I work with electric and gas-free fireplaces and understand the ins and outs of these products.
Wood vs. Electric vs. Gas Fireplaces
Electric fireplaces are the latest trend in home heating and decorating. They provide safe and comfortable heat while maintaining the pleasant 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.
Electric heat is cost-efficient, and today's models display fire in a way that resembles an authentic fireplace. With electric fireplace inserts, homeowners can even convert a wood or gas fireplace 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.
How Do 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 and no carbon monoxide, water vapor, nitrogen dioxide, or sulfur dioxide. There is never any cleanup of ash or soot, and there are no 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 from more than a foot away. Best of all, these features can be independent of 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 a log insert. Packages are electric heaters that can be integrated with a media center, mantelpiece, 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.
To see how simulated flame technology has come a long way, compare the two videos below. The first shows an older electric fireplace model, and the second shows a newer one.
How to Convert a Wood or Gas Fireplace to Electric Heating
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.
Electric heat has many advantages over 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 of 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 leaky gas valves. 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 gasses, 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 can 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 is really a myriad of options when it comes to choosing an electric fireplace. Design options range from classic to contemporary with plenty of additional options in between. Units can be built around modern media centers or situated to 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 décor. 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 on 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 can be turned down to minimize energy use elsewhere.
Electric heaters work well 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 keeping 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 you money in the long run.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
John Dove on December 28, 2019:
Hi Electric Fireplace --
I agree with you about the advantages of using an electric fireplace. No combustion inside the home, no gas bills, no ashes to cleans, no wood to chop, more convenience.
Check out my hub for even more information on the advantages and disadvantages of gas fireplaces: https://dengarden.com/home-improvement/Vent-Free-P...
John Levinson on December 24, 2019:
Electricity is the most expensive way to heat a room but for a fireplace that only gets used for an hour or two a night, your bill won't suffer that badly
Sandy Allison on February 06, 2019:
We have 34x28 fireplace,need Electric insert.?
patti on November 02, 2017:
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?
Zoey on June 03, 2015:
I love fireplaces, but they don't fit into a small flat.
So for this cause I will stick with my virtual fireplace :)
But when I move to a bigger apartement I definitely want to install a real fireplace.
Junie on November 17, 2013:
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
Christine Mulberry on September 17, 2010:
We have gas fireplaces in our house. Unfortunately, my husband didn't like the bill for running them. Maybe inserts are the answer.
Kara on May 17, 2010:
Holy cow... that Dimplex fireplace in the video is unbelievable. That has totally changed my perception of an electric fireplace!
Amanda on April 16, 2010:
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.
Rachel on April 16, 2010:
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.
Gary on April 16, 2010:
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.