Fireplaces aren’t exactly a new invention. For years, fireplaces have provided a variety of functions in homes all over the world, regardless of size, and regardless of climate. From heating a living room, to roasting marshmallows, fireplaces offer numerous uses, and come in several forms.
Although most of the world has been long accustomed to standard wood-burning fireplaces, electric fireplaces have become a viable alternative that provides a number of advantages over conventional fireplaces, and retains most of the core benefits.
While electric fireplaces were once considered a fringe appliance, improvements in technology and an increase in manufacturers has led to a surge in popularity, even for those that still maintain a standard fireplace. There’s really never been a better time to purchase one.
So, what is the deal with electric fireplaces? Are they really a good alternative? Why would anyone even use one in the first place? We’ll take on these questions below, while offering all the ins and outs one needs to know about electric fireplaces.
By the time you’re done reading this article, you should be up to speed on whether or not an electric fireplace is best for you, helping you move forward in the buying process, if applicable.
Read on to find out more.
The term “electric fireplace” should already seem pretty self-explanatory, but allow me to elaborate some, for clarity’s sake.
Electric fireplaces are meant to mimic the look and feel of a real fireplace, but without the need to burn any type of wood, or use any combustibles. There is no actual “fire,” only various forms of fake fire that give off an authentic fireplace aesthetic.
These fireplaces certainly give off a real fire look to varying extents, but they are not just about looks. Electric fireplaces are also heaters, so you are essentially getting the look and heat of real flames, but without any of the work or placement restrictions that would usually come along with it.
This is accomplished in any number of ways, which we’ll touch on further down.
So yes, “electric fireplace” is a bit of a misnomer, but you get the idea. As long as there is electrical operation, heat produced, and the look of flames (be it stationary or motion,) you have a true, legit electric fireplace.
Now let’s go over how we got here in the first place.
The very first forms of electric fireplaces first began to pop up around 1912, which coincidentally was the same time that a number of electric appliances began to be mass produced for the average consumer.
These early forms were basically made using electric coils that were positioned in the front. When turned on, the coils would heat up, and heat would emanate. The orange glow evoked the feel of fire, and hence the name became associated.
(There are obviously still electric coil heaters in use today, but nobody refers to them as fireplaces anymore. They’re just heaters.)
The 1950s and 60s brought about some innovation to the electric fire world, and this is when companies really first started trying to create a sort of mock fire for improved visuals. The more realistic versions were mainly used for stage productions, however, with no heat produced.
The 1980s and 90s saw a resurgence of innovation towards electric fireplaces, and this is when the heating and visual functions really began to merge together for a more complete product. In 1995, one particular company obtained a patent for the first electric fireplace with realistic flame visuals.
Over the next two decades, multiple companies started to offer several different types of electric fireplaces, ranging from complete units made with a mantle, to entertainment centers with a unit in the middle. The visuals now use a combination of technologies and lighting to create the most realistic flames seen thus far. Some even have sound as well.
Electric fireplaces are actually very simple for the most part.
For the visual aspect, a number of different materials and techniques can be employed to create a realistic flame effect. For the most part, a combination of mirrors and LED lights are used to make everything from the flames, to the glowing embers on the fake logs.
Some models may even produce a sort of mist that creates the look of small embers lifting upwards like you’d see on an actual fire. Other models use very thin pieces of fabric that move and sway around while being illuminated to create the flame effect.
As for the heating, there are two main options you’ll see the most often.
Infrared quartz heat leaves the humidity in the air, creating a more comfortable home environment for those that don’t enjoy dry environments.
There are now more different types of electric fireplaces than ever before. Consumers can choose between units of many different sizes, and other models that can serve multiple purposes. Other models are meant to be a replacement for an existing fireplace.
Free-standing fireplaces are any type that isn’t affixed to something else. This can include smaller units that resemble the wood-burning ovens of yore, or larger models that serve bigger decor and functional purposes.
Mantel electric fireplaces are any unit that comes built into an actual mantle. In most cases, these resemble old-fashioned fireplaces, and can often fool a visitor on first glance.
The mantel can be made from decorative wood, faux-wood, or even metal in some cases. The firebox itself is located where a fireplace would normally be when inside a built-in mantel inside a home. The heating element may or may not be separate from the flame part.
Mantel electric fireplaces are great for someone wanting a traditional fireplace look in a living room or bedroom. You get the standard mantle fireplace aesthetic, but with the freedom to “install” it anywhere.
