How Do Electric Fireplaces Work?


This article is designed to give you an idea of exactly how electric fireplaces work; that is, the exact method as to how they deliver warmth to your home.

Electric fireplaces are without a doubt a handy and eco-friendly means to heat your home or particular rooms in your home, especially as supplemental heat. But just like any other forms of heat, electric fireplaces do come with their own pros and cons.

The reason you may want to know how any particular heating method works is to determine whether it’s a good fit for your home if it would be an improvement on your current system or to see if there are any ways you can increase its efficiency.

For example, some may investigate how their gas furnace system works so that they can make appropriate changes to the ducting, insulation and ventilation in their home to get more out of it and to reduce any heat loss to the outside world or to unimportant rooms.

Would there be similar changes you could make to get more out of an electric fireplace? There could be, but first, you must know how electric fireplaces work!

How an Electric Fireplace Gives off Heat

The main function of an electric fireplace, as you know, is to warm up your home or a particular room. Electric fireplaces and space heaters function in pretty much the same way too, they just have different electrical input requirements and magnitudes of heat output.

There are two ways in which domestic electric fireplaces work. One way is through fan heating and the other is through infrared.

Fan Heaters

Fan operation electric fireplaces operate by utilizing a ceramic heating element that is encased in a ceramic core. The element converts electricity to heat energy and uses that heat to warm up some metal coils.

The reason coils are used is to provide more surface area for cool air to contact and become warmed up.

The heater uses a fan to draw cool air into the bottom of the heater to become warmed and distributed around the room by the fan. Since warm air rises, the cool air in the lower segments of the room is drawn in and warmed and redistributed again to create a cycle which eventually gets the room to the desired temperature.

An electric fireplace thermostat is usually built-in to the unit allowing you to set the desired temperature you want the room to reach and you are usually able to adjust it as you please.

This method is the most commonly used in electric fireplaces as its considered relatively safe when compared to other heating appliances such as wood stoves or gas fireplace inserts and is very effective and quick at getting a room to the desired temperature.

Infrared Heaters

The other method that electrical fireplaces use, heat via infrared rays. Infrared is a form of radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum with rays which measure between 700nm (nanometres) to 1mm (millimetre). It’s not outright harmful and it’s invisible to the human eye but we can sense it as heat.

That’s enough about the science of IR (infrared radiation) for now!

Infrared heaters work by producing these infrared rays which travel through the air in all directions and passes through the objects in the room.  This results in the objects and the people in the room feeling the warmth.

The benefit of infrared heat is that it’s not affected by draft or internal air pressure as the rays travel too fast to be affected. But a major drawback is that if you are not in front of the heater, you are unlikely to feel warmer.

How Electric Fireplaces Create Realistic Flames

Some of the more modern electric fireplace models make it so the unit brings so much more comfort into your living space by trying to emulate realistic flames that you see in gas or wood fireplaces.

LED Screen: Some do a better job than others of course, and the best is the most modern electric fireplace models that actually incorporate an LED screen to play a recording of a fire. Some even go as far to add water vapor to give the illusion of smoke.

It’s easy to tell from the screen that it isn’t a real fire but it still goes a long way to add a sense of decorative warmth to the room, making it feel so much more snug and cozy.

What’s great about these fireplaces is that if your room is already warm enough, you don’t have to turn on the heat and can still have the image of the fire turned on and still have the pretty addition to the room’s aesthetic.

Refraction: Other fireplace models use the refraction of light to create the illusion of a flickering, dancing fire. They do this by using the light of a red/orange LED bulb that is refracted and reflected by a metal plate.

The metal plate is bent in places to create a 3-dimensional pattern which when the light is reflected from it, gives the illusion that a real flickering flame is present.

This method is also not that convincing but again, it does add a certain warm feeling or quality to the room that is comfortable and unique in its own right.

Video of Electric Fireplace

If you don’t believe how just the image of a fireplace can change the mood and the feeling in a room, play the video below, put it in full screen and just enjoy.

Final Thoughts

Even though infrared heat does seem inferior, modern infrared heaters are better able to warm the air in all directions. This means they can be better at dealing with temperature disparities with the varying altitudes of the room. They’re also great for outdoor use or as shed/garage heaters as they are not influenced by wind or atmosphere as mentioned above.

Fan heaters, on the other hand, do heat enclosed rooms very efficiently and can be a lot more cost effective. They wouldn’t work as well in sheds or garages as a lot of the heat can escape through poor insulation.

So now you know how electric fireplaces work, which do you think would be more suitable for you? Leave us a comment if you have experience with either or both types of electric heating methods, we would love to hear your thoughts.

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