Electric Fireplace Insert Buyer's Guide
Is your existing fireplace collecting dust in your home because you barely use it? Are you afraid to use it out of fear of rising heating expenses? You're not alone. You may have even found yourself eyeing all the cool features in those new electric fireplace inserts. And, like most people looking for a fireplace alternative, you may want to upgrade your old, inefficient wood or gas fireplace with a cheaper, more convenient option.
Sure, wood-burning masonry fireplaces are beautiful, classic, and unmatched in charm by any other hearth. Who could disagree with that? But, if we must be honest, they require quite a bit of time, effort, and money to maintain.
If you're like most people, you know that these are three precious commodities that the average working adult doesn't have in excess. Plus, with the changing times, the world is more energy-conscious than ever before. It's true. You can't go anywhere nowadays without seeing something about energy-efficiency. You've seen commercials about smart homes, healthy living, or environmental friendliness.
And unfortunately, traditional masonry fireplaces aren't cutting it when it comes to keeping you warm. Neither are they reducing the costs on your energy bill nor improving your air quality. That makes electric fireplaces and electric fireplace inserts all the more appealing.
You may refer to them as an electric fireplace heater or some other convoluted term. But, how much do you really know about electric fireplace inserts? That is the question. So, if you're thinking about purchasing one, it's time to learn as much as you can to make a well-informed decision. Don't worry. eFireplaceStore has you covered. In fact, this article will cover all the basics of electric fireplace inserts.
It will begin by explaining what electric fireplace inserts are and the pros and cons of owning one. We'll explore the various types available to you. And, we'll tell you how to distinguish them from other electric fireplaces. This article will also outline scenarios that make an electric fireplace insert an optimal choice for your heating needs. It'll even explain how these units work and provide some helpful installation and maintenance tips. Not to mention, we'll identify some top manufacturers to help you make the right choice.
If you're ready, we'll get started.
What are Electric Fireplace Inserts?
Fireplace inserts are designed to be inserted into existing structures. Most are designed to be retrofitted into an existing fireplace, but some models can also be framed into a wall cavity or mantel cabinet. They create more of a seamless, polished appearance for your home or business and can recreate the ambiance of a wood-burning fireplace without the hassle of extensive maintenance.
Electric fireplace inserts come in a plethora of sizes, finishes, and configurations. This allows them to fit the dimensions of various applications. Their versatility makes them ideal choices for new builds and renovations. And, they're great for both indoor and outdoor applications.
But, to learn what electric fireplace inserts are, you must also understand what they are not. This is where many people get confused. The word "insert" has been overused in the hearth industry for many years. This makes it difficult for customers to find exactly what they are looking for. But, there are clear differences between electric inserts and electric fireplaces you should know.
Yes, both are highly efficient supplemental heat sources. They come with varying design aesthetics, convenient controls, and stylish accessories. Both are low maintenance, energy efficient, and environmentally-friendly. This makes them safe for children and pets and great for year-round use. And, did we mention they have longer lifespans than their wood or gas-burning counterparts? These are some of their most distinctive advantages.
But, the electric fireplace inserts offer customers an easy replacement option for outdated units. They enable you to get a custom, vent-free fire appliance without the need for venting. As you can imagine, more permanent options call for a more complex installation. This means more labor, more time, and more money. So, if you were looking for a cute, plug-and-go wall-mountable unit, you will need an electric fireplace, not an insert. Electric fireplaces come in more applications. They are a great fit for a condo, apartment, dorm room, or basement due to their relative ease of installation and portability.
How Do Electric Fireplace Inserts Compare to Electric Fireplaces?
When comparing electric fireplace inserts to electric fireplaces, it's important to remember this. Inserts are primarily designed to be installed inside the firebox space of an existing fireplace. This means they are limited to indoor applications and are generally smaller in size. In contrast, many electric fireplaces accommodate both indoor and outdoor applications. They have their own firebox with all operational components included in the unit.
Yes, some electric fireplaces look like electric inserts when built into a wall. However, complete fireplaces have more sizes, shapes, and configuration options. This is because electric fireplaces are not restricted in the same way as most inserts. You wouldn't need to retrofit an electric fireplace. For this reason, you'll find electric fireplaces offered in larger sizes than inserts. But, they operate exactly the same.