Similar to a mantel unit, an entertainment center electric fireplace has all of the normal parts of a common entertainment center, but with an electric fireplace on the bottom as a centerpiece.
The unit can include multiple shelves, drawers, and compartments, and usually accommodates a larger television, with room for audio devices and decor as well.
This is basically the most versatile type of electric fireplace, and can be used either as a sort of mantel, or as a way to add a warm feel and look to your living room, den, game room, or wherever else you’d like to have added heat and a realistic fire look with your entertainment setup.
Electric “stove” fireplaces have the look and feel of the vintage wood-burning stoves that evoke the vibe of older homes, be it from a colonial era, or old European homes.
These stoves are mainly a decorative space heater that gives the room an alluring throwback look, but without having to worry about fumes, smoke, and changing out logs all the time.
You still get that free-standing stove style, and a good portion of the warmth that an actual wood-burning stove provides, all via an electrical outlet.
Wall mount electric fireplaces are a more modern way to add some style to your space. These units are hung from a wall, and are usually very long and flat, sort of like a live piece of art that also provides heat.
The flat design and simple build of wall mounted electric fireplaces gives you a lot of choices as to where you can place it. Some may choose to hang it above a couch, while others may place it lower, perhaps a few inches above the floor.
The minimal, contemporary design of wall mount fireplaces makes them popular for both indoor and outdoor installations. Those with covered patios may choose to mount one on the wall for some added warmth when enjoying the outdoors during cooler parts of the year.
The shape and style of wall mounted units also makes them good for temporary use during colder months, when style-conscious home dwellers want some added heat, but without the unappealing look of a basic space heater.
Not every electric fireplace needs to be a free-standing type. There are plenty of other choices that involve insert-style units, allowing you to place an electric fireplace into an existing fireplace, or any spot that can house one.
As the name suggests, an electric firebox is a small, self-contained fireplace that you can place into an enclosed space, or even on top of something if possible. These are usually metal, and have a glass front and sides so you can see the flames.
These are often the size of a standard space heater, and produce a moderate amount of heat. Electric fireboxes generally have a traditional fireplace look, and mimic the use of a chimney, placing the fire a bit further back from the front.
Log insert electric fireplaces are the most “naked” type you’ll find. With these, all you get is the actual logs themselves, which are usually placed on top of an andiron, or log grate.
This creates the look of a real, open fire, and the andiron often has the heating element that emits the heat. Cheaper units only offer visuals.
With a log insert, you can place the unit in an existing fireplace, or one that is no longer active. This way, you can make use of the mantle or closed chimney, and still enjoy the look of burning logs, and extra heat for the room when needed.
Some may even use log insert electric fireplaces inside a real fireplace, substituting it for the times they don’t want to deal with getting logs for the fire, or the smoke and fumes. The size and design of log inserts gives them added versatility for those looking to be more creative.
As with most any product, there are going to be some positives and negatives. The sheer purpose and design of electric fireplaces definitely provides far more advantages and benefits than disadvantages.
Still, it’s helpful to go over both, so you know what you’re getting -- and what you’re not.
There are a number of benefits you can enjoy with most any type of electric fireplace unit, ranging from kid-friendliness, to savings on your bills.
It’s not secret, fires can be dangerous, and this doesn’t just involve things accidentally catching on fire.
Yes, the avoidance of open flames is definitely a plus for sure, but there’s also the smoke and fumes part. Chimney’s require a great deal of maintenance to make sure they are operating correctly, and disposing your home of harmful fumes.
When left unchecked, the smoke can find its way back into your home, even if you can’t really see it. CO2 fumes can become a danger very quickly, and your chimney can actually catch fire from a backdraft.
Electric fireplaces have no smoke, no fumes, and no open flames. They are mostly cool to the touch as well, except for the heat vent. This makes them much more safe in general, and definitely more kid-friendly.
Standard fireplaces are messy. Scooping up ash, loading in firewood, it’s easy to make a mess before, during, and after the fire. Electric fireplaces don’t require anything but a cord, and produce no messes.
Firewood is not cheap, especially if you plan on using a lot of it during the winter. The costs can add up quickly. If you are using a gas fireplace, you have even more expenses. Not only are you having to buy firewood all the time, you have a higher gas bill as well, often in addition to an increased electric bill.
