Open fireplaces have traditionally been used for wood burning fires but the majority of the heat produced can be lost up the chimney rather that being used to heat a room.
There are a number of solutions for improving the heat output of an existing open fireplace such as installing a wood burning stove within the firebox, but can you put an electric fireplace in a real fireplace?
An electric fireplace can be installed within an open fireplace as long as there’s a nearby electrical supply, such as an electrical outlet within the firebox of the existing fireplace. Electric fireplace inserts are the ideal type of electric fireplace to be installed within a real fireplace.
There are a few different types of electric fireplace that can be put inside an existing fireplace, such as electric fireplace inserts and electric fireplace logs.
We’ve explained in more detail below what you need in order to be able to put an electric fireplace in a real fireplace and what the main options are when it comes to choosing which type of electric fireplace to install.
Can You Convert A Fireplace To Electric?
An existing wood burning fireplace is the traditional open fireplace seen in many homes. These types of fireplaces have an open firebox with the chimney located above to help remove waste gases and smoke from a home when having a fire.
Existing open fireplace wood burning fires are generally not very efficient when it comes to generating heat.
Although a fire will radiate some of the heat into the room, much of the heat produced is lost up the chimney. You may need to sit closer to an existing fireplace to feel the warmth of the fire and an open fireplace therefore may not be able to effectively heat a room.
Electric fireplaces are another type of fireplace but differ from gas or wood burning fireplaces because there’s no real fire.
Electric fireplaces require a source of electricity in order to produce heat so can you convert a fireplace to electric?
An existing open fireplace can be converted to electric by installing an electrical outlet with the firebox of the real fireplace and installing a plug-in electric fireplace insert into the fireplace opening.
We’ve explained the main parts of a real fireplace in more detail here but the firebox of an open fireplace is the main area where the fire is created. A fire is built on the hearth within the real fireplace and the whole of the firebox is lined with fire-resistant materials.
In order for a fireplace to be converted to electric an electrical supply may need to be installed within the firebox.
As an electric fireplace needs a source of electricity to work there needs to be some form of electrical supply installed within (or near to) the firebox of the open fireplace.
Many electric fireplaces come with a standard power supply cord that can be plugged into any typical home electrical outlet. When converting a fireplace to electric it’s therefore common to have an electrical outlet installed within the firebox of the real fireplace in order for the electric fireplace to plug into.
Other types of electric fireplace, especially those with more powerful heaters, may need to be direct wired into the home electrics, but an electrical supply will still need to be provided to the open fireplace.
The downside of converting a fireplace to electric is that the fireplace can’t then be used again for real wood burning fires unless the electrical supply is removed from the firebox.
In some circumstances the power cord from an electric fireplace may be able to reach a nearby electric electrical outlet that is located outside of the open fireplace firebox. We have an electric fireplace stove that we like to put in our living room open fireplace during the summer months when the fireplace isn’t being used, as we can enjoy the flames on the electric fireplace without having to turn the heater on.
There’s an electrical outlet located near to the firebox that the electric fireplace power cord can reach.
This allows us to enjoy using the electric fireplace in our open fireplace without the need for installing an electrical outlet within the firebox and losing the ability to use the open fireplace for wood burning fires through the winter months.
However, the downside of doing this is that the power cord remains visible and doesn’t look very tidy as it makes it’s way across the hearth and around the fireplace surround to the electrical outlet on the nearby wall.
If we were fully convert this fireplace to electric then we would look to have an electrical outlet installed within the firebox and install an electric fireplace insert as a more permanent solution.
Can You Put An Electric Fireplace Insert In A Wood Burning Fireplace?
You can put an electric fireplace insert in a wood burning fireplace by providing an electrical supply to the firebox of the wood fireplace and installing an electric fireplace insert that fits into the opening of the fireplace.
Electric fireplace inserts are a type of electric fireplace commonly installed within wood burning fireplaces.
They are large appliances that are designed to fit the entire opening of an existing fireplace and sit neatly within the firebox when placed on the hearth.
Electric fireplace inserts can come in various sizes to suit the size of your wood burning fireplace. However, it’s unlikely that an electric fireplace insert will be an exact fit for an open fireplace and so you can typically buy another surround that will fill the gap between the electric and open fireplace to make it look more built in.
There are two main types of electric fireplace insert that you can install inside a wood burning fireplace:
- Plug-in electric fireplace inserts
- Built-in electric fireplace inserts
Plug-in electric fireplace inserts are a type of insert that need to be plugged into a standard electrical home outlet in order to work.
This means that if you were looking to install a plug-in electric fireplace insert inside your open wood burning fireplace then you’d need to have an electrical outlet installed within the firebox.
Plug-in electric fireplace inserts also typically require a certain amount of clearance between the back of the unit and the back of the firebox and so aren’t suitable for tighter installations such as in-wall.
These types of inserts are generally the best option when it comes to converting your existing open fireplace to electric as all you need to do is plug the electric fireplace in and it can be used straight out of the box. They can also be removed from your fireplace as quickly as they have been installed.
The only real difficulty is having an electrical outlet installed within the fireplace.
See our guide to the best electric fireplace inserts for your existing fireplace for more information.
Built-in electric fireplace inserts offer a more permanent solution for your wood burning fireplace conversion to electric.
These forms of electric inserts are generally required to be hard-wired into your home electrics, but some models can come with an additional plug kit to allow them to be plugged straight into an electrical outlet, or in many cases one can be bought as an optional extra if it doesn’t come as standard.
Built-in electric fireplace inserts are also typically zero clearance meaning that you don’t need to leave a gap between the back of the unit and the back of the existing fireplace. This can make built-in inserts a better solution compared to plug-in inserts when space inside an open wood burning fireplace is limited.
For more information see our built-in electric fireplace buyers guide.
Installing Other Types Of Electric Fireplace In A Real Fireplace
If you’re looking for an electric solution for your open fireplace that doesn’t take up all of the firebox then other types of electric fireplace you can consider include:
- Electric fireplace log sets
- Electric fireplace stoves
Electric fireplace logs are simply a set of fake logs located within a fireplace grate, and unlike electric fireplace inserts don’t come inside a larger unit.
Log sets can be placed down on your hearth to give the look of a real fire inside your open fireplace. They typically provide a pulsating glow to imitate a smoldering fire and some can even project the look of flames onto the back of the open fireplace.
Electric fireplace log sets will need to be plugged into a nearby electric outlet to work, but some may come with a battery pack to run without an mains power supply if there isn’t one nearby. Some logs sets can also generate smoke effects but at the expense of not being able to generate heat.
We’ve put together a guide to the best electric fireplace logs sets in another article here.
Electric fireplace stoves imitate the look of a real wood burning stove inside an open fireplace.
Like electric fireplace logs sets, stoves don’t take up the whole of the firebox and so can be installed and removed easily as an when needed.
We have an electric fireplace stove and we usually put it inside our living room fireplace during summer when we don’t need to use the fireplace for real wood burning fires.
For more information on electric fireplace stoves see our buyers guide.
A real wood burning fireplace can be converted to electric by providing an electrical supply to the fireplace, by installing an electrical outlet near to the fireplace opening or within the fireplace firebox itself.
There are four main types of electric fireplace that are suited for use inside an open fireplace:
- Plug-in electric fireplace inserts
- Built-in electric fireplace inserts
- Electric fireplace logs
- Electric fireplace stoves
Inserts take up the whole opening of a real fireplace and built-in ones offer a more permanent solution compared to the plug-in versions.
Electric fireplace logs and stoves can be installed and removed more easily and so offer a more temporary solution if you’re looking to swap between electric and wood burning throughout the year.
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