Some common styles and configurations of electric fireplaces include the following:
- 3-sided built-ins
- Wall-mountable models
- Free-standing models
- Slim and ultra-slim linear models
Types of Electric Fireplace Inserts
Electric fireplace inserts come in three variations: plug-ins, built-ins, and log sets. Each type comes with its own degree of installation difficulty. We'll cover each type in this section for clarity.
Electric log sets, the least expensive and easiest option to install, require the least amount of skill. So, DIY-ers, get excited! The log set consists of an arrangement of fabricated logs fitted to a grate with faux embers. The logs come in different colors and styles. And, LED lights are used to mimic the appearance of a real, wood-burning fire.
Technological innovations have drastically enhanced the utility of these products. Over the last decade, manufacturers have transformed the way they look and operate. You can now choose from numerous flame display options. Some range from simple flickers to radiant, ultra-realistic patterns.
Manufacturers like Dimplex and Amantii have incorporated some revolutionary technology. And, they make it difficult for other companies to compete. If you're looking for an authentic-looking flame, you'll want to search for certain technologies. Electric fireplace log sets with Opti-Myst, Revillusion, or Opti-V technology features are ideal.
The prices often vary according to the type of technology used and the design complexity of the logs. In other words, the more realistic the log set looks, the more expensive it will be.
Like an electric log set, plug-in models are easy to install as well. Similar in design, these units feature a firebox with decorative media, LED lighting, and customizable flames. You can plug it into a standard outlet to unleash instant, beautiful flames.
Many people choose to install these into a fireplace mantel or some other cabinetry for a bit of charm. It largely depends on where you wish to install your fireplace and your preferences. But, if you're looking for a professional look and don't mind paying a little extra, it's best to get a built-in model.
With built-in electric fireplaces, your installation options are virtually endless. Most units come equipped with a surround for a polished finish. You can install these into any interior or exterior wall within your home. Or, you can install them into an existing masonry or prefab fireplace. This will give your old appliance an updated look.
Some of these units feature a built-in electric cassette that look like an open flame. Except, you can touch it without getting burned. This means you can have an exquisite fire feature in your foyer. But, you don't have to compromise the safety of your children, pets, or guests.
The electric cassette models offered by Dimplex use misty, vaporous water. It gives the illusion of a real flickering fire. But, the unit remains cool to the touch. You can recreate the luxury featured in magazines and movies for a fraction of the price. And, you don't have to worry about burning down your home.
Disadvantages - Despite all the wonderful features electric fireplace inserts offer, they have some downsides. Yes, they have better efficiency than a masonry fireplace. They can heat your home faster, cleaner, and without any smoke. But, they don't have much heating power for larger spaces. They are merely supplemental heating sources, better regarded for their zoned heating abilities. Most only emit between 5,000 to 6,000 BTUs of heat. Very few put out 15,000 BTUs. This means they are not ideal for big open-concept rooms larger than 400 to 1,000 square feet. They're also not good options for homes in regions with cold climates.
Another disadvantage of electric fireplace inserts is their use of LED lighting. It is used to mimic the illusion of a real flame. If you decide to buy a less advanced version of these units, the flame pattern may appear a bit unrealistic. On a positive note, using LED lights instead of incandescent lighting saves you money on energy bills. LED lights have a lifespan of 50,000 hours, so you'll rarely have to change them. Plus, they don't contain mercury, which means they're safer for our environment.
Now let's discuss some of the disadvantages of installation. First, you can only install electric log sets into an existing fireplace. So, if you don't have an existing unit, an electric log set will not be useful to you. Next, this style of insert does little to transform the look of a traditional fireplace.
As for the electric plug-in firebox models, these pose the same heating limitations. And like all electric appliances, you must install them near an electrical outlet. Otherwise, you may need to hire an electrician install one for you.
As for the built-in models, you do have the option to install them indoors or outdoors under a covered patio. Yet, they face the same heating limitations as the other electric fireplace inserts. Also, none of the electric fireplaces or electric inserts work during a power outage. This makes these units less ideal for people living in remote areas or areas prone to severe weather. When making your selection, be sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully.
As with any appliance, you should know some of the top brands and manufacturers. Having this knowledge ensures you select a quality product. In the next section, we will provide a list of five top manufacturers in the industry.
