Electric fireplace inserts are certainly a convenient way to heat your home or certain rooms in your home. After all, you just switch it on, set the thermostat, and sit back and relax, not much more input is needed.
But does this come at an increased cost? Do electric fireplaces heat well? What are the benefits of an electric fireplace? And are they the cheapest way to heat a home using electricity?
These are all questions you are likely to be asking when thinking about switching your current heating system for another. The answers are important because they will give you a great idea of whether an electric heater would be right for you or if it’s even worth switching at all.
What is an Electric Fireplace?
What do we mean when we refer to an electric fireplace? We ask this just to avoid any confusion or misinterpretations because some people may refer to small electric room heaters (or space heaters) when looking for electric fireplace pros and cons.
To clarify, we are not talking about space heaters here, we are talking about the larger electric fireplaces which have the capability to heat up areas of at least 400 Square feet.
They’re usually somewhat larger and bulkier than space heaters and come pre-built within their own unit made to look much more like a traditional fireplace or sometimes a wood stove to add to the aesthetic of your room.
Electric Fireplace vs Space Heater
But what are the differences between an electric fireplace and a space heater in terms of heat output, coverage and electricity usage? After all, they do pretty much work in the same way.
Well, again, there are pros and cons to each. Electric fireplaces are certainly safer because they are fixed in place, so there’s little potential for it to be tipped over. With that being said, most modern space heaters have built-in safety mechanisms such as auto-shut off when they get tipped over or reach a certain temperature.
But space heaters are certainly more portable, they can easily be moved to whichever room you require or even be taken to different locations. This makes them fantastic supplemental heaters to your main home heating choice whether it be central heating or heat pump.
They make wonderful heaters for your garage or temporary warmth for your shed, for example, places, where your central heating may not reach the space heater, is convenient to switch on for the time you’ll be spending in there.
However, the larger electric fireplaces have higher BTU (British thermal unit) outputs, which means they are capable of delivering more heat. And this is the main concern at the end of the day, making an electric fireplace a better choice for those who want to heat large or multiple rooms.
It’s important to note however, that space heaters don’t always have to use electricity and for that convenient heat in the garage, shed or when out camping, propane heaters may be the better option.
Benefits of an Electric Fireplace
Just like all types of heating systems, electric fireplaces come with their pros and cons which can lead people into deciding one way or the other, depending on their circumstances, when changing their method of home or room heating.
For example, you might currently be considering changing from a heat pump to an electric heater and want to compare electric heaters to heat pumps.
Well, the advantages of a heat pump are certainly numerous, but let’s say you live in Vermont, a drawback to heat pumps is they don’t work too well in the colder climates. This would tip the balance towards an electric heater for you as they would be more effective at heating consistently in the colder seasons when you need heating most.
The main benefits of an electric fireplace include:
Semi-Portable: Even though they can be quite large and bulky they are not in a fixed position. As long as there is a power outlet nearby they can be installed wherever, which means you can move them between rooms or around a certain room with relative ease.
Variety of Designs: They aren’t as limited as other heaters and don’t have to follow a particular functional design as wood stoves do. This allows them to look in a manner of different ways; they can be sleek, modern, rustic, classical or minimalistic to suit the aesthetic of your room.
Simple Installation: Most models only need you to plug them in and away you go. Depending on the design you go for they can sit on the floor or be mounted on the wall, either way, it’s a lot easier than installing a heat pump or gas fireplace insert. That is unless you are opting to have one recessed into the wall.
No Pollutants: The main reason why electric heating is the only option for share living quarters or complexes such as condos and apartments is that there are no fumes given off because there is no combustion occurring. This is great for allergy sufferers.
Initial Costs: Electric fireplaces are really affordable and they have no setup requirements prior to buying one. For example, you won’t need a chimney or any piping done which is saving you money on the DIY materials or the hired professional that other heating methods would require.
Efficiency: Electric heat is completely efficient as all of the electricity input into the device is converted to heat energy. This isn’t true for other forms of heat such as by using wood fuel or propane the wood or gas may not undergo complete combustion and so is not 100% converted to heat energy.
Are Electric Fireplaces Expensive to Run?
The answer to this question depends on a number of variables. The first variable to consider is the fluctuations in electricity costs and the difference between states. Another variable to factor in is what fuel you are comparing it to. And finally, are the savings overtime worth the initial set up costs?
Electric Fireplace Operating Cost
The average U.S wide cost of electricity in kW per hour (kWh) is 13.12 cents. With the cost being most expensive in Hawaii (33.45 cents) and least in Louisiana (9.68 cents).
Electric heaters on their highest output setting are typically 1500W. When you divide this by 1000 you get the kWh which in this case would be 15kWh.
15kWh x 13.12 = $1.96 per hour
Based on the U.S average cost of kWh, running an electric fireplace on a daily basis would be quite expensive as a main source of heat for the household. This is a major drawback!
Electric Vs Gas Fireplace Operating Costs
It’s pretty hard to compare the cost of electric heating with other forms of heating as it’s not just the price that we need to consider but how much heat output you get out of it to gauge its actual value.
Fuels such as propane, wood and coal are priced by their weight whereas electricity is priced by the wattage used per hour.
Natural gas fireplaces, on the other hand, are a much more commonly used fuel for home heating and are more easily compared to the electric fireplace method of heating as we can directly compare their running cost per hour.
Gas fireplace manufactures frequently advertise a running cost of 17 cents per hour, which is dramatically cheaper than the running cost of an electric fireplace. Natural gas can also deliver a higher BTU output, warming the room quickly meaning you can turn it off sooner, using less fuel over time.
As we mentioned earlier, one of the great benefits of an electric fireplace is not necessarily needing to be installed by a professional. At most, it would be the case of hiring a handyman to fix it to the wall if you haven’t the means to do this yourself.
This is a whole lot cheaper than having a certified gas engineer install your gas fireplace insert, or fit your stove piping through the wall or even to connect the parts of your heat pump.
Whether you would save more in the long run given that electrical eating is quite expensive per hour is hard to say. It would depend on what type of heating system you need installed and the quotes you get from the engineers in your area.
I would advise you shop around and check out the best installation quotes you can and add that to the running cost of your fuel of choice over the year and compare it to the cost of running an electric fireplace over the year.
The numbers you calculate despite the initial set up costs may surprise you!
Even though there are many benefits to an electric fireplace, including the fact that you can have the display set to just show the digital flames without producing any heat to make a room cozier, they are pretty expensive to run.
Whether or not an electric heater is right for you does depend on your circumstances, because if you live in an apartment and have limited choice, the costs may suit you to use the fireplace sparingly.
On the other hand, if you are a homeowner in Vermont, it may be more worth your while to look into other forms of heat such as wood furnaces, natural gas fireplaces or propane.