Electric fireplaces do require electricity obviously, but they are very efficient, and much cheaper than gas and firewood costs combined.
Electric fireplaces are incredibly versatile. Their design allows you to place them almost anywhere in the home, as long as you have an electrical outlet within reach.
With options ranging from inserts to mantels, you can find always find a unit that is right for your home, both in terms of decor, and heat output.
This kind of piggybacks off of the versatility aspect. Electric fireplaces do not require a chimney, or any kind of extensive work to your walls and floors. Free-standing models are simply placed by an outlet. Inserts are “installed” inside a fireplace or enclosed space. No contractors necessary.
There are a few drawbacks worth going over, as electric fireplaces are limited in a few ways.
While it’s possible to enjoy a fire outside in wet weather(to an extent,) electric fireplaces cannot be exposed to any kind of unfavorable weather. This is obviously due to the fact that they are electrical appliances. This isn’t a big hinderance, however, as the vast majority don’t have a need for their unit to be anywhere but inside a controlled environment.
In most cases, electric fireplaces really are just fancier space heaters. So, if you’re expecting to spend a little more than you would on a “good” space heater, you may be a little surprised, especially if you’re going for a very realistic look that offers as much heat output as possible.
Electric fireplaces cost more than plain heaters, period. Larger units can well exceed hundreds of dollars, while still falling short of what a commercial-sized space heater can put out. For most, the extra money is well spent, as you’re fulfilling more than one purpose with an electric fireplace.
This is obvious, but we’ll go ahead and bring it up. You can have the most realistic electric fireplace, with natural wood crackling sounds, realistic flames, and a heap of realistic wood...but it’s still not the real thing. So, if you’re wanting to roast some hotdogs or make s’mores with the kids, you may want to invest in a fire pit for your backyard.
There are a lot of companies putting out electric fireplaces these days, but these four companies continue to stand out from the rest.
Duraflame is a name that is synonymous with all things fire. While they are most known for their firelogs and starter products, the company puts out some very high-quality electric fireplaces and heaters.
Duraflame electric fireplaces are mostly stove-style, with mostly rustic designs that offer a true vintage look. Duraflame also makes log insert sets in various sizes, giving you plenty of choices for your existing fireplace space.
Southern Enterprises specializes in a variety of home furnishings, but they offer an astoundingly diverse inventory of electric fireplaces. Southern Enterprises electric fireplaces include media consoles, mantels, different styles of wall-mounted models, and small fireboxes as well.
The company provides buyers with a ton of stylistic choices that cover everything from rustic and traditional, to cutting-edge modern designs for those wanting a newer, sleeker look.
Touchstone Home Products mainly focuses on TV and entertainment center products. As for Touchstone electric fireplaces, they offer strictly wall-mounted units and inserts, spanning several different sizes and styles.
Buyers can choose electric fireplaces in sizes as small as 28 inches wide, or up to 96 inches wide, all in different colors and materials. They also offer outdoor electric fireplaces.
Puraflame is one of the only companies that solely focuses on electric fireplaces. Duraflame electric fireplaces are known for being very economical, and with a lot of variance in available styles as well.
Their freestanding fireplaces include both older-styled stove models, and modern styles that almost resembles flat screen televisions in some ways, They also make electric fireplace inserts, and electric fireboxes in bold colors.
Worried about extensive maintenance for your electric fireplace? Don’t be.
We could’ve included this in the ‘advantages’ section, but the maintenance aspect is deservving of its own, mainly due to the fact that there isn't much.
Since there is no wood, no mess, no gas or propane, and no actual rates to clean, electric fireplaces have the same upkeep that you’d encounter with other decor and appliances in your house. You may have to dust the unit sometimes, and use glass cleaner on the front, but that’s really it.
Depending on your unit, you may have to change out the light bulbs every so often, but since they are almost always LED, you could go years without having to do so. Simple keep the unit dust free, and be mindful of the air vents from time to time, and you’ll be just fine.
So, there you go. Electric fireplace are very simple appliances that hold a wide range of uses, and unrivaled convenience when compared to standard fireplaces. The can be used anywhere in the home, require little upkeep, and are very economical for the most part.
Even if you enjoy using your conventional fireplace, an electric model still holds plenty of value and use for other parts of your home, inside and out.
Looking to buy an electric fireplace for your home? Be sue to check out our buying guide, where we’ll give you tips on how to choose an electric fireplace, and share our top picks.