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Electric Fireplaces

Convenient and environmentally-friendly, these units have come a long way from "fake flames."

Posted: February 1, 2008 7:25 p.m.
Updated: April 4, 2008 2:02 a.m.

An electric stove and fireplace at Valencia Fireplace and BBQ.

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So you finally got rid of that dead-beat husband. It's all good except you've lost the big, lazy foot-warmer you had for your bed. Yes, you could get a dog, but you'd have to get a mastiff or great Dane to provide the same slobbering heat output. And then it would probably snore as loud as old Bob, and you'd need to follow it with a wheelbarrow when you took it for a "walk."

Instead, why not put an electric fireplace in your bedroom. Give it a shot. If it doesn't work out, you can move it to another room. Seriously.
George Gharabghi is the owner of Valencia Fireplace & BBQ Shop, and he has 20 years in the fireplace business. He likes the convenience of electric fireplaces. "You can adjust the heat to a specific area - and you can move it to wherever you want," he said. "When you get tired of it in one place, move it. I know one guy who uses one in his garage."

Go Electric?
With the continuing rise in utility bills, and the social consciousness turning green, the electric fireplace may have come of age. These "appliances" threaten no trees, create no pollution or carbon monoxide and are extremely safe. They are also extremely energy efficient. All the heat they create stays in your home - nothing goes up a chimney. They usually cost far less to purchase than flame-operated fireplaces, and there is no construction required to install them. You can do it yourself. It's mostly setting it in place and plugging it in.
But, of course, you are asking yourself, "Yeah, but how much heat do they really put out?"
It's a fair question, and one answered fairly by Gharabghi - who sells gas-flame fireplaces as well as electric ones. "For actual heat-delivery, electric fireplaces are not as efficient as a gas fireplace," he said.
That was demonstrated in his shop. On a cold morning, he was using fireplaces to heat the room. With a couple electric fireplaces also going, it was obvious the gas fireplace was doing the bulk of the work. But there was also a lot of heat going up its flue.
While the actual heat output of any fireplace, measured in British Thermal Units per hour (BTUs), depends on many factors (and efficiency is a whole other issue), electric fireplaces might provide about 4,500 - 10,000 BTUs, while a gas fireplace might provide five times that. But remember, the electric fireplace is doing this on 110/120 volt, plug-in power.
And then there's aesthetics. Some people don't "buy" the simulated "flames" in an electric fireplace. Gharabghi likes real flames better, but notes that the those in an electric fireplace are pretty good, and a whole lot better than using a video of a fireplace on a TV screen, as some people do. It's all about personal preference.
Gharabghi noted that electric fireplaces do suit the needs of many people. They can be the answer for people who have "exhaust" problems with their conventional fireplace or for those who would like a fireplace in a bedroom or any other room where they do not already have one. They make a great source of supplemental heat. "They are perfect for condominiums," he said.
So let's take a look at what electric fireplaces have to offer, as outlined in literature provided by Dimplex North America Limited, a major manufacturer of them.
Features
Efficiency/output: Many gas fireplaces use a standing pilot light, so they are ready to light at the touch of a button. Unless the owner turns the pilot off, it burns continuously, 24/7, wasting a lot of energy. Electric fireplaces have no pilot light. "When they're off, they're off. You save on energy," Gharabghi said.
Also, electric fireplaces usually have the "flame-only" option, where you get the view without the heat. This uses less electricity.
And, as mentioned, electric fireplaces are 100 percent efficient. All the heat produced stays in the home. A gas fireplace not only loses up to 50 percent of its heat up the flue, but the remaining heat may be much more than necessary in modern, well-insulated homes.
Indoor environment: Electric fireplaces produce no particulate or other pollution inside the home, and no dangerous carbon monoxide. There is no possibility of a gas leak. Additionally, there is no danger from super-heated glass windows.
Electric fireplaces do not contribute moisture to the indoor environment, as gas fireplaces may do.
Reduced environmental impact: Not only does a lot of heat go up the flue from a gas fireplace, a lot of carbon dioxide does, as well, impacting the environment. While the generation of the electricity used in an electric fireplace may produce carbon dioxide, the fireplace-related carbon dioxide created is much less with electric units.
Electric units are also neighborhood friendly. You won't be blowing smoke or carbon dioxide your neighbor's way.
Thermal comfort: For heating smaller areas, an electric fireplace may be all you need. You can warm just the space you need, such your family room, without wasting energy.
No air exchange: Not only does a lot of the heat created by a gas fireplace go up the flue, this movement also draws warm air from inside your home up the flue with it. There are no such problems with electric.
Preserves natural resources: Yes, electric fireplaces use electricity, the generation of which may use natural resources. However, U.S. Department of Energy data shows that 30 percent of electrical generation is done without using fossil fuels. Gas and wood burning fireplaces directly use natural resources.
Durability/maintenance: With electric fireplaces, there is no chimney to clean (as with wood burning fireplaces), no service check-up costs (as with gas fireplaces), and the only upkeep is occasional light bulb replacement.
"There's no maintenance at all," Gharabghi said.
Construction time/material cost: Installation of gas and wood fireplaces can be very complicated and expensive, requiring professional contractors, permits and inspections. This is not the case with electric fireplaces.
"It comes as a unit. There is noting to install. No special location is necessary. You don't need a vent or a gas line," Gharabghi said. "Gas fireplaces have to have 12 inch clearance from anything combustible. Electric fireplaces don't need any clearance (on the sides, top and back). That's why they're so good for space problems."
Installation aside, the purchase of an electric fireplace will cost you less. While size and other features will affect cost, Gharabghi said that the costs for electric fireplaces without mantles range from $300 - $600 and those with mantles range from $600 - $1,300. Compare this to the pre-installation cost of a small gas fireplace, which might range from $700 - $2,000.
Convenience/Choices
Electric fireplaces are extremely convenient - usually operated by remote control. "You start the fire when you want it and turn it off when you go to bed or leave the house," Gharabghi said. He noted that, with electric fireplaces, you don't have to worry about whether your flue damper is open or closed.
Gharabghi favors Vermont Castings electric fireplaces because of their high quality. "Vermont Castings is made in the U.S. They stand behind their products. Everybody knows Vermont Castings," he said. "They offer lots of different choices, sizes and cabinets." He said it typically takes only one week from the time you order a VC fireplace until he delivers it to you and sets it up. "Two weeks at worst case," he said. And he delivers them from Beverly Hills to Acton to Rosamond - just about anywhere.
Also, for those who want a built-in electric fireplace, Gharabghi favors Lennox brand. "You can do it as you build your house, or as an addition," he said.
Valencia Fireplace & BBQ is at 23365 Lyons Ave. in Valencia, in the Vallarta market shopping center. The phone number is (661) 253-9570. The Web site is www.valenciafireplace.com.


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