Electric fireplaces are both decorative and practical. Although the heat generated is much less than that produced by a wood-burning fireplace, an electric fireplace is an energy-efficient option that is easy to install and gives the cozy ambiance of a real fire to a room -- all without the smoke and soot generated by wood.
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Typical Electricity Usage
Electric fireplaces use only about 1,500 watts of electricity. Operational costs range between 0.003 to 3 cents per hour when you use them strictly for decorative purposes -- that is, the flames are activated but no heat is produced. If they are set so the heater powers on and off -- the 50 percent usage setting -- they use about 9 cents an hour in electricity. If you really want to keep the room warm and set the heat at the maximum level, however, the cost doubles to 18 cents an hour. Considering a combination of these settings, it costs between $50 and $80 a year to use an electric fireplace, considerably less than the annual cost for a gas fireplace, with costs ranging between $200 and $500 annually. Costs fluctuate by geographic region and variations in electric utility costs.
The heat output for electric fireplaces is measured in British thermal units. A standard electric fireplace puts out around 5,000 Btu, about the same as a residential space heater, and can adequately warm a small- to medium-size room. Some manufacturers make more powerful electric fireplaces that produce 7,500 or 10,000 Btu to heat larger rooms at increased energy costs.
Electric Fireplace Advantages
Unlike gas and wood-burning fireplaces, electric fireplaces require no chimneys, ducts or vents. This feature keeps all of the heat inside the house instead of part of it escaping outside; heat loss can be 50 percent or more in wood-burning fireplaces. Electric fireplaces require no gas lines, and there is no need to refill propane tanks or pay for natural gas service. Most models plug into a standard 120-V household outlet, though some larger units may be hardwired for 240 V.
Because electric fireplaces do not get hot enough to ignite surrounding materials, they can be safely installed in wood, drywall, tile or stone enclosures. Nothing actually burns in an electric fireplace, so it is free of sparks, smoke, fumes and chemicals. If you place the fireplace in a glass enclosure, the glass will radiate the heat but never become hot enough to burn children or pets.
Cassie Damewood has been a writer and editor since 1985. She writes about food and cooking for various websites, including My Great Recipes, and serves as the copy editor for "Food Loves Beer" magazine. Damewood completed a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in creative writing at Miami University.