Your detailed guide to an electric fireplace – Heartwarming Fires
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Your detailed guide to an electric fireplace

Posted by Rus J. on

Table of contents:

1. Introduction

2. What is an electric fire?

3. Electric vs traditional open fireplaces

4. Types of modern electric fires

5. How do electric fires produce flames?

6. Cost of electric fireplaces

7. Will my fire heat the room?

8. Safety

9. Production materials

1. Introduction

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In this article we will explain what an electric fireplace is, how does it work, and the way it produces flames. This guide will also cover its heating capacity, cost and safety measures. We will also compare it to traditional fireplaces. Plus, materials used for manufacturing of back panels and hearths will be discussed. So, let’s get started and break everything down piece by piece.

2. What is an electric fire?

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First off, what is an electric fire? And an electric fire suite?

An electric fire is essentially a heater that mimics the look and function of a traditional fireplace. It also produces artificial flames which can be used independently of heat. Modern fires can be separated into 2 types based on the way they produce heat:

  • Fan heaters. The main component that is actually generating heat is heating coil. What’s a heating coil? It is a spiral shaped device that is typically made of metal. In order for the coil to produce heat, it needs electricity. After a fire is plugged in a socket, electric current runs through the coil and generates heat. Then a fan blows the warm air produced by it into the room. To put it simply: electric energy becomes heat energy. When it comes to heating smaller spaces, this is the most commonly used technology by manufacturers of contemporary fires. Also, when fan is in use, it produces a slight, natural noise (often quiet). Noise levels are dependent on the model. Our collection of fires currently offers only this type of electric fires and suites.
  • Infrared quartz heaters. Heat is created through infrared light that is invisible to human eyes. This technology was first discovered by William Herschel in the 19th century. Light travels through space and directly heats objects and people instead of the air around it. This is one of the reasons why things like wind cannot affect its direction and efficiency. Infrared quartz heaters work very similarly to sun as they radiate light in straight parallel lines. This is why they most effectively warm objects that are placed in front of them. Downside? They may not heat the whole room entirely (depending on how large the space is). However, their heating capacity is generally larger than those fan based.

Fan heater based contemporary electric fires are the most common types on the UK market.

Electric fire suite, or electric fireplace, is a combination of several components. They are discussed in more detail below.

3. Electric vs traditional open fireplaces

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Let’s take a look at the infographic below. It outlines 10 advantages of electric fires over conventional open fireplaces.

10 reasons why electric fireplaces are awesome

4. Types of modern electric fires

Wall mounted

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As the name suggests, these appliances are designed to be mounted on the wall. They come in various sizes, shapes and colours. Front fascia materials can range from glass to wood. Wall electric fires typically feature heat settings from 0.75kw (750W) to 2kw (2000W) depending on the model. Although all fires have switches on their panels, some will also include remote control as a bonus so that it’s more convenient to use.

Remote control for an electric fire

‘But how do i make a hanging fireplace actually hang?’ you may ask.

Detailed instructions on how to do it are included in installation manuals that come with a product. All work can be normally done by yourself. You would need a screwdriver, electric drill, screws, pencil and a spirit level. However, you can always hire a professional to do this for you.

Inset electric fires

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Modern inset electric fires are appliances that can be either inserted in a wall cavity or be freestanding. Depending on the model, a product can be supplied with 1 or 2 spacers so that you could fix it flat to a wall.

You can also have it fully recessed. Fully recessed electric fire can be suitable for homes that already have a fireplace opening. In this case no spacers are required. Just like contemporary wall mounted electric fires, these heaters include flame effect option that can work independently of heat. Most of them also come with 1kW or 2kW heat settings.

Here are some examples of inset electric fires (images are clickable):

Be Modern Abbey Black Inset LED Electric Fire With Coal Bed Be Modern Fazer Black Inset LED Electric Fire With Coal Bed 

Electric fire suites

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Electric fireplace or electric fire suite is essentially a combination of several components, one of which is an electric fire. Every bit can be purchased separately and get customised in accordance to individual needs. Apart from the fire, electric fireplace suite consists of such pieces as:

Decorative element that defines and shapes the overall look of a fireplace. Can be made of different materials ranging from wood to marble.

  • Back panel

That’s the bit that goes behind the fire and is normally made of the same material as hearth to match the color scheme. However, it is not always the case. Back panel along with the hearth gives an electric fireplace that “finished” look.

  • Hearth

Floor of a fireplace, the bottom part of it. Historically, it was a surface area on which the firewood was burnt. Therefore, it had to be made of something that would not ignite. Such non-combustible materials as brick and stone were are used for fire hearth production. All of this is still the case with traditional, wood burning fireplaces or stoves where brick floor is used for safety purposes. When it comes to contemporary electric fireplace suite, hearth is rather valuable as a visual attribute rather than a safety measure. Why is that? Well, because electric fires do not need real wood to produce heat so neither ash nor ember is produced.

