Are you considering buying an electric fireplace? You may have heard about the benefits of owning one like they’re safer to use and operate compared to traditional combustion fireplaces, and they’re far easier to install and maintain as well as much less of an all around hassle. Electric fireplaces cost less to operate and they look great.
Modern electric fireplaces create lifelike flame visuals for a realistic alternative to the old-fashioned wood burners and they have the capability to also heat a room, just like a real fire. Some can even produce sound to further sell the realism and continue to blur the line between real and simulated flames.
Thousand of Products with Dozens of Manufactures; How to Decide?
There are dozens of manufactures and thousands of products on the market all with different features, technology and capabilities. Some things to consider might be the realism of the flames, as well as the form factor and ability to heat, as well as price and features — not to mention overall aesthetics.
With so many electric fireplace options out there and so many manufacturers how do you know which one is best for you? This comprehensive electric fireplace buying guide will help you to understand the technology, features and benefits so you can make the best buying decision in 2020 and beyond. This guide has been written and contributed to by electric fireplace manufacturers, insiders, and enthusiasts who eat, breath and sleep electric fireplaces and who are needless to say passionate about the subject.
The Ultimate Electric Fireplace Buying Guide for 2020
Many folks have asked if a faux electric firebox is better than a traditional or gas fireplace and do electric fireplaces look real? The answer is that it depends and this guide will help you to navigate those waters and make an informed buying decision. Whether you are an architect, interior designer, or electric fireplace enthusiast this guide is for you, and guaranteed to shed fresh light on the much debated argument of “real vs. simulated flames”?
Table of Contents:
- What is an Electric Fireplace?
- Do Electric Fireplaces Require a Chimney or Venting?
- In Electric Fireplaces is the Flame Real?
- Are Electric Fireplaces Tacky?
- Breaking Down The Different Technologies in Electric Fireplaces
- How Does an Electric Fireplace Work? What Are the Various Types?
- Mechanical Electric Fireplaces
- Water Based Electric Fireplaces
- Gel Fuel Based Fireplaces
- Holographic Electric Fireplaces
- How Do You Control an Electric Fireplace?
- Do Electric Fireplaces Produce Heat?
- How Much Space Do Electric Fireplaces Heat?
- Are Electric Fireplaces Efficient and What is Zone Heating?
- Types of Heaters Found In Electric Fireplaces
- How To Install an Electric Fireplace Insert
- Electrical Requirements and Considerations
- Are Electric Fireplaces Safe?
- Can You Install a TV Above Your Electric Fireplace?
- What Types of Electric Fireplace Form Factors are Available?
- Mantel Quality and Materials
- How to Choose the Right Size Electric Fireplace
- How to Calculate the Cost Per Hour to Operate
- What to Ask Yourself Before Choosing an Electric Fireplace?
- What is the Best Electric Fireplace?
- In Conclusion – Wrapping it Up
What is an Electric Fireplace?
Electric fireplaces are a safe and convenient alternative to traditional combustion fireplaces and provide a realistic flame experience complete with burning coal simulation and heat with no expensive installation. Most will simply plug right into the wall and surrounds can be customized for an infinite amount of design options to fit any environment or decor.
Electrics do not require costly permits or inspections, rely on chopped wood or gas to operate, and avoid the expense of annual chimney sweeps and maintenance to save you money up front as well as over time. They’re clean running, easy to operate and provide a realistic and trouble free fireplace experience all year round with few drawbacks.
Expect modern electric fireplaces to deliver ultra-realistic 3D flames that look very similar to their wood and gas burning counterparts and include sound as well as smart phone control for the pinnacle of convenience and unsurpassed realism.
Do Electric Fireplaces Require a Chimney or Venting?
No. Electric fireplaces do not require any kind of chimney or traditional flue as used in combustion fireplaces. Because electric fireplaces don’t create any actual fire and because they have no smoke there is no need to vent these types of fireplaces. This will dramatically reduce your maintenance and labor fees all while improving air quality considerably.
Electrics are a great solution for folks with allergies or asthma, or those who want cleaner air in their homes. Electric fireplaces do not emit dangerous fumes like carbon monoxide and formaldehyde that could be expelled with old fashioned combustion fireplaces. If air quality and safety is a deciding factor for you then an electric fireplace is the way to go.
Electric fireplaces are gaining popularity because of their ease-of-use, low maintenance and relatively simple installation. There has never been a better time to upgrade your traditional fireplace to a safe and efficient electric fireplace, as modern units are almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
In Electric Fireplaces is the Flame Real?
