Electric fireplaces are increasingly common in living rooms, family rooms, and master bedrooms. Not only do they providing attractive ambient lighting, but most can also be set up to deliver a gentle warmth. They are especially popular for augmenting a home’s forced-air furnace, allowing you to increase the temperature in a single room without having to incur extra costs for heating unused parts of the house.

These devices are sometimes shrouded in mystery when it comes to how they work, and how you can use them best. In this article, we’ll explore some of the nuts and bolts details of electric fireplaces, while answering some of the more frequently asked questions.

How Does An Electric Fireplace Create Heat?

Different electric fireplace manufacturers put their own little spin on special features and internal layout of the units they sell. Though most work on a similar set of principles.

With most electric fireplaces cool air is taken in through a rear or side-mounted port. An internal electric element then rapidly heats. At that point, some type of fan system diverts the hot air back out into the room.

Different size electric fireplaces can heat different size rooms. In general, most are set up to heat up to 400 square feet to 600 square feet. Though there are some larger units that are capable of more.

Are Electric Fireplaces Energy Efficient?

This is a little bit of an interesting question when it comes to how electric efficiency works. On the face of it, an electric fireplace doesn’t lose any heat to a chimney or external exhaust port. This means that all the energy put into heating the air it produces remains in the home. With most forced air furnaces some portion of the heat is lost to the chimney or outside world.

When an electric fireplace is used in conjunction with a home heating system it can reduce overall energy costs by 10 to 15%. You are more likely to see the top end savings with an electric fireplace that has a thermostat. When the room reaches the target temperature the internal heating unit throttles back of completely shuts down to keep the room at the ideal temperature.

Is An Electric Fireplace More Efficient Than A Space Heater?

Electric heaters all work on the same principle of resistance. When an electric current passes through the system it is impeded. This creates heat, which is then delivered by some type of fan or other air delivery system.

In this way, the number of watts you put into an electric fireplace will produce the same amount of heat as an electric space heater. This ultimately means they are equally efficient.

Is An Electric Fireplace Safer Than A Space Heater?

There are some space heaters that have special safety features built into them which will turn them off if they are knocked over, bumped or overheat. Most electric fireplaces have similar features, though since they are generally near a wall, they are less likely to be accidentally contacted. This can be a major safety benefit if you have kids or pets running around in the house.

Does An Electric Fireplace Need A Special Outlet?

Most of the electric fireplaces found at the consumer retail level have a three-prong plug that will work with a standard 110 Volt household electric outlet. Though there are some commercial-grade electric fireplaces available through contractors who can be directly wired into a home’s electric system. These are usually part of a larger mantle area or a built-in home entertainment center.

Does An Electric Fireplace Produce Real Flames?

Some electric fireplaces put on an amazing light show that can replicate the illusion of real flame. Yet it’s not an actual fire. This also means they don’t produce harmful byproducts like ash and dangerous carbon monoxide.

There are many electric fireplaces that allow you to turn on the heat and flame separately. This is an especially nice feature for times when you want to enjoy the visual ambiance of a flame, yet you don’t want to heat the room.

Can An Electric Fireplace Be Converted To Burn Propane Or Natural Gas?

As the name implies electric fireplaces are indeed electric appliances. Their internal materials are not geared to handle actual flame. Even if you were to remove the internal workings, the plastics and metals used in most of these devices simply aren’t rated to handle real flame.

At the same time, propane and natural gas fireplaces also need to be vented to safely remove the exhaust gases. This usually requires them to be connected to the home’s chimney or external venting system. There are usually strict building and safety codes associated with this type of configuration.

Can A Gas Or Wood Burning Fireplace Be Converted To An Electric Fireplace?

Interestingly there are many times when an existing gas or wood-burning fireplace can be converted to electric. However, the devil is often in the details. The existing chimney or home venting system will still be in place and may need to be capped off to prevent an accidental water intrusion. There might also be some special wiring and safety codes that need to be addressed.

So, while it can indeed be done, it isn’t the sort of thing that your average do-it-yourselfer should try to tackle. It’s best to reach out to a professional for proper conversion and safe installation.

Can An Electric Fireplace Be Flush To The Wall?

This depends on the air intake. Many electric fireplaces sold at the retail consumer level have the air intake on the back. If you set it flush to the wall, it might not be able to get the air it needs. This can impact performance and potentially damage the internal components.

Though there are some electric fireplaces that have a side or bottom mounted air intake. This is even more likely with wall mounted electric fireplaces. Though most of these units need professional installation to make sure they are properly secured to the wall, properly wired, and meet pertinent safety codes.