Did you know that October is both National Fireplace Month and Fire Safety Awareness Month? That has us thinking about fireplace safety. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has sponsored Fire Prevention Week since 1922. It falls during the week of October 9, to commemorate the terrible losses of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In Canada, we also observe the week, which often expands to a whole month of Fire Safety Awareness. The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA) has proclaimed October to be Fireplace Month, which is when cooler weather sets in for the Northern Hemisphere. Together, these awareness campaigns have us thinking about fireplace safety.
When it comes to electric fireplaces vs. gas fireplaces, have you ever wondered which is safest? Do you know what the safety issues are for electric fireplaces vs. gas fireplaces? We’ve got the answers, below.
Fire Risks in Gas Fireplaces
Wood-burning and gas fireplaces are designed to contain open flames safely inside the fireplace. In the case of wood-burning fires, there should be a screen or doors to keep flames and sparks inside the fireplace, as well as a stone hearth to catch escaping sparks so they aren’t able to light flammable materials on fire. Gas fireplace inserts contain the flames behind glass. (More on that below.) Gas logs have no glass on the front, so flames are open to the room, unless doors or a screen are added. In all of these situations, it is imperative that live flames and sparks never come into direct contact with flammable materials.
These types of fires also have a hidden risk called pyrolysis, which can occur if flammable materials have been used to construct the fireplace walls in violation of specified clearance requirements and building codes. Pyrolysis is spontaneous combustion caused by extreme heating of flammable materials over a period of time. The flammable materials can break down and eventually begin to burn with repeated exposure to extreme heat, even if they never come into contact with the flames.
Why Electric Fireplaces Are The Safe Alternative To Gas or Wood
Electric fireplaces have no live flames or sparks to catch on flammable materials. They are zero-clearance, and do not super-heat the walls around them, so building materials may be flammable or non-flammable, without risk of pyrolysis. It is recommended that flammable items like fabrics be kept away from the front heat vents, where the metal grilles can get quite warm.
A note about electronics: Because electric fireplaces don’t heat up the surrounding walls, it is safe to mount TV’s above. With gas fireplaces, the wall temperatures may exceed the recommended range for electronics.
Gas Fireplace Burn Risks
When a gas fireplace is turned on, the flames create heat, and that heat transfers to the front glass. Every year in North America, hundreds of young children are burned when they touch the hot glass on the front of a gas fireplace. The glass on a gas fireplace may reach temperatures of 1328 degrees Fahrenheit, and the glass can remain hot even an hour after it’s been turned off. It takes just a second for glass this hot to cause serious burns. For this reason, gas fireplaces sold since January 2015 have been required to come with a safety screen on the glass. Older models do not have this feature. If you have kids or pets, you need to be vigilant to keep them away from a working gas fireplace.
Electric Fireplace Safety and Burn Risks
Electric fireplaces do not have hot glass on the front. That’s because the flames are not the source of heat in an electric fireplace. Electric fires have flames that are created with LED lights, video projections, or even mist from water. None of these are a heat source, and they do not affect the temperature of the glass on the front of the fireplace. The flames on electric fireplaces may be operated with or without the heater turned on. When the heater is on, hot air will be forced out through some sort of metal grille, usually at the top of the viewing window. That metal grille may get warm, but not as hot as the glass on a gas fireplace, and not hot enough to burn skin in a second. Note: Many of our electric fireplaces have a heat-lockout feature, to keep little fingers from turning on the heat when it’s not wanted.
Carbon Monoxide Safety With Gas and Electric Fireplaces
Any device that burns fossil fuels will create carbon monoxide as a by-product. For this reason, gas fireplaces are vented to the outdoors. However, gas fireplaces must be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure that carbon monoxide doesn’t leak into the home.
Electric fireplaces don’t burn fossil fuels, and don’t produce any sort of off-gassing. There is no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning with an electric fireplace.
Maintaining Electrical Connections
An electric fireplace obviously requires an electrical connection. Most electric fires run on 120 volts, and may be plugged in or hard-wired. Because electric fireplaces have heaters, it is recommended that they have a dedicated electrical line with their own circuit breaker. This means that the fireplace is the only device running on that circuit, and there is enough power to have the heater on its maximum setting without overloading the circuit. While many electric fireplaces may be plugged in, those that are built-in must be hard-wired. A built-in fireplace is one that may not be removed from the wall after installation, without breaking the wall; part of the fireplace is behind the wall coverings, so it is not easily removed. In this situation, there may not be an open receptacle behind the wall, because there is no way to access that electrical receptacle in case of a fault. To put an open receptacle behind the wall is a fire risk.
Gas fireplaces have minimal electrical connections, possibly for a low-voltage starter switch or a blower. The same rules would apply as with electrical fireplaces, and anything that is plugged in must be accessible.
When it comes to fireplace safety in electric fireplaces vs. gas fireplaces, electric fireplaces are the clear winners and are much safer than gas fireplaces.
Stylish Fireplaces knows that adding a fireplace to your home can be challenging. With an electric fireplace and their NFI Certified Hearth Design Specialists, it’s easy to create a space you’ll love to share with family and friends. Check out all the options and connect with their experts for help to find the perfect electric fireplace for you. You’ll live stylishly ever after.