Many ask the questions “do electric fireplaces have real flames?” Usually the answer to this is no. Most electric fireplaces use a combination of an electric motor and a rotating shaft with mirrors to reflect LED lights onto a panel behind the log set simulating a flame. Other fireplaces use water or steam to create a more realistic flame effect while other fireplaces burn gels or other fuels and are therefore real flames.
Are Electric Fireplaces Tacky?
It depends on the type you buy. Some low end electric fireplaces are quite tacky while the high-end units are almost identical to the real thing — like new state of the art holographic fireplaces by manufacturers like MagikFlame.
Breaking Down The Different Technologies in Electric Fireplaces
Here are some popular types of electric fireplaces to consider:
- Mechanical – A rotating cylinder with LED lights.
- Steam or Mist – Water is vaporized and tinted orange to simulate flames.
- Gel – A combustible fuel source is burned as an alternative to gas or wood.
- Holographic – video of real flames is projected onto a log set creating the illusion of real fire.
How Does an Electric Fireplace Work? What Are the Various Types?
Mechanical: This is the most common type of electric fireplace on the market and covers 95% of the lower-end electric fireplaces due to their simplicity to manufacturer and relatively lost cost of the components used. These are the types you’ll find in big-box stores and on most internet web sites.
These fireplaces operate by using an electric motor to spin a cylinder with reflective “mirror-like” tabs on it that reflect colored LED lights through a flame silhouette and onto a translucent panel located behind the log set. Because the flames are illuminated by LED technology they are capable of producing flames in a variety of colors like yellow, orange and red, or even combination of colors like blue to simulate a gas burning fireplaces. These types of fireplaces have many flame color options as LEDs are quite versatile. However they really just offer one flame in several different colors and should not be mistaken for several different flames as commonly advertised.
Mechanical electric fireplaces have lights that can last for 50,000 hours or more but the in-expensive electric motors are prone to wearing out breaking. These bushing motors wear down over time and eventually stop working altogether due to friction amongst moving parts. In most cases these motors can not be easily replaced forcing the owner to buy new electric fireplaces when components “wear-out”. We do not recommend this type of fireplace for those looking for a realistic flame. However these types of fireplaces are a popular consideration for those on a budget or folks who simply want some ambiance to go along with their room heater and a somewhat realistic looking flame experience.
- Mechanical PRO’s–
o PRO: Low Cost – Less expensive to buy and are readily available.
o PRO: Huge Selection – Dozens of manufactures and 1000’s of choices.
o PRO: Low maintenance – LED lamps are long lasting and reliable.
o PRO: Moderate Longevity – Electric motors are somewhat reliable.
- Mechanical CON’s–
o CON: Artificial Flames – This low cost tech creates fake looking fire.
o CON: Lack of Flame Detail: No smoke OR rising burning embers.
o CON: No Sound: Usually, no flame or log cracking sounds.
Water Based: Mist or Steam: These types of electric fireplaces are far more rare than mechanical as there are only a few manufacturers like Dimplex that use water based technology to create flames. Often the designs are patented limiting the number of choices available to the consumer.
These electric fireplaces work by using an ultrasonic fogger to create a fine water mist containing billions of 5-micron water droplets that rise into the air and tint that mist orange to create the look of fire. Halogen light bulbs are used to not only color the grey mist to the color of fire, mainly orange, but to produce heat that causes the water droplets to climb into the air utilizing the laws of liquid dynamics to create a free flowing and somewhat realistic flame effect.
There is no doubt that mist based fireplaces are considerably more realistic than mechanical fireplaces but they also require a lot more maintenance and special considerations need to be taken into account when using this type of electric fireplace. For instance the transducer discs used in foggers have tiny holes that the water droplets pass through, and those holes can easily get clogged with minerals and calcium found in hard water. Therefore to maximize the efficiency of these types of fireplaces it’s vitally important to use only filtered or distilled water free of minerals and contaminants.
There are a few other major drawbacks to water based systems. Because the technology relies on a water reservoir to provide the “fuel” for the fire, as soon as the water runs out your fire stops. Continuously re-filling the water reservoir can be tedious and somewhat defeats the purpose of a low maintenance device. You could run a water line directly into the reservoir but this is an added complication and expense.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to water based systems is in the types of lights they use. While other electric fireplaces use high efficiency and long lasting LED technology, water based systems use hot burning halogen bulbs that create heat, use more power, and burn out a lot faster than LED lights and they’re expensive to replace.
Because of the way these water based fireplaces work, they are only capable of simulating one flame and are not able to change colors like mechanical fireplaces to suit different moods. The flames do look a lot more realistic than mechanical but lack the variation and can become “boring” over time.
