How Electric Fireplaces Work

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More and more homes are using electric fireplaces instead of the traditional wood-burning or gas powered fireplaces. You may have even seen one without realizing it. Most home appliances and accessories have gone electric, but nothing rivals the electric fireplace’s ability to aesthetically imitate its predecessor. The warmth and glow of a fire invokes the ancestral feeling of safety, comfort and community. I’ll explain how electric fireplaces recreate that unique atmosphere in your home.

Producing heat is the fireplace’s primary function, so I’ll begin by explaining how electric fireplaces accomplish this. There are a couple different methods to widely spread heat generated from electrical energy; convective and radiation heat transfer. In fireplaces using convective heat transfer, a fan blow air over heated metal coils. The coils are heated due to their electrical resistance, which dissipates electrical energy as heat. Fireplaces with quartz bulbs utilize radiation heat transfer. These are composed of a filament (usually tungsten), which the electricity runs through, inside of the quartz bulb. The filament radiates heat to reflective surfaces, which direct the thermal energy out of the fireplace. Both heating elements can be powered by a typical 120 volt outlet in your home.

However, if people just wanted heat, they’d buy a space heater. Electric fireplaces vary in how they imitate actual fire. Some just imitate the glowing of embers on burning logs. This is accomplished by integrating slightly transparent red and orange areas into the surface of synthetic logs. The light source, either a traditional light bulbs or LEDs, is circuited to gently intensify and dim. The final result is a dynamic warm glow, which obscures the true source of light. For producing the illusion of flames, more effort is required. Typically, the system is an array of colored light bulbs or LEDs, circuited to alternate where and how intensely they shine. Some systems light up water mist for a truly chaotic looking flame. Other systems use one or more glass or mirrored surfaces that reflect various flame shapes. When the artificial flame is combined with the glowing embers, the look is complete.

Electric fireplaces are a unique mixture of modern technology and old comfort. Hopefully they don’t seem too mysterious anymore, as they are a great alternative to traditional heating. They are easy to install into an old fireplace or as an entire fireplace unit with mantle. Now both homeowner and apartment renter can enjoy the glow and warmth of a fireplace.