Electric fire suite parts explained

Here are some examples of electric fireplace packages (images are clickable):

Be Modern 44 Inch Linmere Large Electric Fireplace In Almond Stone Effect Be Modern 44 Inch Brenton Large Electric Fire Suite In American Walnut Finish

5. How do electric fires produce flames?

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There are different technologies that are used to create realistic flame effects. Although some are more complex than others, they all use electric power. Obvious, isn’t it?

However obvious it might be, there are significant differences in technologies used for real flame imitation: some fires use light bulbs, most often light emitting diodes (LEDs) while others are made with liquid crystal displays (LCD). When it comes to LED based fires, there is usually a rotisserie-style refractor involved. It makes the light bounce off of its three-dimensional (3D) randomly patterned surface, that way creating the illusion of a real flame. LCD electric fires incorporate different technology since they have built-in high definition (HD) screens. At the heart of such fires are interactive multimedia processors with pre-installed animated film sequences. There are many scenes to choose from, which normally can be done using remote control.

Some models on the market also have built-in devices that create crackling noise while the appliance is at work, which creates extra realism to your electric fireplace.

There are also electric fires that generate flame effects with the use of water. Light bulbs heat up the air, it rises up together with the mist made from water by the transducer, then the water mist reflects the light and creates very realistic flames.

6. Cost of electric fireplaces

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First off, it’s important to understand what energy and power are, how they are measured and what is the difference between them. Let’s start with the terms:

Power - rate at which work is done in a certain time period (second). Mathematically, power can be expressed using the following equation:

Power = Work / Time

Power is measured in Watts (W), work in Joules and Time in seconds. Therefore:

W= Joules / Second

Energy - strength needed to keep the power going for a certain amount of time. Electrical energy is generally measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). So:

1 Kwh = 1000Wh

The difference between power and energy is very similar to the difference between speed and distance. If you drive with the speed of 50 miles per hour, it means this is your speed at that exact second. Distance, however, is the amount of miles that you have driven over a period of time. So, if you drive with a constant, non-changeable speed of 50 miles per hour for one hour straight, it means you will have travelled 50 miles.

Same is true for electric fires. If your electric fireplace worked on 1kW setting for 1 hour a day, it means it consumed 1 kWh of energy. Assuming the price per kWh is 15 pence (depends on your supplier), then 1 kWh = £0.15.

Consequently, to calculate the total cost of electric fireplace per year, you need to take your cost per kWh a day and multiply it by the amount of days you used your fire in a year’s time. Let’s assume you use the fire every day for the entire year. So:

Daily hours of operation = 1

Monthly hours of operation = 30 (1 hour a day x 30 days)

Yearly hours of operation = 360 (30 days a month x 12 months)

Price per kWh = £0.15

0.15 x 30 = £4.5 per month

4.5 x 12 =  £54 per year (or 0.15 * 360)

This calculation is for the electric fire that has its heating option “ON” for an hour a day. The rough example above is for demonstration purposes only - the amount of energy you consume and the cost per kWh will be different.

Running the flame effect only costs less than £3 per year (assuming 5hrs / 7days per week usage. NPower standard electricity tariff for NE33 5QZ, 15/01/2014).

7. Will my fire heat the room?

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It depends on the size of the room, its insulation levels as well as the amount of windows and walls in it, and what they are made of. Also, it does matter by how many degrees you want to raise the temperature in the room, and how powerful your electric fire is (normally its 2kW max). There many other factors (such as air humidity) that can impact the final answer. It does make sense to go into deep details when, say, you are building a new house and planning where to place/hang your electric fireplace. However, a very basic (but not the most accurate) way to find out if the output of your electric fire will be powerful enough to heat the room is to calculate the size of the room in cubic meters first. Then take this number and divide it by 10 (if the room is poorly insulated) to get the needed heat output. If it is well insulated, then divide this number by 25.

For example, if your room’s length is 2.5m, width is 2.6m and height is 2.7m, then 2.5 x 2.6 x 2.7=17.55 m3  -  that’s your room’s volume.

Then 17.55 / 10 = 1.755 ~ 1.8 kW - heat output needed for poorly insulated room


17.55 / 25 = 0.702 ~ 0.7 kW - - heat output needed for well insulated room

Speaking of personal experience, I have an electric fire in a living room with similar dimensions to the example above, and the fire heats my room almost instantly. Real flame electric fires are perfect for zone heating, meaning you do not need to increase the temperature in the whole house to make one particular room warmer. Therefore, these appliances could be perfect additions to central heating system that you might already have in place.