We do not believe water based systems are a good value for your money. Ultrasonic foggers cost mere dollars to manufacture and coupled with a plastic molded log set and LED lights does not equate to a product costing upwards of $1500 or more. Simply put the value for your money is not there. While it does produce more realistic flames than the mechanical system it’s not as varied or realistic as a modern holographic fireplace.
Water Vapor [Mist & Steam] PRO’s –
o PRO: Realism – More realistic flames than mechanical fireplaces.
o PRO: Cost – More cost effective than Holographic fireplaces.
Water Vapor [Mist & Steam] CON’s –
o CON: Selection – Lack of flame variation – single flame aesthetic.
o CON: Options – Extremely limited number of choices in the marketplace.
o CON: Bulbs – Halogen bulbs burn hot and require quick replacements (expensive).
o CON: Runtime – Flame effect stops when reservoir is empty – frequent refills.
o CON: Hidden Costs – Distilled water requirement increases expense and maintenance.
o CON: No sound – often these types of fireplaces don’t have sound f/x.
Gel Fuel Based Fireplaces: Gel fireplaces are not exactly electric but they also are not the traditional wood or gas burning fireplaces either. They burn alcohol-based gel as the fuel source. Unlike traditional fireplaces they do not require a chimney or gas hookups or electricity which might make them easier to install in certain situations than electrics.
The flame aesthetic of a gel based fireplace is going to be more realistic than both mechanical and water-based systems because the fire is actually real. However you have the significant drawback of the fire emitting dangerous and foul smelling fumes into your home degrading air quality — similar to a combustion fireplaces. This is not desirable for people with allergies or adverse to chemical smells and emissions.
Furthermore with this type of fireplace you are locked into buying continuous refills of the alcohol-based gel from a limited number of manufacturers; such as the company that has built your fireplace. With gel based “real flame” fireplaces you also have the danger associated with having a real flame in your home, which needs to be monitored for safety and can not be left running when you are not monitoring the fireplace. This is inconvenient for many users and is not as safe as an electric fireplace.
Heating capability and control over that functionality is limited with gel fireplaces versus traditional electrics. For instance the heating function cannot be simply turned off for an ambiance only mode which is a major shortcoming of this technology. Gel fireplaces are not nearly as efficient at warming a room as an electric fireplace which is more suited for this purpose. Gel fireplaces do look more realistic than mechanical and water based systems but again only have one flame and emit dangerous chemical fumes into your home.
We do not recommend this type of fireplace unless you’re looking for the convenience of installing a fireplace without an electrical requirement and don’t mind buying the consumable gel cans frequently as needed to keep your fireplace running, and you don’t mind the increased danger associated with this technology in addition to the strong chemical smell. However you do get very realistic flame effects with this technology and it does cost a lot less than a holographic electric fireplace which is next on our list.
Gel Based Fireplaces PRO’s –
o PRO: Realism – Extremely realistic flame – it is real.
o PRO: Installation – Easy to install. No venting or electric requirement.
o PRO: Cost – Less expensive than holographic fireplaces.
Gel Based Fireplaces CON’s –
o CON: Air Quality – Unhealthy chemicals burned for poor air quality.
o CON: Safety – As it is a real fire and flame – it’s much more dangerous.
o CON: Consumables – Investment of gel refills or replacements from a single manufacturer.
o CON: Flames Options – Lack of flame selection – single flame aesthetic.
o CON: Audio – No sound.
Holographic Electric Fireplaces: Perhaps the most modern and realistic electric fireplace of the bunch is the holographic electric fireplace. With this type of fireplace you are getting the most realistic flame of any electric fireplace technology, accompanied with a wide variety of flame aesthetics and sound — which combine for a very realistic experience to suit any mood or season. A holographic fireplace will get you as close to the look of a real wood fireplace or gas burning fireplace without actually setting something on fire so there is no danger.
A holographic fireplace works very differently from others on this list. Rather than relying on a mechanical effect to make its flame, it instead uses video of actual fires to create the basis for the flames. By utilizing holographic technology these types of fireplaces can project video of actual flames onto a physical log set that sits inside your fireplace cavity and appears to actually burn. The log or fuel bed contains long lasting LED lighting that flicker and pulsate realistically to create the look of smoldering embers, all while appearing to actually burn with this specialized technology.