5 Top Manufacturers of Electric Fireplace Inserts
- Dimplex - This is a distinguished member of the Glen Dimplex Group based in Dublin, Ireland. Dimplex North America Limited reigns as a global leader in electric heating. Their innovative technology and patents in electric flame technology offer the most authentic-looking flame pattern for stoves and fireplaces. They have operated in the U.S. since 1991. But, Dimplex has distribution facilities located in Cambridge, Ontario and in Indianapolis, Indiana.
- Napoleon - A well-respected name in the hearth industry, Napoleon engineers a diverse product line. Their products suit both indoor and outdoor living spaces. With humble beginnings in the mid-1970s in Barrier, Ontario, Canada, Napoleon manufactured the industry's first single-glass door for a wood-burning stove. Since then, Napoleon continues to pioneer sustainable innovations with exceptional management practices. Not only is Napoleon a brand you can trust but also a brand you can cherish.
- Duraflame - In the industry for over a century, Duraflame started off as Cal Cedar. They started as a family-owned wood slats manufacturer for the pencil industry. It wasn't until 1968 that Cal Cedar invented the fire log we know today after seeking to recycle sawdust remnants from their facilities. Three years later, Duraflame was born. Now, they provide a cleaner fueling option for wood-burning fireplaces. After acquiring several other big-name manufacturers over the years, Duraflame has expanded. The company has diversified its brand name through licensing in 2008. The company now offers electric fireplaces and heaters through its affiliate, Twin-Star International.
- Amantii - Partnering with Sierra Flame brands, Amantii has over 40 years in the heating industry. They manufacture some of the most contemporary designs for residential and commercial settings. Designed for easier installations, Amantii produces electric fireplaces for a range of applications. Their products feature numerous configurations. Some of the most popular are panorama, tru-view, wall-mount or flush-mount, zero-clearance, and insert styles.
- Real Flame - A family-owned wholesaler of fireplaces, Real Flame was envisioned over three decades ago in Racine, Wisconsin. They started out as a modest business, selling ventless gel-fueled fireplaces through QVC and catalogs. Since then, Real Flame has expanded its office locations to Colorado and China. They strive to deliver quality products for an affordable price.
How Do You Install an Electric Fireplace Insert?
When it comes to installing an electric insert, some are easier than others. In this section, we will cover some basic installation requirements for each type of unit. But, before we get into the specifics, there are some general do's and don'ts you should understand.
Before you begin any installation, assess the area where you plan to install your insert. You want to ensure you have access to an electrical outlet. You'll need it. You'll also need to make sure the appliance has its own dedicated circuit breaker with no other appliances or outlets sharing it. Going against this rule could cause the circuit breaker to trip or lead to hazardous conditions. So, don't even think about plugging your electric fireplace insert into that nearby extension cord. You're sure to cause some unwanted damage.
If you are installing an electric insert into an existing masonry fireplace, you will likely need to hire an electrician. It's customary to install an electrical outlet inside your firebox. That is if you don't want unsightly electrical cords showing.
If installing a plug-in model into a fireplace mantel, read the manufacturer's instructions. You'll need to maintain clearances to combustible materials. This includes items like curtains, televisions, and other essential decor.
How to Install an Electric Log Set Fireplace Insert
When choosing to replace an existing gas burner or gas log set, you will need to complete some extra preparations. You can't install the electric fireplace before securing the prep space.
First, you will want to close off the flue and damper since electric fireplace inserts are vent-free and don't use venting. Then, you'll need to shut off the gas line connections, if applicable. You will also need access to an electrical outlet near the fireplace.
So, if you don't have an existing outlet in or near your fireplace, hire an electrician to have one installed before installing the electric log set. For a more flushed look, have an electrical outlet installed inside the firebox for easier access. Plus, doing this prevents unsightly cords from showing outside the unit.
Once you've completed these two steps, you are ready to insert your log set and plug them into the outlet. Then, they're ready for use. All you have to do is turn them on with a flick of a switch or from your remote control. It's literally that simple.
How to Install a Plug-in Electric Insert
For the plug-in model, installation is pretty much the same. The only difference is in the size and type of unit you will install into the existing space. The plug-in versions come with an attached firebox with a similar electric log set with LED lighting technology and a custom surround.
