Do you want the ambiance of a fireplace but don’t have an existing fireplace or chimney? One option favored by green builders is an electric fireplace.

They are pre-fabricated units sufficiently insulated to be installed safely within close range of walls or wood framework without requiring a masonry foundation. They also don’t require a vent or flu because no fumes are emitted.

These so-called zero clearance fireplaces are easier, quicker and much cheaper to install than a traditional masonry fireplace. This is also a better option for all-electric homes because you can avoid the expense of running a gas line just for a fireplace.  All you need is an electric connection.

They tend to be more energy efficient than a traditional fireplace. The average open masonry style is only 15 percent efficient whereas some zero clearance fireplaces have an efficiency of up to 70 percent or more.  With electric fireplaces heat doesn’t escape up the chimney; it all goes out into the room.

The heater can also be switched off so you can enjoy just the atmosphere of a fire all year round.

Dimplex CFP3920bw

Traditional wood fires impact air quality. An open fireplace does not get hot enough to completely burn the pollutants it produces so some wood ash flies around outside leaving the rest for you to shovel away in the firebox.  Open wood fires deplete indoor oxygen and cause uncomfortable drafts.  Electric fireplaces produce no carbon monoxide or other emissions.

This popular Dimplex CFP3920bw 20-inch electric fireplace includes a burnished walnut case with a 3D flame and remote control.

Planning for an Electric Fireplace

Consider your room dimensions when sizing a zero clearance fireplace.  A general rule for every foot of room space measured an inch should be added to the width of the firebox opening.  Your goal is to strike a balance between under and overheating that room. Electric fireplaces are not designed to heat an entire house.  120Volt heats about 400 square feet; whereas 220V covers about 800 square feet.

Unless you have a backup power source, an electric fireplace will not operate during a power outage.

Living rooms traditionally have fireplaces, but the flexibility of zero clearance units expands your options of adding status, grace, comfort and appeal to master bedrooms, kitchens, and even bathrooms.   Whatever your personal style, you will be able to find an electric fireplace to match your needs because there are a large variety of designs on the market.

Imagine your furniture attractively arranged in your target room.  Position the fireplace so it is easily viewed but not in an area of the room that gets the most traffic as that could become a nuisance.  These units are flexible enough to place above floor level or inside alcoves, so have fun thinking non-traditionally.

Dimplex DFi2310

Electric fireplaces are virtually maintenance free and work by way of fan blower motors directing the warm air outwards into the room. Cool to the touch, you will not be burned and you can leave the fireplace on its own to heat.  Some models operate with LED lights and remote controls.

You can retrofit an existing standard fireplace with a built-in insert such as this popular Dimplex DFi2310 23-inch black insert. This model heats up to 400 square feet with three settings: full heat, half-heat and flame-only.

Always look for a certificate stating that the unit has been properly tested and inspected.

Always consult your local building codes before installing an electric fireplace.  As a minimum, a building permit may be required.

Here’s a fun video of one model of electric fireplace that I saw in a new EnergyPlus home. Enjoy!

Which electric fireplace is your favorite?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John Cat February 15, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Well, we like a fireplace that are spacious enough for our entertainment center. But i just have some questions, can this media console fireplace I found here be great for creating a focal point? Does the combination of an entertainment cabinet with a traditional wood burning fireplace good?

Kim Van Borkulo July 9, 2012 at 10:58 am

Yes, a fireplace, whether wood burning or electric makes an excellent choice for a focal point. If you are concerned about outdoor air quality, or are sensitive to wood ash exposure indoors, then the electric-style is a better choice. Wood burning fireplaces require a flu which is yet another way to lose your indoor heating and air conditioning, so make sure the damper is seated and when you aren’t using it, use a chimney pillow.

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