With holographic electric fireplaces you will find immersive details in the flames such as the organic movement of the fire, the coloring of the flames, and subtle details like simulated smoke and rising burning embers — making this type of fireplaces the most realistic on the list. These fireplaces combine sound with video flame technology to make for a very realistic experience. To take it one step further holographic fireplaces by MagikFlame can utilize pine scent atomizers to actually fill your room with a pine smell just like real fresh-cut firewood. Since the natural pine oil is derived from actual pine trees and is not artificial it can be safely used in your home without degrading air quality.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to this technology is price. These types of fireplaces are expensive to manufacture because of the cost of the technology found within the product. For instance they contain complex video imaging devices to store and play back video loops and are coupled with technology like Bluetooth, WiFi and smart-phone app compatibility for ease of use. Because these components cost more to manufacture it adds significantly to the price of holographic fireplaces and your choices are limited as only one manufacturer has the patent and ability to build this type of electric fireplace.
If realism and varied flame selection along with sound is a key selling point, then there is no doubt a holographic fireplace is the way to go. However this technology is considerably more expensive than the rest of the list and is therefore intended for fireplace enthusiasts who value realism at a price. If you can not install a traditional fireplace into your home or wish to convert, but require the realism we highly recommend a holographic electric fireplace which is capable of warming your home and providing a true to life experience while delivering the stress free benefits found with the look of real flames.
Holographic Fireplaces PRO’s –
o PRO: Authenticity – Most realistic flames by far.
o PRO: Detail – More flame detail, burning embers, and smoke effects.
o PRO: Options – Much larger flame selection.
o PRO: Appearance – Ability to simulate wood and gas fires.
o PRO: Audio – Log crackling and popping sounds.
o PRO: Reliability – Low maintenance and long lasting parts.
Holographic Fireplaces CON’s –
o CON: Price – Much more expensive than other technologies.
o CON: Position – Viewing angle is more of a concern.
How Do You Control an Electric Fireplace?
Many ask “how do you turn on an electric fireplace?” There are a variety of ways to control your electric fireplace depending on the manufacturer and the specifics of your particular fireplace. Many electric fireplaces are controlled with a built-in panel of buttons directly on the front console of the fireplace. This is convenient as the controls are conveniently located and readily accessible, but do require physically being at arm’s reach in front of the fireplace. These tactile controls can be used when a remote is not available. Typically these buttons will allow you to control the speed and color of the flames and some have the ability to control the flame brightness levels.
By far the most popular method of controlling electric fireplaces however is with the use of a remote control. This is typical to what you might expect with your standard television and works by transmitting an infrared beam to a receiver in the fireplace. The problem with the traditional IR remote control is that you must be in the direct line of sight of your fireplace in order for it to operate. Also most remote controls do not illuminate at night or in a dark room making them more difficult to use in a dimly illuminated environment and small icons can be difficult to interpret.
Modern electric fireplaces utilize an interactive back-lit touchscreen that’s extremely visible and useful in both bright and dimly lit rooms. These touch screens are similar to what you will find in your smartphone and are very intuitive to use and operate. Advanced electric fireplaces will offer smartphone control over Bluetooth so that the fireplace can be controlled in any room of your home and does not require a finicky line of sight to operate. Fireplaces with app compatibility are far preferred to electric fireplaces with outdated remote control technology and we recommend the latter.
Do Electric Fireplaces Produce Heat?
Yes they do for the most part. However the technology used to produce that heat varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Most electric fireplaces do have on demand heat and that means that the fireplace can be operated with or without the heat. Typically the unit of heat output is measured in BTUs. Typically the higher the number the more square feet the heater can warm.
Having the ability to turn the heat off during warmer seasons or in warmer climates is a very powerful reason to go with an electric fireplace, as you have complete control over the heat settings. Electric fireplaces with optional heat can be enjoyed all year round with or without the heat making this a desirable option in most cases with few draw-backs.
Most electric fireplaces have the ability to control the heat output. Some electric fireplaces have a high, medium, and a low setting for adjusting the heat output while other more advanced fireplaces have a built-in variable thermostat for precisely controlling heat output with a dial or other input method.
Some electric fireplaces do not have any heaters built-in at all like some wall-mount linear fireplaces. This may save you some money when purchasing an electric fireplace if heating is not essential for you. However many electric fireplaces do contain heaters and we have found that the price difference between the two is not substantial.
How Much Space in Square Feet Do Electric Fireplaces Heat?
Electric fireplace heaters will typically heat rooms between 400-1000 sq/ft depending on the type of electric heater. Fan-forced coil heaters will typically heat a room up to 400-500 sq/ft while higher-end infrared quartz heaters will warm a room up to a 1000 square feet.
Are Electric Fireplaces Efficient and What is Zone Heating?
Yes. Electric fireplaces heat only the room you’re in. This is called zone heating and it’s a fantastic way to cut your heating bill by a large amount. For instance it can cost as little as .01 cent an hour when using the fireplace in ambiance only mode and about .10 to .15 cents an hour while in heating mode which typically consumes 1.4-1.6 kW of power. This can vary depending on the cost of electricity in your city.