The looks of these units differ from the electric log sets in that they provide a sealed chamber like a gas fireplace insert. Electric log sets preserve the look of an open-faced wood-burning fireplace. But, plug-in units come with an assortment of flame presentations, color options, and fire media. Plus, most come with or without heat control, giving you the option to use the heating feature at your leisure.
Because these plug-in units often retrofit into existing units, they are limited in their available sizes. This leaves them resembling a traditional fireplace style with modern elements. If you're seeking more of a linear, contemporary look, you will be better off getting a built-in electric fireplace insert.
How to Install a Built-in Electric Insert
Like the installation of an electric fireplace, built-in electric inserts must be framed into a wall cavity or mantel of some sort. It's important to note, however, that the framing dimensions must be precise to create a secure surface and polished look. This means they call for more labor and more expenses. When complete, the finished product has a flushed look that blends seamlessly with the surface. This gives the unit a more customized look.
These units also feature a sealed chamber with an assortment of flame presentation options. They often include a plethora of decorative fire media to enhance the look and style. Most of these units give you the choice to use the heat feature or not. And, many people prefer these units for their aesthetic appeal opposed to their heating abilities.
Another great feature of built-in electric fireplaces is their ability to be hardwired to your electrical box. This gives you the ability to wire them with a higher voltage. This, in turn, helps them generate a greater heating output. For some, hard wiring them to an electrical panel doubles the range of their heating abilities. This brings us to the next question of concern.
How Do Electric Fireplace Inserts Work?
Considering electric fireplace inserts function much like space heaters, it may be a good idea to understand how they work to heat your home. Of course, everyone is aware that they come with cool electronic remote controls to adjust the flame patterns and settings.
Technically speaking, there are two main types of heating elements used in an electric fireplace. One includes a fan-forced coil heater, which functions much like an old radiator heater. The other option is a quartz infrared heater, which is a trendier option with better energy efficiency. Newer convection technologies incorporate ceramic heating elements into electric fireplace inserts. In the next section, we'll explain how each one of these heating components work.
Fan-Forced Coil Heater
Most electric fireplaces and electric fireplace inserts use this component for heating. The structure and design of this element allows the unit to supply heat to a room approximately 400 - 500 square feet in size. Inside the unit lies a fan that rests behind a network of heated coils. The fan then blows silently against the coils, emitting heat through a vented chamber and into the room.
The location of the vent may be positioned in several places, including the bottom, top, or front part of the unit. But, the location of the venting will often dictate where you should install the unit. It will also dictate what you can and cannot install near it. As a rule of thumb, most manufacturers recommend installing the unit at least three free from combustible materials. So, keep them away from curtains, carpets, and other combustible furniture.
Quartz Infrared Heater
Uncommonly found in electric fireplaces, this technology is the Mercedes Benz of electric heaters. Due to the way these units emit heat, they can easily heat a room up to 1,000 square feet.
Instead of using fan-blown heated coils to circulate heated air , these units emit heat rays to warm objects directly in their path. This includes you, your furniture, and your walls. So, in essence, the radiated heat feels more natural to the body as if it's being projected like the sun generates heat outdoors.
Ceramic Heaters - Offering the newest heat-convection series on the market, electric inserts with ceramic heaters make your unit more efficient. But, they're also safer and more portable. These units contain ceramic plates within the cabinet, surrounded by heat-absorbing aluminum baffles.
Like a fan-forced coil heater, the ceramic models use a fan to blow the heat emitted from the aluminum baffles into the room. Despite their smaller size and quick heating abilities, the outer casing remains cool to the touch. This makes them safer around children and pets.
Now that you've learned about the three heating technologies used in electric fireplace inserts, it's time to learn how to take care of them.
How Long Will an Electric Fireplace Insert Last?
In general, electric fireplaces have some of the longest life spans compared to their solid fuel and gas counterparts. The lack of combustion and venting components helps keep them in pristine condition for years on end. However, as with any product, you must properly maintain it. They do need periodic maintenance and occasional replacement of easily worn parts.
You can expect to replace the LED bulbs every two to three years or so, but you'll want to replace them all at the same time. This saves you the headache of replacing bulbs more frequently, as all LED bulbs share the same 50,000 hours of usage before needing replacement. Before replacing the bulbs, though, make sure to unplug the unit. You'll also want to give it approximately 15 minutes to cool down before you begin tampering with it. This will keep you safe.
