Are Electric Fireplaces better than Gas? Part 2: How much heat do you need?

One of the first questions we ask when someone is considering a gas fireplaces vs. electric, is “How much heat do you need?” Gas fireplaces are so prevalent that many homeowners just assume it’s the way to go, either because they don’t know about electric fireplaces, or because they think gas is more efficient. So often, our clients tell us they just want a nice fireplace for ambiance; they haven’t really considered differences in heat output. It’s our job, as fireplace guides, to make them think about this question, because there is a big difference in heat output between a gas fireplace and an electric fireplace.

If you already have a gas fireplace, think about this: How often do you use it? Do you keep it on, or do you turn it off when the room gets too hot? If you do find yourself using it regularly, and keeping it on, will you be changing the comfort level of the room with new insulation or windows during a renovation? If so, you heating requirements are going to change.

If you don’t have a gas fireplace, think about this: Have you visited a home with a gas fireplace? Was the room comfortable, or did it get overheated? Were they using the fireplace at all? Have you been next to a gas fireplace in a restaurant? Was it comfortable?

The challenge with a fireplace in modern home is how to have a nice fire without adding an oppressive amount of heat to your room.  Which leads us back to “How much heat do you need?”

BTUs

BTU means British Thermal Unit. It’s a way of measuring the heat output of a heating appliance. The higher the BTUs, the hotter it will be. An electric fireplace, connected to 120 volts (regular household current) can produce up to 5000 BTUs on the maximum setting. This is enough heat to warm up an area of 400 to 500 square feet. The BTU output is not related to the size of the fireplace, because the heat is not coming from a burner; it’s coming from a built-in heater. On the other hand, the heat output from a gas fireplace is much higher, and differs depending on the size of the fireplace. A small gas fireplace has a heat output around 20,000 BTUs; larger gas fireplaces have an output of 50,000 BTUs or more. This means that even a small gas fireplace has enough heat for a space that’s 4 times larger than the space that may be warmed up by an electric fireplace. How many of the rooms in your home are 1600 to 2000 square feet? While it’s true that many of today’s new homes are open-concept, they generally are not cold enough to warrant this much heat, in addition to the heat from your HVAC system. When it comes to BTU’s, the answer to “How much heat do you need?” is just enough for the size of your space. Any more than that is uncomfortable.

Energy-efficient construction

New homes and renovations are being built to a much higher standard of energy efficiency than homes built 10 or 20 years ago. If you haven’t owned a new home in a while, you really do need to consider, ‘How much heat do you need?’ Gone are the days of leaky windows and doors, and poorly insulated walls. Gone are cold, damp basements. If you are adding a fireplace to new construction, it will be more for ambiance than heating. If you are moving from a home that is not quite as new, you will notice a difference in the comfort level of your rooms. Avoid installing a fireplace for your new home, based on the comfort level of your old home.

Year-round enjoyment

The answer to ‘How much heat do you need?’ may be different in the summer than it is in the winter, depending on the age of your home. If you envision using your new fireplace as a gathering spot year-round, you definitely need to consider heat output. With a gas fireplace, if the flames are on, heat is being produced, whether you need it or not. That means that there are a limited number of days in the year when you can actually turn on the gas fireplace. Want a bit of ambiance on a rainy summer evening? A gas fireplace will heat you out of the room!

By contrast, an electric fireplace may be operated with or without heat. Almost all electric fireplaces have heaters built in, but the heater and flames operate independently from one another. That means you can enjoy flames even on the warmest days, without adding heat to the room. And that means that you can enjoy your electric fireplace year-round.

More control

The heat output on both gas and electric fireplaces may be controlled, but there is a limit to how low you can go with a gas fireplace. As long as there is a flame, there is heat. On a gas fireplace with a standing pilot light, you will notice that the fireplace is warm, even when it’s not ‘on’. With an electric fireplace, you can have zero heat, or you can adjust the heat output to a comfortable level. You have complete control over the heating. If you live in a condo or apartment that’s always hot, even in winter, you never have to turn on the heater on your electric fireplace. If you have a house with a cold zone, like a dining room above the garage, you can use the electric fireplace for zone heating just that area, without the heat triggering the thermostat on your furnace to turn off the HVAC in the rest of the house.

The next time you are comparing gas fireplaces to electric, be sure to ask ‘How much heat do you need?’ and get the fireplace that’s right for your space.

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. 

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