Which electric fireplace inserts are best?
Nothing compares to sitting next to a warm fireplace, sipping a hot beverage and reading a good book on a cold winter evening.
While a traditional wood fireplace helps create a cozy atmosphere, it comes at a cost. The fire must be periodically refueled, the ashes cleaned up the following day and care taken with the flames and smoke that may escape into the house. As an alternative, an electric fireplace insert can give you the traditional fireplace look and feel without tedious maintenance.
If you are looking for the highest-quality insert, the Dimplex Revillusion 36-Inch Built-In Electric Firebox is the best choice.
What to know before you buy an electric fireplace insert
An electric fireplace is a heating element designed to look like a traditional wood-burning fireplace, but it requires no venting or, in most cases, professional installation.
- Fan forced heaters: Electric fireplaces draw cool air from the back of the fireplace, force it through a heating coil and blow the warmed air out of the front of the fireplace into the room. A light-emitting diode (LED) and a mirror element roll and reflect the light to generate the flame effect of a conventional fireplace.
- Infrared technology: Some electric fireplace inserts use infrared quartz technology to directly heat objects in a room. Quartz heating is a type of radiant heating (short-wave infrared heating) that uses invisible infrared waves to directly heat object surfaces. When the light impacts objects such as furniture, walls and bodies, they radiate heat and create humidity, making the area comfortable.
A typical fan-forced electric fireplace produces about 4,600 BTUs of heat, while an infrared fireplace generates up to 5,200 BTUs. However, some models can be wired to 220 volts, nearly doubling the heat output up to 8,900 BTUs.
Conventional fireplaces are inherently inefficient. The fire pulls warm air out of the room and much of the energy is lost up the chimney and heating up the fireplace walls. Studies show older fireplaces can be as low as 5%-10% efficient.
On the other hand, electric fireplace inserts convert electricity directly into heat, making them 99% efficient. Since electric fireplace inserts don’t use the original chimneys or vents, all the energy is used to heat the room.
What to look for in a quality electric fireplace insert
Determine your heating needs
Although an electric fireplace insert is considered a secondary source of heat, selecting a unit based on the size of your room ensures you stay warm.
The thermal output or heating capacity of an electric fireplace insert is measured in British Thermal Units (BTU), and the number needed to heat your room depends on its size, represented by the room’s area in square feet. The calculation method depends on the shape of the room and only requires geometry you learned in elementary school to find the area:
- Rectangular rooms: Length times width
- Triangular rooms: Length times width, divided by 2
- Circular rooms: Multiply the distance from one wall to the center of the room times itself, then multiply by 3.1416.
For rooms with an odd shape, divide the room into rectangles, triangles and circles. Calculate the area for each and add the values together to get the total room area.
To determine the minimum number of BTUs needed to efficiently heat the space, multiply the room area by 20. For example, a 200-square-foot room needs an electric fireplace insert of at least 4,000 BTUs.
Keep in mind that heat requirements are subject to the home’s interior design. High ceilings, windows and drafts impact the effectiveness of the electric fireplace.
Fireplace insert sizes
Fireplace inserts are made to fit a specific fireplace size. Measure the height, width and depth of your fireplace with consideration for any non-rectangular dimensions, such as an arch, to ensure a proper fit. Check the manufacturer’s recommendation for clearances.
Some electric fireplace inserts provide the option for a 220-volt connection. While a typical 120-volt fireplace insert produces about 1,440 watts (5,000 BTU) of heating output, a 220-volt connection boosts the capacity to 2,700 watts, or about 9,000 BTUs.
Some electric fireplace inserts include programmable or automatic shutoff timers that take the worry out of falling asleep in front of the fire.
A temperature limiter prevents malfunctioning in your electric fireplace. The limiters reduce the risk of fire by shutting down the power to the electric insert if the heating elements overheat.
Electric fireplace inserts do not emit dangerous emissions like conventional wood-burning fireplaces, but some manufacturers go further by including an air filtration system that removes dust, dander, mold, pollen and other allergens from the home.
- Reduced air leaks: Even if you close the flue in a conventional fireplace, warm air can escape through small gaps that develop with age. A fireplace insert seals all the leaks.
- Eco-friendly: An electric fireplace insert eliminates smoke and dangerous emissions such as carbon monoxide, improving indoor air quality and reducing outdoor pollution.
- Less maintenance: An electric fireplace insert instantly restores a worn firebox and eliminates the tiresome maintenance of conventional wood-burning fireplaces.
- Aesthetics: Fireplace inserts are available in various styles to match your décor and enhance the beauty of your home.
How much you can expect to spend on an electric fireplace insert
Electric fireplace inserts are available for a little as $350 and as much as $3,000, but good-quality units cost about $1,000.
Electric fireplace insert FAQ
Do electric fireplaces get hot?
A. The firebox heats up with use, but most electric fireplaces have a cool-to-the-touch feature, making them safe to touch.
Is it safe to leave an electric fireplace on overnight?
A. Electric fireplaces are space heaters, with minimal risk of a dangerous malfunction. However, it is best to turn them off when leaving the home.
What are the best electric fireplace inserts to buy?
Top electric fireplace insert
What you need to know: The midrange-priced electric fireplace insert that creates realistic flames against the backdrop of a full brick or weathered concrete interior is ideal for buyers looking for a wood-burning imitation.
What you’ll love: The Dimplex Revillusion produces 8,794 BTU of heat in a vent-free fireplace insert. Customizable features include a red or blue base color, several warm hues for the firebox glow, flicker effects, light level and optional log sets.
What you should consider: The lights, spindle and some reflectors create the flames by projecting an image onto the back surface of the fireplace. However, the flames do not appear very high over the logs.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top electric fireplace insert for the money
What you need to know: A realistic-looking resin log sitting on a grate above an ember bed simulates a wood-burning fireplace and produces 1,500 watts, enough power for a small room.
What you’ll love: The affordable electric fireplace insert features a remote control that operates the adjustable flame and thermostat. Front glass covers the logs and interior brick wall, and a crackling sound adds to the atmosphere.
What you should consider: While the aesthetics are excellent, the electric fireplace is designed to heat only a small space efficiently and works best as a secondary source of heat.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: The ClassicFlame insert provides a beautiful log-style setting with realistic flame effects enhanced by five brightness settings.
What you’ll love: An electronic timer automatically shuts off the fireplace from 30 minutes up to nine hours. The insert produces 4,400 BTU and is compatible with 120V or 240V voltage for warming up a 400- or 800-square-foot room.
What you should consider: Customers expressed concern for the fireplace’s durability. While the “brick look” on the sides and back is attractive, the material is flimsy plastic.
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Jeff Harper writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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