Types of Heaters Found In Electric Fireplaces
There are two types of heaters that are commonly used in electric fireplaces. The ones that are most common in lower-end fireplaces is the fan forced coil heater type which is a less expensive to manufacture space heater. More high-end electric fireplaces will come with an infrared quartz heater which is more efficient at heating large spaces. Both types will work well as a supplemental heat source. Let’s take a look at the two technologies.
- Fan-Forced Coil Based Heaters: Fan-forced coil heaters are perhaps the most abundantly found in electric fireplaces because of their simplicity to manufacture and low-cost to produce. Typically these will warm smaller areas that are between 400 to 500 square feet. These types of fireplace heaters work by drawing in cool air from the room, passing it over electrically heated coils, and using a small fan to blow that heated air directly into your space. The drawback of this type of technology is the fan does make some audible noise and it does not have the heating capacity of an infrared quartz heater. With this type of technology you’re going to want to avoid anything obstructing the heater’s air path and be cautious to keep flammables such as curtains, carpet and furniture safely out of the way.
- Infrared Quartz Heaters: Infrared quartz heaters are also known as radiant heaters. This type of heater works differently than the fan forced coil heaters and are generally more efficient at heating larger spaces up to 1000 square feet. This type of heater works very much like the sun. It emits an invisible UV light that warms the surface of anything that it comes in contact with. Such as the way your skin will feel warm when it’s hit by sunlight. Infrared waves directly heat the surfaces of objects that it comes in contact with. This type of technology is generally used in higher-end electric fireplace heaters and creates a more natural heating sensation and won’t dry the air.
There are a variety of ways to install an electric fireplace. Some simply mount onto the wall using a drywall kit and are then plugged in. Other fireplaces are built into mantles and can simply be pushed up against the wall, while some prefer to install fireplaces directly inside a wall for the clean look of a built-in. Ask your handyman how to build a frame for an electric fireplace insert for a custom installation. Most fireplace inserts have illustrations and diagrams in the owner’s manual covering installation methods and requirements.
Electrics can be installed in non-traditional indoor locations, such as bathrooms, bedrooms, entryways, attics, basements, cabins, mobile homes and boats to name a few. They are fantastic for residential and commercial spaces alike. Electric fireplaces are made for indoor use only and should not be installed outdoors.
Electrical Requirements and Considerations
Most electric fireplaces can simply be plugged directly into a wall while others are hard-wired. Fireplaces built and sold in the United States typically run on 110 volts and do not require a specialized high voltage 220 volt plugs like other appliances. They should be used on their own breaker and a dedicated circuit is recommended.
Electric fireplace heaters can draw 1,500 watts or more, and when this amount of current is drawn through an inexpensive extension cord or a cheap power strip it can easily overheat and possibly cause a real fire. Always plug your electric fireplace directly into your wall outlet with a 15 to 20 amp dedicated circuit. Do not run other lights, televisions or devices off of the outlet that you plug your electric fireplace into as to not overload it. This is critical…
We recommend using a licensed and insured electrician when installing an electrical socket for your electric fireplace or hard wiring the electric fireplace directly into your home’s power supply. Plugging too many devices into a singular outlet could cause a circuit breaker to trip and is a safety hazard to avoid. Make sure to always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer of your electric fireplace.
Are Electric Fireplaces Safe?
Yes. Electric fireplaces are far safer than traditional combustible fireplaces because they do not actually burn. With these types of fireplaces the flame is only simulated and therefore much safer. Generally it’s okay to have children and pets in proximity of your electric fireplace as long as they stay away from the heating element which can get warm. American fireplaces are usually UL certified so you know that they’re safe for use in your home as they’ve been certified compliant when operated properly from a testing laboratory.
There is little chance for these types of fireplaces to set something ablaze due to no burning embers coming out of the fire pit like wood burners. Electric fireplaces are in fact quite safe to use and operate and we recommend them highly as an alternative to traditional fireplaces which are far more dangerous to operate.
If you will be leaving your home for an extended amount of time, or if there are children present we recommend unplugging your fireplace for maximum safety. Always be aware of children that play around an electric fireplace and guide them to not toy with the fireplace. It’s a good idea to keep water away from your fireplace as well and we don’t recommend putting vases filled with liquid on top of the mantle for obvious reasons. Be sure to follow sensible safety protocols and read your owner’s manual for proper operation and safety warnings.
Can You Install a TV Above Your Electric Fireplace?
