Electric fireplaces and what you need to know

Now that winter has set in and we can no longer deny just how cold is really gets here in Manitoba during our darkest months, thoughts turn to hearth and home and keeping warm. And there’s nothing cozier during the holidays than curling up in front of a fireplace with a good book or loved one.

The fireplace hearth was the heart of a home in the early days due to its central location and use as a source of heat and cooking. Nowadays, given modern heating sources and today’s elaborate open kitchens where everyone gathers, fireplaces have become less of a necessity. Instead, they’ve turned into more of a decorative or romantic focus in a home.

Real estate listings with fireplaces are highly sought after — a fireplace greatly increases the value of a home. To be more specific, The National Association of Realtors (NARS) reported that having a fireplace could bump up the value of a home by about $12,000.

But open wood-burning fireplaces — while being very romantic — are not energy-efficient. They’re also extremely messy and expensive to clean. Gas fireplaces, while being a good alternative to their wood-burning ancestor, can be ridiculously expensive. So what about electric? If you’ve been wondering about this more economical option, read on.

In residential homes, electric fireplaces have been in use since 1912 but became popular in the 1950s. Remember those plastic logs with the revolved light inside and the brush that was supposed to sound like crackling flames? Today’s infrared technology, which came about in the 1980s as the result of advances in Hollywood special effects, has made the appearance of flames much more attractive — and just as importantly, more realistic.

Modern advances have also made electric fireplace inserts available to be retrofitted in existing brick fireplaces. These attractive and efficient fireplaces give the appearance of realistic flames but are safer, cleaner and more efficient than burning logs for heat.

Electric fireplaces are not a substitute for a central heating system, but they will help heat a chilly, contained area, such as a basement, since there is no loss of heat escaping up an open flue as happens with a traditional wood-burning fireplace.

Electric fireplaces will not increase the value of a home as much as a gas fireplace, but they are much easier to install and more economical. They require no piping or venting. In their most basic format, an electric fireplace is delivered, placed where the homeowner desires, and then plugged into a standard household duplex receptacle and turned on.

Safer than gas flames or burning logs, the electric flames present no danger of burning a homeowner who gets too close. Not only does the infrared technology present a realistic flame and glowingembers, but also includes a realistic sound of burning logs.

More advanced electric fireplaces offer Bluetooth-quality audio to the visuals. There is no need to chop or order firewood, carry it in from outside and clean ashes from the fireplace afterward. Electric fireplaces can be regulated by remote control, offering a variety of flame colours and temperatures.

These fireplaces give off heat from a heating element at the top of the unit, which is then distributed by a fan, blowing heat into the room. Electric fireplaces typically provide 4,600 BTU (British Thermal Units, a measure of heat). However, a more powerful unit can be wired to 220/240-volt electric lines with outputs of up to 8,900 BTU.

If the homeowner does not order an electric fireplace in a freestanding fireplace mantle, it will arrive will wall mounting brackets, allowing it to be attached to the wall.

There is no limit to the options and materials available to enhance the electric flame unit. Stone, stainless steel, glass, mirror and plastic laminate are only some of the surfaces that can be installed to give the fireplace a realistic, integral built-in quality and feel.

A fireplace is historically a centerpiece of a room and a status symbol. Modern technology has made electric fireplaces available to any type of home, without the need, inconvenience or expense of installing chimneys or venting.

In addition to the romantic visuals that a fireplace provides, the practicality of helping to warm the temperature of a room by adjusting a remote control is another feature that has made electric fireplaces accessible and desirable in today’s homes.

— Inman News