October brings Fire Safety Week in Canada and the U.S. With that in mind, we’re reviewing the safety benefits of electric fireplaces vs. gas or wood-burning fires. We get questions like “Are electric fireplaces safer than space heaters?” “Are electric fireplaces better than gas?” “Do electric fireplaces need to be vented?” All of these speak to the safety concerns of fireplaces, but there are other concerns that you may not have considered. Below are the features that make electric fireplaces safer than gas, or wood-burning, fireplaces.
Electric fireplaces are safer than gas and wood-burning because there is no combustion
The first and foremost reason that electric fireplaces are safer than other fireplaces is that there is no combustion inside the fireplace. The flames are not coming from a burn, but from lights that are being projected through a flame-generation mechanism to make flame shapes. Or, the light is being projected through mist, in the case of water-based fireplaces. The absence of combustion, or burning fuel, is the fundamental difference between electric fireplaces and other fireplaces. It’s also the reason that electric fireplaces are safer.
Electric fireplaces are safer than gas and wood-burning, because there is no risk of carbon monoxide leakage
Because there is nothing burning inside an electric fireplace, there is no carbon monoxide being released. In fact, there are no emissions at all. This is one reason why electric fireplaces don’t need to be vented to the outside, and don’t require a chimney. Coincidentally, this also makes them less expensive to install than other fireplaces.
This lack of emissions also makes them ideal for ‘green’ construction projects, or any project that is concerned with indoor air quality or energy efficiency. When there is no vent, there is no break in the building envelope, which helps to maintain a more stable and efficient indoor comfort level.
Electric fireplaces are safer than gas because there is no risk of being burned by super-heated glass faceplates.
Every year in North America, hundreds of people, mostly children, are burned by touching the hot glass on the front of a gas or wood-burning fireplace. While most people understand the necessity of having a protective screen in front of a wood-burning fireplace, many don’t realize the danger posed by an enclosed gas fireplace. In fact, the glass on the front of a gas fireplace can be as hot as 200 degrees Celsius within 10 minutes of firing up, and they take at least 30 minutes to cool down. This is hot enough to burn skin on contact. It’s for this reason that safety screens have been required on all gas fireplaces sold since January 1, 2015. These screens aren’t going to completely prevent contact with the glass, but they can provide a few seconds delay for the brain to sense the heat being transmitted through the glass.
In a gas or wood-burning fireplace, the flames you see are the source of the heat that you feel. With an electric fireplace, the glass doesn’t get super-heated because the ‘flames’ aren’t the source of heat. Almost all electric fireplaces have built-in heaters, but these operate independently of the flames. Because the flame effects are created with LED lights, little or no heat is generated inside the fireplace. When the heater is turned on, heat is blown out the front of the fireplace (or the top in the case of some surface-mounted units). The glass may get warm on some electric fireplaces, and the metal grille where the heat is emitted will get hot, but never hot enough to burn on contact. Note: We recommend that all parents with toddlers teach their kids not to touch any fireplace, even an electric one. If you allow them to touch your electric fireplace because you know it’s safe to do so, the child may assume that all fireplaces are safe. This could lead them to touch the glass on your neighbour’s gas fireplace without realizing how hot it is (until it’s too late!)
Electric Fireplaces are safer than gas and wood-burning fireplaces because they don’t heat up the walls.
Not all fires are caused by direct contact between an open flame and flammable materials. Some combustion can occur after flammable materials are continually exposed to high heat over a period of time, until the materials spontaneously combust. It is for this reason that the walls around gas or wood-burning fireplaces must be constructed with non-flammable materials. Radiant heat from the fireplace may be transmitted from these non-combustible materials to the combustibles that they come into contact with, so minimum clearances are specified in owners’ manuals and in building codes and regulations for fireplace construction.
Electric fireplaces are considered zero-clearance; there are no requirements to build the surrounding walls with non-combustible materials. Even with the heater turned on, an electric fireplace will not heat up the materials around the fireplace to the degree that combustion will occur. Note: There are common-sense requirements not to have curtains or other flammable materials dangling in front of the heat outlet on the front of the fireplace. This is more of a design and placement issue than a construction issue.
Electric Fireplaces are safer than gas and wood-burning fireplaces because they have safety lock-out features
If you have a toddler in the house, you know how curious they can be. They love to push buttons! For this reason, many electric fireplaces are available with a safety lockout setting. It allows parents and caregivers to freeze the controls so stray fingers can’t inadvertently turn on the fireplace when no one is around to control the settings. This is just an added level of caution to ensure that the fireplace isn’t turned on and left running, with or without the heater turned on. While the electric fireplace can’t harm a child, it’s nice to know that yours won’t be running without you knowing about it. This feature also helps to underscore the message to toddlers that fireplaces are for grown-ups to control and are not toys for the child’s amusement.
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.