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Choosing the Safest Fireplace Space Heater

fireplace-open-fire

In this post, you will learn:

  • The dangers of open fire pits and traditional fireplaces
  • How to make fire pits safer
  • If a gas fireplace is safer than a wood fireplace
  • How to make a gas burning fireplace safer
  • If a ventless fireplace is safe
  • Safety advantages of an electric fireplace heater
  • How an electric fireplace enhances your interior design
  • How to add style to a new home or home improvement project
  • The features electric fireplaces offer
  • Your top option in layering safety and style

At one time, the main choice in fireplaces was whether to have one or not. Fireplaces burned wood. They required a chimney, and they were an inefficient way to heat a home.

The greatest safety issue with the traditional fireplace was the fact that it put homeowners at significant risk of house fires. Over the previous decade, fireplaces were the cause of three in 10 heating-related house fires. Those statistics were far more drastic further back when most homes were built from wood and had open hearths in several rooms.

The days of burning wood in traditional indoor fireplaces are over. Many safer, more cost-effective alternatives appeal more to home builders, architects, and homeowners alike.

One of the fastest-growing and safest fireplace space heaters is the electric fireplace. The technology has improved over the years, bringing the electric fireplace into the limelight.

Depending on the brand, an electric unit can reproduce the look, sounds and ambiance of actual flames without posing any fire danger whatsoever.

What Are the Dangers of an Open Fire?

Dangers of an Open Fire

Whenever you have a fire indoors, you have safety concerns. These include:

  • Particulates that can lodge in your lungs and cause respiratory disease
  • Particulates that enter the bloodstream and threaten heart health
  • Smoke that aggravates asthma and causes breathing difficulties
  • Greater risk of hypertension conditions during pregnancy
  • Toxic fumes containing carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and benzene pose health risks
  • Sparks from open fires can ignite a house fire
  • Creosote buildup in the chimney can cause a chimney fire

How Can You Make Your Fireplace Safer?

Add an insert.

If you retrofit your existing fireplace with an insert, you will eliminate some of the smoke, sparks and particulates inside your home. You’ll also improve your fire’s energy efficiency. An open, wood-burning fireplace wastes up to 90 percent of the heat generated by the fire, which translates into a lot of wasted fuel.

In contrast, a fireplace insert wastes only about 35 percent of the fire’s heat. Although that’s quite an improvement, it still isn’t ideal.

Also, because a fireplace insert is a closed combustion chamber, you won’t have random sparks flying into your living room or rec room. You do have to open the insert to add wood, though, so sparks can escape then.

From a health perspective, the top benefit of a fireplace insert is that it releases fewer toxins into your living space. This closed system sends combustion biproducts like CO and benzene outdoors via your chimney flue. True, you will still get some emissions within your home, but in minimal amounts that are less of a health concern.

Get the chimney cleaned regularly.

The rule of thumb for chimney cleaning for wood stoves and fireplaces is once per year, even if you don’t use your fireplace very often.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends a clean sweep if it has at least 1/8 inch of creosote buildup on the interior.

In addition to being a fire hazard, the acid in creosote can damage your flue. It also has a distinctive odor that isn’t especially pleasant.

Choose your fuel carefully.

The quality and condition of the wood you burn, whether in an open fireplace, an insert or a wood stove, makes a significant difference in your family’s safety. If the wood is not properly dried, it smokes more and puts out less heat.

Well-seasoned wood has a moisture content below 20 percent. You can check it with a moisture meter if you have one. If not, keep in mind that most wood takes at least a year before it is dry enough to burn.

Neatly split and stacked firewood dries more efficiently. It is less prone to mold and mildew. Spores from moldy wood are released into your home when you burn it in your fireplace, so avoid this health hazard.

The types of firewood available vary by geographic region. For example, in the Pacific Northwest, common varieties include Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine.

In New England, you’re more likely to find hardwoods like oak and maple. Fir and pine are softer woods that burn hotter, while oak and maple are hardwoods that burn longer. However, unless you’re willing to pay more for your wood, stick with what’s local. Just be sure it is dry and clean.

Clean and maintain it regularly.

You can cut down on fire risk by adopting a regular cleaning schedule for your wood-burning appliance.

Make sure to sweep up any bits of bark and wood around the unit daily to eliminate the chance of combustion.

Sweep the interior walls, once it is cool, frequently to get rid of soot and ash. Scoop out the firebox, too, where ash accumulates.

Is a Gas Fireplace Safer than a Wood Fireplace?

Gas Fireplace in a Room

For decades, fuel companies have touted natural gas and/or propane as a clean-burning fuel for home fireplaces. It’s cleaner than wood, perhaps, but when you burn natural gas indoors, you will be breathing some of the byproducts.

