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Electric Fireplaces: Tips For Choosing The Best Unit For Your Home

Updated on April 20, 2010

Electric fireplaces are an excellent buy that many homeowners and renters alike enjoy all year round. Today's technology has produced the next generation of home heating and home decorating, all in one package. The latest in simulated flames and high efficiency home heating has caught the attention of consumers. New home heating techniques like zone heating have boosted the market for supplemental heating. Let's take a moment to look through the world of electric fireplaces and help guide you during the selection process.

Why Electric Fireplaces?

Electric fireplaces offer a lot of options for consumers. First, they provide a comfortable heat that is economical to run. For instance, electric heating units can be run for typically about half of the cost of a comparable gas heating unit. For homes with traditional fireplaces, most of the heat from the wood logs or even a gas flame ends up going out of the chimney. This is not the case with electric heating; because no venting is required, a much larger percentage of the warmth stays inside the home.

The heat generated is also safe and does not present fire hazards nor do they require special installation or adherence to building codes. The facade of an electric fireplace is cool to the touch so it is an option for homes with pets and small children. This also means no wasted space on fire screens, fire barriers, and clearance around a traditional firebox.

Electric fireplaces provide an amazing ambiance for any room in a home. The simulated flames are nearly identical to a wood fire and can still be run without the heater turned on during the warmer months of the year. There are a number of styles available, which we will examine later on in this guide, that range from classic to contemporary and electric stoves to media centers.

Electric heat is also versatile in its installation. Two broad categories include units that are hard wired into a home and those that are able to be plugged into standard outlets.

Built In Electric Fireplaces

For homeowners looking for a quick and inexpensive heating option that can add to a home's atmosphere and boost its value, built-in electric fireplaces are the best option for renovations and construction projects. Just like all electric fireplaces, built-in units do not require a vent. This means that these units can be installed nearly anywhere in a home, including either an inside or outside wall, above or below grade, in corners, and even as a wall panel. They range in size from 33 inches for a smaller dining or family room up to 52 inches for larger living rooms. In addition, they all run off of 120 volt household current or they can be hard wired to 240 volt circuit like large appliances. The higher voltage current will allow for nearly double the heat output of the standard 120 volt installation.

Styling choices are plentiful to fit in with any home's decorating style. There are units with little to no trim that fit seamlessly with any type of stonework. Others feature stainless steel and brushed aluminum treatments. Glass front or doors with a bi-fold or decorative look can finish off the look.

Built-in options are superior to vent less gas heating units. Even though natural gas is one of the cleanest fuels, they still come with safety hazards. Any gas unit that is not very well maintained is susceptible to improper gas burning and incomplete combustion which creates carbon monoxide. Even with a perfect flame, any burning material will also give off water vapor. Over time, the dry wall above a vent less gas unit can suffer water damage and grow mold and mildew.

For built-in heaters, electric is the way to go.

Electric Heating plugs into standard outlets

While built-in units require a bit of effort to install, freestanding units that plug into a standard outlet are a quick and easy to install. Electric fireplace inserts are the perfect example. These come in a few formats, but all include electric log sets and heating units. Electric fireplace inserts are used in many different applications; let's take a look at all of the options:

Electric fireplace inserts can be part of a mantel piece to create a package. These combination furniture pieces with heating capabilities can be placed along walls or as corner units. They are fully functional furniture, great for mounting pictures or displaying china, while heating a room and displaying a realistic flame effect. Operate the flame only when you want to enjoy the ambiance of a fire without heat during the warmer months of the year. Available design styles are as diverse as mantels themselves, ranging from all types of sizes, wood tones to bold contemporary finishes complementing the full range of home décor.

Electric fireplace inserts can be part of a media center. The cabinet is constructed to hold TVs, stereos, DVD players, and any other media device. Once integrated into the media center the electric fireplace insert provides heating and transforms the look of any entertainment center into a fireplace. These heaters can really enhance the focal point of a room by combining the TV and the fireplace into one striking feature. Electric fireplace inserts combined with a media console mantel are an excellent choice for family rooms because they not only offer storage but are able to offer the ambiance and supplemental heat of a fireplace in a convenient package. There are several designs to choose from that include modern as well as traditional styles in a wide variety of finishes that will complement any décor.

An alternative to a fireplace mantel package are wall mounted electric fireplaces. These hanging heaters are about as deep as a flat screen TV. They provide the same warmth and ambiance with a modern look. For those who have a traditional mindset, certain electric fireplace inserts can also be recessed-in to existing walls. These products offer the classic look of a wood burning fireplace but with all the convenience of a realistic flame at the flick of a switch.

Freestanding units that mimic traditional wood stoves have even been used as semi-permanent or portable heaters for the home. Some owners have been known to place units in their RVs and campers for a safe fire on the road. This portable flexibility allows both renters and homeowners more options when incorporating electric fireplaces into their lives.

Each of these fireplace packages are plug in units with the exception of the built-in models with dual voltage that are hard wired to household current. The freestanding packages and stoves can be easily moved when redecorating or relocating.  Since they are self-contained units, they are safe and easy to install.

Here is an excellent example of a stove type unit in operation.

Converting From Gas Or Wood To Electric with an Electric Log Insert

A good number of homes already have wood burning or gas burning fireplaces installed into their homes. However, burning wood and gas has its drawbacks. Most of the money spent to generate the heat goes right up the chimney and out the flue since the majority of the heat never stays in the house. On the other hand, if that draft is not maintained, water vapor and combustion gases can accumulate in the house leading to carbon monoxide issues, damage to walls, and a general loss of indoor air quality. Don't forget dealing with wood ash or maintaining gas pilot lights, etc.

One of the most ingenious solutions to all of the above problems is electric fireplace insert logs. These logs are a self contained electric heating unit that can be placed into an existing firebox. They create an instant conversion from wood or gas to electric with only an electric outlet needed; just place the logs into the firebox, plug them in, and your installation is complete. Owners will never need a set of tools and pokers to run an electric fireplace. After installation, drafty flues can be sealed and all the clearance that was necessary before can be reclaimed as useable living space.

Take a look at how easy it is to make the conversion from an existing wood burning firebox into an efficient electric unit.

Just like all electric heating products, these logs come in several different sizes and styles. Customers can choose between painted logs and carved resin to suit their tastes. Between Dimplex, ClassicFlame and Duraflame, these manufacturers create different flame effects and grates with unique characteristics. Feel free to demo a few units to see which glow really appeals to you. Find out more about the types of fireplace log inserts that are available in today's marketplace.  

In the end, choosing the best electric fireplace unit for your home comes down to a few straightforward questions. Are you an owner who wants to permanently build a unit into their home or a renter who wants a freestanding unit? Do you have an existing firebox that you’d love to convert to a cleaner, safer, and more efficient heating source? Would you like to combine electric heating with a mantel piece, media center, or even an old fashioned stove? Whichever choice is right for you, electric fireplaces and electric fireplace inserts deliver warm, economic supplemental heat while creating a comforting ambiance.


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