitely want to install a real fireplace.

      • profile image

        Junie 

        5 years ago

        Does anyone know how you choose the right size for the fire box ??? Does it matter?? And do you leave the glass doors shut or open??? We have a vent across the bottom of our fire box. Like how much smaller does the unit have to be in the fire box ??? Thank-you

      • mulberry1 profile image

        Christine Mulberry 

        8 years ago

        We have gas fireplaces in our house. Unfortunately, my husband didn't like the bill for running them. Maybe inserts are the answer.

      • profile image

        Kara 

        8 years ago

        Holy cow... that Dimplex fireplace in the video is unbelievable. That has totally changed my perception of an electric fireplace!

      • profile image

        Amanda 

        8 years ago

        What a great product! Wood fireplaces can be messy and dangerous. This is a great way to have the comfort and convenience of a fireplace without the hassle.

      • profile image

        Rachel 

        8 years ago

        I can't believe how much these electric fireplaces look like the real thing! I have a gas fireplace and would love to replace it with an electric one - I have a problem every fall when I try to relight the pilot light.

      • profile image

        Gary 

        8 years ago

        We are in the midst of remodeling our bedroom and the wife wants a fireplace. I had bristled at the idea of an electric model and didn't want to deal with the headaches of gas or wood fireplaces. This hub made me rethink electric fireplaces as an option.

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