8. Safety

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With the use of common sense, there should not be any problems operating an electric fire safely. However, the list below will outline the most important safety measures:

  • Never use an extension cord. Why? It is extremely dangerous and can easily cause a house fire. Plain and simple. All of the manuals will advise you to refrain from using extensions. Some of you might disregard this recommendation and will still insist on using extension; however, it is definitely not the safest way to go.
  • Examine the plug and cord of the electric fireplace. Avoid operating it in case you found a slight damage.
  • Never use your electric fireplace in bathrooms or laundry area that will expose your equipment to water. Remember that electricity and water is never a good match.
  • Allow the air to circulate freely. The vents that discharges the hot air and the parts that intake the fresh air should never be blocked.
  • Although electric fireplaces are considered to be pet and kid safe, we still recommend to practice caution when operating the appliance near the kids or a person with disability. Never leave them unattended.
  • Unplug the heater when you are not using it.
  • Do not use electric fires outdoors.
  • Never route the mains supply cord under carpet.
  • Never cut off the plug and hard wire into a fixed fused spur.
  • Do not physically damage the appliance (no sitting, leaning or standing on it).
  • Never use aerosols or steam cleaners on or around the fire.
  • Do not spray liquids directly onto any surface of the unit.

    9. Production materials

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    Finally, let’s discuss just some of the materials used in production of back panels and hearths.

    MDF - medium density fibreboard.

    MDF - Medium Density Fibreboard

     (photograph by Vaderluck, distributed under a GNU Free Documentation License)

    MDF is simply a product of glued wood fibre. Here’s the way it is made: wood is brought and put together in huge blenders, then hacked into chips and washed with water to remove contamination. A magnet machine is used to further make sure the wood is free from any unwanted materials such as metal. After this, the fibre is blasted with steam and mixed with synthetic resin. Then it is dried and pressed under high temperature to create fibre mats. Once this is done, mdf boards are cut and left to cool. Later they can be painted, varnished or otherwise finished. MDF is commonly used in flooring, furniture, decking etc.

    Granite Stone

     (photograph by David Monniaux, distributed under a GNU Free Documentation License)

    Granite is igneous rock that is widely used in construction as a building material. It is one of the hardest substances found on planet Earth, which is one of the reasons why it is used so often in the industry. It is formed when hot magma slowly cools and eventually solidifies after rising through cracks in the Earth’s crust. Granite is composed of many different minerals but mainly it is quartz and feldspar. Water and gas also play their roles in the rock formation.

    Granite’s color can be pink, red, grey, black and white. The reason why colors vary so much is because of the rock’s unique mineral composition. Color is defined by minerals ratio, for example: salmon pink stone has its color due to abundance of potassium feldspar while black and white granite has relatively equal amount of quartz, feldspar and amphibole.

    Distinguishing feature of granite, however, is its speckled, grained texture. It is also used in production of countertops, sculptures, floor tiles, monuments, paving stone, curbing etc.


    Two color marble stone

     (photograph by Amada44, distributed under a GNU Free Documentation License)

    Marble is a metamorphic rock. Due to Earth’s constant movement, rocks can get squeezed deeply in its crust and put under extreme pressure. Although they do not melt, this process causes them to heat up dramatically. As a result, chemical composition of rocks becomes different - recrystallized, or ‘metamorphic’. Marble consists of metamorphosed limestone and is mainly composed of such minerals as calcite or dolomite. Marble is softer than granite, and is more prone to scratching, which is why it is generally not recommended to use it in areas with high foot traffic.

    When it comes to modern electric fire suites, it should not be a problem as neither fire hearth nor surround, nor back panel is exposed to hard wear and tear.

    Marble is widely used in sculpture and construction as a building material - one of the most famous buildings ever created with 100% use of white marble is Taj Mahal.

    Taj Mahal

    Micro marble
    Micro marble

    Micro marble is a mix of finely crushed marble (95% - 98%) and resin (2% - 5%). This blend allows the final stone to have more consistent, smooth colour that real marble does not have. Micro marble electric fire suites are very common on the UK market.

    Micro marble fire surround (image is clickable):

    Be Modern Isabelle fireplace surround  

     White micro marble fire surround (image is clickable):

    Be Modern Elda fireplace surround

    Anthracite coal

     (photograph by Amcyrus2012, distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license)

    Anthracite is a variety of coal that contains up to 98% of pure carbon. It is normally used for heating but it also has other applications.

    As to its heating features, anthracite is considered the cleanest burning coal out there since it has very low sulfur content. On top of that, it also produces no smoke while burning and generates more heat than any other type of coal. One of the drawbacks to it as a burning fuel is that it’s hard to ignite. Once combustion takes place though, it burns very slowly.

    Being a very shiny rock, anthracite also does not stain unlike most other varieties of coal. In the context of modern electric fireplaces, it is normally referred to as a color option. Back panels and hearths in “anthracite finish” predominantly are black or dark gray in color.

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