Many new electric fireplace owners ask if it’s safe to mount a TV above your electric fireplace. In general it’s ok, but you need to ensure that your fireplace blows it’s heated air out of the front of the unit and preferably at the bottom of the insert. Because the heat is not blown straight up with this type of fireplace it’s perfectly safe to mount your television above your fireplace. In some situations the television itself can sit directly on top of the mantle or can even be bolted into a wall with the use of a television mounting bracket. Be sure that your electric fireplace blows heated air directly into the room and not up before installing a TV above your electric fireplace.
What Types of Electric Fireplace Form Factors are Available?
- Wall Mounted Linear Fireplaces
- Built-In Fireplaces
- Electric Fireplace Inserts
- Electric Log Sets
- Media Mantels or T.V. Consoles
- Freestanding Fireplace Stoves
- Wall Mantel Packages
- Corner Fireplaces
Wall Mount Electric Fireplace: A wall mount fireplace is amongst the easiest to install and use. They are great for apartments and condominiums because they can be simply and easily removed when you move, and they do not require significant changes to the structure — which may upset some landlords. These types of fireplaces come with mounting brackets that install into drywall using wall anchors and specialized screws. Typically the only tools required for installation of a wall-mounted fireplace is a level, as well as a screwdriver and helping set of hands to measure and hold as you mount. The manufacturers Amantii or Touchstone are both popular choices for linear fireplaces. Sometimes with these you can customize the ember bed in your electric fireplace. This is brand-specific and generally includes various log set aesthetics and wood types, crystal gems, and crushed fire glass known commonly as “dragon glass”.
Built in Electric Fireplaces: Built-in electric fireplaces are typically fireplace inserts that have been installed directly into a wall when building out a room. They are traditionally flush with the wall as the guts of the fireplace exist between the studs. This type of installation looks very clean and part of the structure. However it does require professional installation. These types of fireplaces are generally frame-less and you will find many linear fireplaces that have this form factor.
Electric Fireplace Inserts: Electric fireplace inserts are also known as a firebox and are very common as this is the standard form factor for many electric fireplaces. These are the ideal choice for a homeowner who is converting a traditional combustible fireplace like a wood-burning or a propane gas burner into a safe and efficient electric. Generally a fireplace insert can be put directly into the fireplace cavity and trimmed in or around to make it look like a built in wood burner fireplace. Use an experienced and licensed electrician to install electrical outlets into your cavity for the cleanest appearance and to hide unsightly power cords.
Electric Log Sets: Electric log inserts are a simple and low-cost way of converting an existing fireplace opening into a quasi electric fireplace. Electric log sets will generally have a set of LED lights inside of them that will flicker and pulsate to simulate smoldering and burning embers in the ember bed. Some will even project a fire effect on to the wall behind the logs that somewhat simulate a flame. However these are not as realistic as electric fireplace inserts but fit the bill for small and simple installations on a budget. Many electric log sets contain space heaters to take the chill off of a room.
Media Mantels or TV Consoles: This type of form factor is also referred to as an entertainment center or media console fireplace and is perfect for people who want a place to easily store their electronics, like set-top boxes and video games that are integrated into an electric fireplace. Typically media mantles will have a place to store all of your electronics, as well as a place for your TV directly above it, and will usually feature an electric fireplace directly in the center. Very good for media organization and smaller homes or for those looking to conserve space.
Free Standing Fireplace Stoves: Free-standing electric fireplaces like stoves are perhaps the most old-fashioned look for an electric fireplace. These are the old steel stoves that you would typically see in a cabin or rustic homes. Electric versions are generally built out of plastic but visually look like an old style electric fireplace stoves with burning coals. Some of these are even intentionally weathered to look old. These types of fireplaces are generally freestanding and look great in country and rural homes.
Wall Mantel Packages: Wall mantel packages are the classic or traditional fireplace mantel look that you will generally find in the living room of a home and are widely regarded as the centerpiece of the room. Generally a fireplace insert is surrounded with a wood piece of furniture called a mantel that is pushed up against a wall to look like a built-in hearth. The beauty with these types of fireplaces is that they can simply be plugged into a wall and will be ready to use without professional installation — perfect for DIY’ers. The wood mantel can even be painted to exactly match your room. Freestanding mantel fireplaces are portable so they can easily be moved from room to room and even taken with you when you move out of your home. Furthermore this type of mantel can be used as a TV stand. Generally wall mantel fireplaces can be assembled in about 20 to 30 minutes and require the use of just an electric screwdriver and do not require any other tools or professional installation and can be assembled with little technical ability.
Corner Units: Corner fireplaces are very similar in design and function to wall mantel fireplaces but are specifically made to go in a corner. While wall mantel fireplaces have a perfectly flush rear section, corner mantel fireplaces have a triangle shaped back which fits the contours of a room where two walls come together at a 90 degree angle. A corner fireplace is a nice touch for small rooms or off-set viewing positions. A TV can be placed above the fireplace.