How Should You Clean Your Electric Fireplace Insert?
From time to time, you'll need to inspect the interior of the firebox. It's important to remove any buildup of collected dust to ensure the electrical components continue to work as they should. You'll need to monitor dust collected on the fan, too, as this could lead to a noisy whistling or rustling sound during operation. We recommend using a vacuum with a detachable wand to remove unwanted dust from these areas. This will keep your electric fireplace working like new.
As for the glass front, you'll want to keep the interior and exterior display glass clean for crystal clear viewing. You can simply use light soap and water to remove the smudges, but refrain from using ammonia-based cleaning solutions.
How Will Your Electric Fireplace Insert be Shipped?
It's normal to worry that the fragility of an electric fireplace or insert makes them vulnerable to damage during transit. And, as you can imagine, manufacturers worry about this, too. The manufacturer's goal is to get your unit to you safely and as securely as possible. After all, it saves them money from having to replace damaged parts.
When it comes to shipments, just know that the larger the unit, the more securely it will ship. This means smaller models like electric log sets or smaller plug-in models will generally ship via parcel. But, to prevent and minimize damage to larger models, manufacturers will generally ship these using an LTL freight company.
Whichever method used for shipping, make sure you thoroughly inspect your shipment for damages and missing parts. Make sure to do this before signing off on the delivery to comply with warranty limitations.
So, there you have it. You have officially graduated and are pretty much an electric fireplace expert by now. We hope this article was helpful and provided you with information to help you make a well-informed purchasing decision. Forget about breaking your back chopping wood. Don't worry about setting and maintaining a fire. With an electric fireplace insert, running up your heating bill is a thing of the past. You no longer have to flush your money down the drain of despair. You can enjoy the luxury and convenience of a healthier and cleaner heating option for your home.
Not only do you know about the various types available to you, but you also know how to install them. You also know how they work to heat up your home. If you do think of a question we did not answer satisfactorily enough for you here, please feel free to reach out to our NFI Certified Technicians! They'd love to answer any questions you may have.
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Electric Fireplace Inserts Q&A with the NFI Certified Specialists* Please Note: All customer questions are answered by our NFI Certified Specialists free of charge!
from Wichita, KS asked:
December 30, 2019
Can you have an electric heater to go under electric logs?
Our electric log sets are for ambiance only and do not offer much supplemental heating value.
Tyler M. - NFI Master Hearth Professional
on December 31, 2019
from Framingham, MA asked:
December 21, 2019
Can you use a plug in insert with an extension cord?
Some electric fireplace models prohibit the use of an extension cord. We recommend checking your installation instructions and/or contacting the manufacturer directly for this information.
Tyler M. - NFI Master Hearth Professional
on December 23, 2019
Is it necessary to purchase the glass door kits for the Dimplex electric fireplace? Can they be added later if one decides?
Yes, you can order glass door assemblies after the fireplace has been purchased.
Tyler M. - NFI Master Hearth Professional
on December 18, 2019
from Boston, MA asked:
October 29, 2019
Is there an electric fireplace insert that I can actually put into a wood-burning stove so that I don't have to use real wood any longer?
Yes, there are a few, but that is depending on the fireplaces opening size.
on October 29, 2019
from Terre Haute, IN asked:
October 2, 2019
Do you have to buy an insert trim kit?
It is not required, but helps to cover the space between the insert and the edges of your fireplace opening.
on October 2, 2019
from Louisville, KY asked:
September 24, 2019
Do you have an electric insert with a blower?
Unfortunately, we do not carry an electric insert with a blower.
on September 24, 2019
from Redmond, OR. asked:
September 16, 2019
I bought a #df3215 electric firebox, and I want to build a mantel box around it. Can I frame the box with wood 2x4's and then cover the exterior with the bricks? Also, do the flanges with holes on either side of the firebox attach to the frame with screws? Can I cover it?
Yes, you can certainly frame your enclosure with standard 2x4's. And, yes the flanges on the sides of the unit are for anchoring to your framing which would all be covered with your finishing materials.
Kevin E. - NFI Certified Fireplace Specialist
on September 18, 2019