How Do Electric Fireplaces Work?

Written by: Paul Cathro

Updated on: March 14, 2022

Whether you’ve recently had an electric fireplace installed in your home or whether you’re considering buying one, you may be wondering how electric fireplaces work. 

dimplex-revillusion-20 in fireplace

In this article, we take a closer look at the different types of electric fireplace on the market today and examine how they create heat, how the artificial flames work, and whether or not a chimney is required as well as considering the benefits of investing in one.

If you’re asking “how do electric fireplaces work?” you’ll find everything you need to know by reading the basics outlined in this article.

The 3 Basic Types of Electric Fireplace

There are three types of electric fireplace that are on the market today. They include:

  • Standalone models which have a heater and a mantel
  • Customized versions which can either be built into furniture or a wall or mounted
  • Inserts which can be fitted into an existing hearth which come complete with flame effects and glowing logs

All types of electric fireplace create heat by using metal coils which heat up. When the coils heat up, a fan or blower motor will force the warm air into the room. There are some electric fires which use IR technology to heat the room directly.

When it comes to the authentic-looking flames that electric fires produce, this is usually created by a refractor which reflects light from a bulb so a realistic flame and flicker can be created.

There are even some fireplaces that have a fitted device which emits the sound of crackling to make the fire even more authentic-appearing.

An electric fireplace can be plugged into any room where you require heat. Producing heat of at least 4,000 BTUs in most cases, they are ideal for warming rooms up of around 400 square feet and sometimes larger.

Also, since the heat is entirely contained rather than being lost through the flue or chimney, electric fireplaces can make the room even warmer than a gas or wood fire due to their high efficiency.

electric fireplace with screen

How Do Electric Fireplaces Create Heat?

An electric fireplace represents an excellent way of heating your home since it doesn’t just provide heat but it also creates the appearance of a genuine fire with none of the downsides that a real fire brings.

While electric fires have no real flames, they still produce heat. They do this by using the mains electric supply to power the blower and heating element so warm air can be provided to the room.

 Meanwhile, they also use either a rotisserie-style light or LED screen to create the appearance of authentic flames.

Close-up of black electric fireplace.

All electric fireplaces, whether freestanding, inserted into a wall or mounted can be simply plugged into a wall power outlet and they will be ready for use.

This means you can use your fireplace in any room of your home as long as it has a mains power supply.

Many electric fireplaces are freestanding. They use both an LED light source and rotating mirrors so the flickering flame effect can be created.

Recommended: How much do electric fireplaces cost to run?

Wall-mounted fireplaces, meanwhile, usually have a screen on which the flame effect is projected.

A lot of electric fireplaces look like wood stoves and, therefore, have an opening door as well as a glass panel so you can see the flames.

They also have controls that are hidden somewhere in the unit – often behind a cover where an ash pan would be on a wood stove.


There are often switches and dials which control an electric fireplace. A switch will control the power, switching the heat and the flames on.

There may be a low and a high setting so you can control the warmth of the fire, and there may also be a dial to control the flames’ brightness or to control the heater’s thermostat so that the room can stay at a comfortable temperature for extended periods.

The heater works by operating a blower that sucks air into the fire then forcing it through the heating element. This causes the air to heat when it gets blown into the space.

Recommended: We recommend our favorite mini electric fireplaces in our latest guide.

white electric fireplace

How Do Artificial Flames Work?

Some electric fireplaces use rotating mirrors and a light source to create a flickering flame effect.

Others use a light and a screen on which the flames are projected. The source of light may be either an LED strip or it may be a halogen bulb.

Often, the lights are directly located below the fire’s back panel so light can be provided to the rotating rod and plastic logs if your fireplace has them.

When the power to the fireplace is switched on, the lights will usually come on as well, causing the logs to light up and the flame effect to be created as the rod’s blades begin to rotate and the flickering flames begin to appear on the screen as the lights reflect.

Electric fireplace Photo

The rod’s blades are differently angled and shaped pieces of metal that reflect the light. They may have mirrors strategically placed along them to reflect the light even more effectively.

You may be able to adjust a dial so the flames’ brightness can be adjusted. The flames generate no heat, and can often be used for a visual effect rather than for producing heat – the heat is produced by a separate element which is located elsewhere inside the fireplace.

Recommended: Discover why your electric fireplace keeps shutting off in our troubleshooting guide.

Do they Need a Chimney or Venting?

Although a gas fireplace or a wood-burning stove will require venting or a chimney to make sure that the potentially hazardous gases are removed from the property without causing harm to anyone in the home, the good news is that no venting and no chimney is necessary if you opt for an electric fireplace.

This is because no combustion takes place and, therefore, no potentially harmful gases are produced when the fire is in operation.

This makes an electric fireplace a much more convenient option since it can be used anywhere, even when there is no chimney.

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The Advantages of an Electrical Fireplace

Electric fireplaces come with a host of advantages, especially when compared with investing in either a wood-burning stove or a gas fireplace. Some of the benefits include:

Low operational costs – there is no need to ever pay for any gas or replenish the wood for your fireplace, so these help you to save money straight away.

Also, the average electric fire will use about 1500W of electricity to power the heating coils and this translates to only around 8 – 9 cents per hour and this means that you’ll only spend around $50 - $100 per year operating your electric fireplace.

If you operate the fire with only the flames and not the heat, the operational costs are reduced even further to under 3 cents an hour.

Electric fireplace in room in hotel or motel

Low maintenance – you won’t need to have a chimney inspected or swept when you choose an electric fireplace, and there won’t be any mess to clean up while your fire is in operation.

You won’t need to clean blackened glass doors or get rid of ash from inside the fireplace.

Simple installation – an electric fire can be fitted in any room of your home as long as you have a nearby wall power outlet.

Since they function with a standard 120V electric outlet, you can use it anywhere that you require extra heat with no need to have a chimney, hearth or flue fitted.

Safety – an electric fireplace produces no emissions and produces no hazardous byproducts.

A wood burner, on the other hand, may produce dangerous fumes like carbon monoxide and may release agents that are cancer-causing that could be dangerous for you and your family to breathe in.

About the Author Paul Cathro

Paul is an ex-HVAC engineer with 5 years 'in the trade'.

He acquired in 2022 and aims to make it the internet's most comprehensive HVAC resource for small homes in the next few years.

You can learn more about Paul's story here.

Browse his published work on the website here.

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