Mantel Quality and Materials
A furniture grade mantle will be made from high quality wood. Mantels paired with premium electric fireplaces will often use a variety of wood types like a MDF core with a real wood grain veneer on the outer faces and hard wood crown molding and embellishments for a hand carved look. Stained wood grain veneers are indistinguishable from actual stained wood and look very high quality. Lower end fireplace mantels will be made from MDF on it’s own and lack in quality and finish compared to multi-wood mantels found with higher-end fireplaces.
How to Choose the Right Size Electric Fireplace
Electric fireplaces make a great addition to the living room, dining room, bedroom, den, and home office as a supplemental heat source. The size of the fireplace that you purchase will often be dictated by the size of the room that you’ll be installing it in. For instance smaller homes or contained spaces like apartments or condominiums might be better suited with a smaller mantel like a media or TV console or even a corner unit. Larger homes should consider bigger mantels that will elevate the insert up off of the base to give it a more “grand” look. Mantle sizes can be paired with televisions that will go above them and should be approximately the same width for a balanced look. If you have less room available in your home consider a slightly smaller mantle that can range in width from about 53-45 inches or so. Consider the volume of space to heat and go with an infrared system for larger rooms and a forced air coil system for smaller spaces.
How to Calculate the Cost Per Hour to Operate
If you would like to know what the cost to operate an electric fireplace will be, we can tell you how to calculate that using a formula. You can use this equation: (Watts / 1,000) x kw/hr = total cost per hour to run.
Look-up the maximum amount of watts your electric fireplace consumes. This will be written on the fireplace itself or in the owner’s manual or both. Next look-up your local rate for a kilowatt-hour (kw/hr) on your monthly utility statement from your power company.
Take the total watts and divide by 1,000 to convert watts into kilowatts. Then multiply the kilowatts by the kw/hr rate from your power bill. This equals your total cost per hour to operate.
For instance, if you have an electric fireplace that consumes 5,000 watts and your kw/hr rate is .15 cents, then your total cost would be .75 cents per hour to operate the fireplace.
EXAMPLE: (5,000 watts / 1,000) x .15 = .75, or 75 cents per hour to run
Now to calculate the total daily cost multiply the total cents per hour by the number of hours you use the fireplace each day. The result is how much it will cost to run your fireplace daily.
What to Ask Yourself Before Choosing an Electric Fireplace?
- What type of flame technology do you want? If you’re looking for an inexpensive electric fireplace then choose a mechanical system as these are the least expensive. However these types of fireplaces have very artificial or fake-looking flames. For a more realistic look consider a water-based vapor fireplace or perhaps a gel fireplace that burns an alcohol-based fuel source. For the most realistic fireplace experience consider a holographic electric fireplace that looks close to the real thing with little to no maintenance.
- What’s my budget? Depending on your choices of flame aesthetic as well as heating and control abilities will significantly affect the cost of your fireplace. Having in mind how much you want to spend and how important the realism of the flames are and consider the capacity of the heater when making a budgeting decision.
- Do you require heat? Calculate the square feet you want to heat and choose a fan coil based system or an infrared quartz heater. Coil based systems heat smaller rooms of 400-500 sq/ft and use a small fan. Infrared quartz heaters are slightly more expensive and are suited to heat large rooms. These are a good supplementary heat source for up to 1,000 sq/ft.
- What type of insulation do I want? DIY or professional? Do you want to simply plug a fireplace into a wall and be ready to use? If so consider a wall-mounted, free-standing, or mantle package with insert. You can also build an insert directly into a wall to look like a built-in with professional installation for a more permanent solution.
- What style am I looking for? Do you like the clean and modern look of a linear fireplace or prefer the look of a traditional or free-standing unit? There are many modern frame-less and wall mounted electric fireplaces to choose from as well as the more traditional wall mantel style fireplace that looks like a built-in hearth.
What is the Best and Most Realistic Electric Fireplace? The best electric fireplace that we’ve seen and tested is the MagikFlame HoloFlame electric insert. MagikFlame is the only manufacturer on this list to use a patented holographic technology to make it look like a physical log set is actually burning. By using real video of actual fire the flames look real because they are real. They are holographically projected onto a physical log set which contains LED lights inside that simulate burning embers. Combined with the holographic flame technology this fireplace is very realistic and borders on real. The MagikFlame features 26 ultra realistic flames that simulate gas and wood burning fires, and come complete with log crackling and popping log sounds for an authentic experience.
