Electric fireplaces are a great to way heat your home, while also providing the look and feel of a real fire without many of the downsides of having a real fire.
Although electric fireplaces don’t have a real flame, they do produce heat.
So how does an electric fireplace work?
An electric fireplace works by using a mains electrical supply to power a heating element and blower to provide warm air to a room, and by using an LED screen or rotisserie-style light effect to produce the look of real flames.
I’ve used my own electric fireplaces that I have in my home as examples of how an electric fireplace works, including:
- How an electric fireplace flame works.
- How an electric fireplace heats up a room.
- How electric fireplaces look real.
There are a few different types of electric fireplace, all of which provide the same two main functions of providing heat and the effect of looking like a real fire. They’re typically used in your home in different locations and so provide the main functions slightly differently.
The three main types of electric fireplace include:
- Freestanding electric fireplaces
- Wall-mounted and recessed electric fireplaces
- Electric fireplace inserts
I’ll be explaining how each type electric fireplace works to give an insight into how they differ from each other.
How A Freestanding Electric Fireplace Works
The first type of electric fireplace that I bought was a freestanding electric fireplace stove (an electric fireplace designed to look like a wood burning stove).
The great thing about freestanding electric fireplaces is that you have the ability to move them around your home as you need. I regularly move mine to the room I’ll be staying in the most, so that I can heat that room without needing to heat the rest of the house with central heating.
Here’s what my freestanding electric fireplace looks like close up:
With electric fireplaces, you can simply plug them into any nearby wall socket and they’re ready to be used. I have wall socket near to the open fireplace in my living room, allowing to me place my freestanding electric fireplace in this open fireplace.
Freestanding electric fireplaces don’t need to be as thin as wall-mounted or recessed electric fireplaces because they won’t be installed on the wall. Freestanding electric fireplaces therefore provide heat and flames slightly differently to these types of fireplaces.
My freestanding electric fireplaces uses a combination of an LED light source with rotating mirrors to create the effect of flickering flames. This is compared to wall-mounted ones that typically use a screen to produce the flames effects.
Many freestanding electric fireplaces are designed to look like wood burning stoves. Here’s an example comparing pictures of my electric fireplace stove and my dad’s real multi fuel stove:
My electric stove has therefore been designed to look and operate similar to a real stove fireplace.
The electric fireplace stove has a door that opens just like it would in a real stove. The stove door has a handle made from brass, and also a real glass panel for a great view of the flames.
Inside of the fireplace you’ll find a set of plastic logs that’s attached to a flat and smooth backing screen. Both of these components play a role in creating the effect of a real fire, which is explained further in this article.
Also on the front of my electric fireplace is a cover where the ash pan compartment would be located on a real stove:
Behind the cover are the controls to the fireplace, allowing them to be hidden away from view when the fireplace isn’t in use.
There are three switches and 2 dials on the controls, and their functions are outlined below.
A – Thermostat Dial
B – Mains Switch (Also turns on the flames)
C – Low Heat Setting Switch
D – High Heat Setting Switch
E – Flame Effect Brightness Dial
One switch controls the power to the fireplace, and turning on this switch also turns on the flames. There’s also two switches for the heater, one for the low heat setting and one for high. One dial controls the brightness of the flames while the other one is used as the thermostat for the heater.
Opening the back of my electric fireplace shows how the fireplace is laid out from inside. Both the heater and blower are located towards the base of the unit, and the components that create the flames are located nearer the top.
I’ve explained in more detail below how my freestanding electric fireplace works, including how the flames are created and how the heat is generated.
How A Freestanding Electric Fireplace Flame Works
My freestanding electric fireplaces uses a combination of an LED light source with rotating mirrors to create the effect of flickering flames. Freestanding types of electric fireplaces need to be deeper than other types of fireplaces to cater for the larger components and space required to create the flames.
Taking a closer look inside a freestanding fireplace you’ll find the two main components that create the flames effects:
- The light source.
- The rotisserie-style rod with reflective blades.
In my fireplace, the light source is an LED strip. In some older models of electric fireplace, you may find a traditional halogen bulb instead of LEDs.
The LED’s are located directly below the plastic back panel that can be found behind the fireplace door. This allows the LEDs to provide light to both the plastic logs located at the front of the fireplace, and to the rotating blades at the back.
When turning on the power button to my electric fireplace, the lights automatically come on, and the fake logs are lit up.
The blades on the rod also start rotating when the lights are turned on, which creates the effect of the flicking flames on the plastic screen located just behind the logs.
Light from the LED’s reflects back off the blades and onto the screen. As the blades rotate, the light moves up the screen to resemble the effect of a real flame.
The video below shows how the flames are created from inside of my electric fireplace.
The blades themselves are a mix of differently shaped and angled pieces of reflective metal. The variety in the design of the blades provides a more realistic flame effect for the viewer.
My freestanding electric fireplace also has a dial to control the brightness of the flames.
By turning the dial to the right, the brightness of the LEDs increases, which in turn increases the overall brightness of both the logs and the flames.
The flames on an electric fireplace don’t generate any heat, and so the flames are cold to the touch. The heat is instead generated by a standalone heating component located elsewhere in an electric fireplace.
How A Freestanding Electric Fireplace Heater Works
The heater on a freestanding electric fireplace works much like any conventional space heater. A blower sucks air into the fireplace and forces it through a heating element, which in turn heats up the air as it’s blown into the room.
On my freestanding electric fireplace, the heater is located at the base of the unit.
The blower is located at the back of the heater, pulling in air from the back of the fireplace, and pushing out through the front.
The heating element gets very hot, and so it’s important not to place anything in front of the heater in an electric fireplace.
The photo of the hot heating element was taken after a couple of hour’s use of the electric fireplace, when I was performing a test to see whether or not an electric fireplace can heat a room. The results were surprising, and you can see them right here.
The video below shows the blower in action and gives you can idea of how noisy you can expect a freestanding electric fireplace to be.
As with many freestanding electric fireplaces, my fireplace has two heat settings:
- Low heat setting with 925W power.
- High heat setting with 1850W power.
Two separate switches control the two heat settings. The power switch on the fireplace must first be switched on for the heater switches to work. Furthermore, the low heat switch must be on before the high heat switch will work.
The higher heat setting doesn’t increase the speed of the blower, but heats the air flowing through the fireplace to even higher temperatures.
Some models of freestanding electric fireplace also come with a thermostat, which allows the room to be kept at a constant temperature. My freestanding electric fireplace stove has a thermostat dial included in the control panel, as seen below:
By rotating the thermostat dial, the temperature for the room can be set. Rotating the dial to the right increases the temperature setting on the thermostat, while turning it to the left decreases the temperature setting.
The fireplace makes a ‘click’ sound when the dial is rotated past the current room temperature to notify the user.
For electric fireplaces:
- The heater won’t turn on if the thermostat dial is set to a temperature lower than the current room temperature (even if the heater switches are on)
- If the thermostat is set to a higher temperature than current (and the heater switches are on), the fireplace will automatically heat the room up until the temperature has been reached.
- When the set temperature has been reached, the dial can be turned to the left until a ‘click’ sound is heard, and the fireplace will now keep the room at this temperature.