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Electric Fireplaces and Zone Heating 101

Updated on January 27, 2015

Cutting Heating Costs with Electricity

With escalating energy costs, many families are looking to cut their energy demands, especially during the coldest months of the year. Whether you live in a large older drafty house or the most energy-efficient apartment, zone heating may be the answer to cutting your energy bills.

What Is Zone Heating and Why Is It Good?

Zone heating focuses on parts of the house where occupants spend most of their time. By using electric fireplaces in those high-traffic living areas, homeowners can turn the thermostat down in and save money heating areas that get little traffic. Think about it: You are sound asleep in bed while your laundry room, kitchen, living room, and dining room are all kept at a comfortable temperature. It’s a smart idea to conserve energy by using those overnight hours to keep the bedrooms warmer than the rest of the house.

Save Money by Using Zone Heating

Whether a furnace is run by gas, heating oil, or electricity, it’s one of the major energy leeches in a home. The Energy Information Administration estimates that heating a home takes 40 to 45% of the average household's total annual energy costs. For each degree you lower the thermostat, you’ll save one percent of of your energy bill.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that zone heating could provide an energy savings of 20 to 40%. Zone heating with electric fireplace heaters allow homeowners to turn down their thermostats and cut costs. For instance, if you spend a great deal of your time in your kitchen or living room during the day, turn down your thermostat and heat only the spaces you occupy.

Zone heating could provide enough supplemental heat for each room individually while saving the energy of heating the entire house. Use your thermostat to complement your zone heating efforts and ensure that your home maintains a comfortable temperature.

To evaluate the savings associated with using electric fireplaces versus gas fireplaces for zone heating, you simply need to compare the operating costs. Using an electric fireplace for heating costs eight to twelve cents per hour on average, depending upon your utility. Using the fireplace for ambiance only, without the heat, costs two cents per hour to operate. Compare that to gas fireplaces and you’ll see a remarkable difference in your heating bill, as gas fireplaces typically average 23 cents per hour to operate.

For added benefit, using an electric fireplace insert rather than gas or wood burning versions also can help conserve your home's energy. Fireplaces that have vents or chimneys allow heat to escape. 90% of the heat produced by traditional fireplaces escapes through the vent or chimney, which means that only 10% of the heat produced by gas or wood-burning fireplaces warms your room. Another problem with traditional fireplaces is that the damper is often left open, allowing a percentage of your home's heat to escape, adding up to higher energy use and costs. In contrast, electric fireplaces don’t require a vent, thus all of the heat produced is distributed into the room to warm it.

Choosing the Right Electric Fireplace for Each Room

Electric fireplaces come in many sizes and designs to fit every room. Many households choose to have a traditional fireplace with a mantel in the living or family room. Built-in electric fireboxes can be permanently installed or you can choose freestanding wall or corner electric fireplace mantel packages that look as if they are attached to the wall, but can be moved just as you would rearrange furniture.

There are also many portable electric fireplaces that allow movement from room to room as needed. Amish style fireplaces look like traditional mantel fireplaces but have casters on them so you can simply roll the Amish fireplace to the next room and plug it in. Freestanding electric stoves are another portable choice that are smaller than mantel fireplaces and can be used in the home or moved to an RV or condominium while traveling.

Wall mount electric fireplaces are an excellent choice for small rooms, apartments, or rooms where floor space isn’t available. Bathrooms are often the coldest room in the house because of the tile floors and ceramic tub. Installing a wall-mounted fireplace in the bathroom makes it much easier to take a bath or shower on chilly mornings.

Another space-saving option for apartments or family rooms is to opt for a combination fireplace/media center. There are many types available by different manufacturers including Armoire style cabinets from Dimplex, which allow users to close the cabinet and hide the TV while enjoying the electric fireplace beneath the TV nook. Additionally, ClassicFlame offers a smaller media console that has a fireplace built in and room for a flat screen TV to be mounted on top. The media consoles also accommodate media storage and channels for cords and wires.

If your home already has a wood burning or gas fireplace, it can be easily converted to electric by purchasing electric log inserts which fit easily into the existing fireplace and replace the existing wood grate, gas grate, burner, or log set and simply plug into an electrical outlet. An electrician can even wire an outlet in your fireplace for a cordless solution.

If you opt to permanently replace a wood burning fireplace with an electric log insert package, make sure that you seal off the fireplace damper to ensure energy doesn’t escape through the chimney.

How to Choose Electric Fireplaces for Zone Heating

The first thing you’ll want to do before you buy an electric fireplace is to figure out how large the space is that you want to heat. Most electric fireplace manufacturers supply information on each model regarding how much square footage the model can effectively heat and the BTUs of power each model has.

The majority of electric fireplaces have a standard of heating capacity that will effectively heat a 400 square foot space, or a room that is 20 feet by 20 feet. The fan-forced heat quietly provides up to 4700 BTU per hour, which is equivalent to 1375 watts. Built-in electric fireplaces that are hard-wired into the electrical system can support either 120 volts or 220 volts. Opting for 220V produces a higher heat output of 9600 BTUs that can heat a much larger room.

Technology Advancements In Electric Fireplaces

Electric fireplaces have come a long way in the decades since they first appeared on the market. Yesterday’s fireplace logs didn’t have the technology to create a highly realistic flame and ember bed. Electric fireplace manufacturers have invented technology that makes the log bed of a fireplace glow from within just as real firewood does. They also have pulsating embers that look like they are reacting to oxygen as real embers do when they crackle.

Many models also feature the ability to adjust the intensity of the flame and the option to activate chimney sounds and spark effects. Other smart features include intelligent heat sensors that provide quiet operation that self-adjusts the fan speed and programmable thermostats that automatically maintain the room temperature.

High-end models provide fully functional options including room temperature digital display, thermostat settings, as well as flame and heat control. Some electric fireplaces also come with air treatment systems built-in so that they not only provide supplemental heat, but they serve a dual function in purifying the air in the room. All models of electric fireplaces also have optional heat controls so that the look of a fire in the fireplace can be enjoyed in warmer months and warm climates without the heat source on.

Electric Fireplaces Are the Safe Choice for Supplemental Heat

Safety is a primary concern for any heat source, and electric supplement heat is one of the safest ways to do zone heating, since gas fireplaces can produce carbon monoxide gas and wood-burning fireplaces spark many home fires.

Because combustible energy sources are not used to produce electric flames, electric fireplaces never produce carbon monoxide. There’s also no need to have ventilation systems installed, making it easy for anyone, including renters, to have the ambiance of a fireplace without the hassles of installation.

Another difference between traditional flame fireplaces and electric versions are that the glass front remains cool to the touch, ensuring that pets and children are safe around the fireplace. With realistic flame technology, energy savings, convenience, portability, and added safety, electric fireplaces are the best choice in providing supplement heat to your home. Using an electric fireplace in each zone of your house that gets the most traffic is a great way to turn down the thermostat.


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      8 years ago

      You've got me thinking... my wife loves our gas fireplace, but it's expensive to run and you can only enjoy it from certain angles in the living room. I love that you could literally roll the fireplace into the bedroom and take the ambiance and the heat with you!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Zone heating seems like a must! This is definitely something to look into before the winter months start to approach.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Wow - it seems like an electric fireplace could save me a ton on my winter heating bills. Last winter, our gas bill topped out at $300 a month and I'd love to reduce that next year. I'll definitely be checking these out.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Living by the beach, we don't have to turn on the heat very often, but there are days when I come in from surfing that I'd like to have the room a bit warmer without having to turn on the heat for the whole house. Perhaps I should look into installing electric fireplaces.


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