Several studies found that gas-burning appliances contribute significantly to indoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution puts your family at risk of cardiopulmonary disease. On average, the pollution inside American homes is two to three times greater than outside.

PM2.5 is one worrisome byproduct of burning natural gas indoors. This air pollutant consists of particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less. These microscopic particulates are light enough to stay aloft in the air in your home for a long time. They are small enough to make their way into your lungs, where they lodge deep within the tissue. They may even invade your circulatory system where they contribute to the plaque deposits that cause heart attacks and strokes.

Other harmful emissions that result from burning gas inside your home include nitrous oxide, nitrous dioxide, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Long-term exposure to non-lethal levels of carbon monoxide reduces the supply of oxygen to your brain and your other vital organs.

Like wood fireplaces, gas fireplaces become hot to the touch, posing a risk of burns to your family members and pets. Due to the heat, you cannot place anything combustible too close to the gas stove or insert.

Also, keep in mind that any source of natural gas inside your home, such as the supply line to your stove heater, poses a potential danger of explosion.

If you have a faulty or poorly maintained supplemental heat appliance, your household is at a serious risk of injury and even death.

How Can You Make Your Gas Burning Fireplace Safer?

  • Have a professional handle installation and gas supply connection.
  • Get an annual inspection and maintenance by a licensed technician.
  • Use a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Make sure it has a protective screen on the glass that minimizes the risk of contact burns.
  • Check the damper periodically to make sure it is open whenever the fireplace is running.
  • Do not use it unless the glass doors are in place.

Is a Ventless Gas Fireplace Safe?

A ventless fireplace space heater does not need a vent or chimney. It operates by burning gas so efficiently that only minimal amounts of byproducts remain. The problem is that these byproducts vent into your home, so they are a health hazard.

This type of fireplace space heater also draws the oxygen it needs for combustion from inside your home. It poses a danger of oxygen depletion, which can certainly affect your family’s health.

Because of these two dangers, some states, like California and Massachusetts, have outlawed ventless gas stoves. The units on the market must have oxygen depletion and carbon monoxide sensors. This technology mitigates the health risks somewhat but does not eliminate them.

Any additional problems with installation, operation or the design of the space heater itself only heighten the inherent safety risks of a ventless heater.

Safety Advantages of Electric Fireplaces

Safe Electric Fireplace

An electric fireplace space heater creates realistic-looking flames without any of the dangers that go hand-in-hand with burning fuel. This type of fireplace runs solely on electricity.

It does not require lighting, auxiliary fuel or venting. Instead, some types of the best electric fireplace space heaters have a hidden heat element and blower that delivers warmed air into your room. Other types feature energy-efficient radiant infrared heaters.

A 3D infrared electric fireplace does not overheat or become hot to the touch. Unlike a wood or gas fireplace, electric heaters do not typically pose a danger of contact burns. That means they are safer for households with children and/or pets.

You can also place combustible decorations on the mantel of an electric fireplace without worries about fire danger. Many homeowners ever mount a television atop or above their electric fireplace space heater, knowing it is perfectly safe from heat damage.

If you have an existing fireplace in your living room or rec room, an electric fireplace insert with an infrared heater is ideal. It will fill that empty firebox with an attractive, contemporary space heater with a realistic flame. However, it represents a safer, more efficient alternative to a costly, wasteful wood or gas-burning appliance.

What’s more, because it doesn’t burn any fuel, there are no ashes, creosote buildup or particulates to deal with. Your family will be safe from risks of chimney fires, smoke and health-threatening particulates.

In terms of emissions, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. No kidding. A quality electric space heater does not emit any toxins whatsoever. It does not degrade your indoor air quality. It does not flood your living space with PM2.5 or other toxins, not even minute amounts.

That also means that electric fireplace inserts and space heaters do not degrade the outdoor environment, either. Given a clean energy resource such as water, wind or solar power, an electric fireplace is far more eco-friendly than a natural gas or a wood space heater.

To sum it up, electric fireplaces offer the following safety advantages over other alternatives:

  • Zero emissions
  • No combustion
  • No danger of burns
  • No sparks, ashes or flammable buildup
  • No oxygen depletion in your living spaces
  • No danger of combustion or heat damage to home decor items
  • No danger to electronics on a fireplace TV stand
  • Adequate heating for up to 1,000 square feet
  • Realistic flame without combustion
  • Added safety features like automatic shut off and heat adjustment

How Does a Wall Mounted Electric Fireplace Add Ambiance to Your Home?

Wall Mounted Electric Fireplace

If your goal is to upgrade the look of your home with hassle-free elan, choose an electric fireplace that is as realistic as possible. The technology has made significant leaps forward over the past few years, so you’ll see variations in visual quality among various brands. For instance, a lower-priced space heater you buy at Walmart is unlikely to measure up to the real fire effects of a deluxe fireplace like a MagikFlame.