The infrared quartz heater in this unit is capable of warming up to 1,000 square feet and the LED lighting will last up to 50,000 hours. These efficient lights produce approximately 90% less heat than halogens and use less than 1/6 of the energy of incandescent light bulbs, and up to three times less energy than a typical compact fluorescent lamp.
The built-in heater is 5,200 BTUs and features an infinite infrared quartz heating technology for maximum heating efficiency.
For ease of control the MagikFlame operates with a back-lit touchscreen which is easy to use even in dimly-lit environments and can also be controlled via a smartphone app using Bluetooth. The current app works only for iOS and is therefore available only on iPhone’s (as of the writing of this article.)
The MagikFlame is by far the most realistic electric fireplace we’ve ever seen and a perfect focal point of the room. It’s highly reviewed and recommended by users all over the world. However the price is a bit more because of its technology and the fact that it’s American made and not mass produced.
What About Dimplex and Amantii Fireplaces?
There are few fireplaces manufacturers that innovate with new fireplace technology that set them apart from the crowd. After MagikFlame, Dimplex comes in second as they have several technologies like their Opti-Myst fireplace and their Revillusion line that are a bit different from other fireplaces. If you can’t afford a MagikFlame, then Dimplex might be an alternative. But watch out for their expensive bulb replacements on halogen based fireplace systems like the Opti-Myst. Amantii is a manufacturer of contemporary electric fireplaces and makes many popular linear models that look better than the rest and are a popular choice for this type of fireplace where realism is not paramount.
Frequently Asked Questions About Electric Fireplaces
- Is it safe to sleep with an electric fireplace on? Yes. Much more so than a traditional fireplace. However with any heater care should be taken that the fireplace is operating in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Which electric fireplace is the most realistic? By far the MagikFlame HoloFlame with holographic technology is almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
- What is the best electric fireplace insert? It depends on your requirements. For the most realistic fire effect we prefer the MagikFlame as well. If you can afford it this is the best choice for flame aesthetics and ease of use.
- How do you fix the flame on an electric fireplace? Fireplaces with replaceable bulbs are easy to swap out and fix. Obtain replacement bulbs from the manufacturer and follow the instructions to replace your bulbs to fix your electric fireplace.
- Do electric fireplaces have real flames? Most of the time no. The exceptions are gel fireplaces which are a cross between traditional and electric. Most electric fireplaces simulate the look of fire.
- Do electric fireplaces need a chimney? Since the flames are simulated they do not require venting.
- What kind of bulbs are used? Most electric fireplaces use LED bulbs as they’re long tasting and energy efficient. Some electrics will use halogen bulbs which cost more to replace.
- Can you paint an electric fireplace? Most wood mantel electric fireplaces can safely be painted with non-flammable paint.
- Do electric fireplaces put out heat? Most do but some do not.
- Does an electric fireplace add value to my home? In short the answer is yes. Installing a fireplace will set your home apart and a nice electric like a holographic unit will make you home more memorable and desirable.
- Can I put an electric fireplace on the carpet? Yes. Just be careful not to obstruct the heater with anything flammable, and keep curtains and other furniture out of the path of heated air.
- Can you leave an electric fireplace on overnight? Most of the time yes, but it’s safer to use when you’re awake. Many electrics utilize a sleep timer to turn the fireplace off after you fall asleep; say in 30, 60 or 90 minutes.
- Do electric fireplaces use a lot of electricity? No. Electrics utilize zone heating and are far more efficient than full home heating systems.
- Can I put an electric fireplace in my existing wood fireplace? Yes you can if you buy a fireplace insert.
- Does an electric fireplace need its own circuit? Yes. A dedicated circuit is recommended.
Where Do You Buy Electric Fireplaces?
Now that you are an expert on electric fireplaces where can you buy one? If you’re looking for variety and selection you can’t beat online websites like magikflame.com for the latest in fireplace technology at factory direct prices. You can also choose to buy your electric fireplace on Amazon for convenience or if you prefer in a brick and mortar big box store like Home Depot or Lowe’s. You can also consider independently owned and operated fireplace retailers in your city for a hands-on experience. We prefer online as the most options are available.
In Conclusion – Wrapping It Up:
We hope that you have found this electric fireplace buying guide to be helpful as well as relevant, up-to-date and thorough. This content has been written in coordination with fireplace insiders and manufacturers who know the industry inside and out and are experts on the subject matter. If you have any questions relating to purchasing an electric fireplace including their benefits and features or their installation please call a fireplace expert at MagikFlame at 954-389-9550 seven days a week.
MagikFlame is NOT affiliated with Dimplex, Amantii, or Touchstone.