A MagikFlame wall-mounted electric fireplace or electric fireplace insert utilizes a proprietary technology called HoloFlame to produce a 3D flame effect. Company founder Howard Birnbaum got the inspiration for this real flame technology from Walt Disney.

Video of three-dimensional flames, superimposed on real-looking ceramic logs, produces a visual effect unmatched in the industry. The company sells direct through its website with financing options and also on Amazon.

Dimplex is another competitive electric fireplace manufacturer that sells on Amazon. The company employs Opti-Myst technology to simulate the look of a real flame. Water vapor, LED lighting and ultrasound combine to recreate the appearance of fire.

Turbro electric fireplaces, available at retailers like Home Depot, Amazon and Walmart, are another, more economical option. They feature LED lighting and infrared heaters.

Duraflame, the fireplace log manufacturer, now offers a line of electric fireplaces, from freestanding to tabletop models, as well. It uses a technology called 3D Infragen, which involves the projection of flames behind an electric log set.

Add Style to Your Interior Decor

Stylish Interior Decor

The contemporary home builder, architect and interior designer is looking for home components that are safe, efficient, convenient and environmentally friendly. That’s why more and more home builders choose a wall mount electric fireplace over a traditional gas space heater. Architects find it far easier to work a versatile electric fireplace into their blueprints because it does not rely on structural elements like chimneys.

Interior designers more frequently select electric fireplaces for home remodel projects in small spaces than ever before. One of the compelling reasons for this preference is the variety of visual profiles that is currently available to them.

For example, upscale brands like MagikFlame offer several styles in furniture-grade wood and mantel surrounds. The MagikFlame Artemis features elegant design details like clean lines, geometric accents and classic crown molding. It integrates beautifully with many interior design schemes, from modern farmhouse to French country.

Another reason these fireplaces are interior designer favorites is the fact that a freestanding unit can easily adapt to any location with a standard power outlet. Exterior walls, interior walls, dining room, bedroom or family room, MagikFlame goes anywhere you need an electric fireplace stove.

Whether you are looking for a wall mount fireplace or an electric fireplace insert, you’ll find that companies with the best electric fireplaces offer several models that are ideal for your specific installation.

MagikFlame focuses on five freestanding fireplaces plus an insert in its lineup. By limiting its options, the company is able to ensure extreme quality control on every model.

Dimplex makes all sorts of electric heaters, from zone heaters to whole-home furnaces. Its electric fireplaces are just a small part of its inventory. Turbro offers its black free-standing electric fireplace stove in five different sizes. Duraflame makes a number of different freestanding styles and electric log sets.

What Features Do Electric Fireplaces Offer?

Electric Fireplaces Features

Features are another area of divergence among the electric zone heaters currently on the market. Lower-end units are typically basic on-off appliances while deluxe models offer more options.

Flame effects

This option lets you select one of several flame effects that provide the appearance of a roaring fire, merrily dancing flames or mesmerizing flickers.

Some electric fireplaces come with three options while others offer more. MagikFlame is the only fireplace that comes with 30 integrated flame styles to choose from.

Creative styles like Phoenix Rises, Memories of Christmas, Dragon’s Fury and Embers of the Sun run the gamut from cheery to fiery. Changing the ambiance to suit your mood is a simple matter of touch screen or Smartphone technology.

Heat options

Electric fireplaces typically produce enough heat to keep a large room within your comfort zone.

MagikFlame produces 5,200 BTU, sufficient to heat up to 1,000 square feet.

Additionally, you can enjoy the sights and sounds of a crackling fire without heat. That makes an electric fireplace space heater a year-round appliance. A smartphone app lets you adjust your fireplace thermostat from other locations.

Remote Control Options

The way you control your electric fireplace can enhance the safety, efficiency and longevity of your investment. Most electric fireplaces come with a remote control, but that only works when your are close enough to your heater to be in range. Even a high-tech, infrared remote has a range of only about 30 feet.

However, some high-end options in the electric fireplace stove category offer apps that turn your smartphone into a long-range remote controller and thermostat.

You can shut off your fireplace while you are away from home, saving energy and enhancing safety. You can even adjust the flame height, flame effect and heat settings remotely on your electric fireplace heater.

An Electric Fireplace Is Your Top Option for Layering Safety and Style

As the world moves toward a cleaner, more energy-efficient reality, electric fireplaces will continue to be at the forefront.

This type of freestanding fireplace delivers the safety, features and zone heating homeowners demand while bringing classic style into a variety of home decor formats.

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Choosing the Safest Fireplace Space Heater