Did you lose power during the Great Ice Storm of 2013? Many homeowners in Southern Ontario did, and not just for a few hours. This has consumers challenging electric fireplace retailers on the merits of having an electric fireplace vs. a gas unit during a power outage. We still believe that an electric fireplace is the most practical fireplace for the majority of homeowners, and here’s why:
- Zone heating. Gas fireplaces, (and wood-burning ones, too) pump out far more heat than most modern homes require for a single room – even in basements. An electric fireplace heats an area of 300 to 400 square feet, with a maximum output of 5000 BTUs, when plugged into a regular 110 volt outlet; some can heat larger areas when connected to 240 volt circuits. As home construction focuses on energy-efficiency, in both new construction and renovations, our homes require less heat to keep warm. How many rooms in your home actually need supplemental heat? A typical gas fireplace pumps out 25,000 to 30,000 BTUs, enough extra heat for 2000 to 2400 square feet. If your furnace thermostat is in the general vicinity of the gas fireplace, it will be tricked into shutting down the furnace. While the room with the gas fireplace is overheating, the rest of the house will be cooling down. Only during a winter power outage does this amount of heat make any sense at all – and those are few and far between!
- Electric starters. Gas fireplaces don’t necessarily work during a power outage. Many need electricity to start, (some of those without standing pilot lights, for instance), or they need electricity to run the fan that pumps the heat. This blog has a good explanation of the different systems. Gas fireplace owners should also exercise caution during a power outage, to be sure that the exhaust fan that pumps Carbon Monoxide out of the house is functioning.
- Backup generators. Standby generators may be a better investment than a gas fireplace, for those rare occasions when electrical power is off. Both furnaces and fans could be powered by a generator, as well as lighting, some appliances, and electric fireplaces. This is a far more versatile solution than just having a gas fireplace as a backup heat source. What good is that in the summer ? (The only other major outage I can remember was in August and it was HOT, not cold.) Here’s a great video on backup generators.
I’ve lived in Southern Ontario for 51 years, and this is the first time in my life that we’ve had an extended power outage during the winter. For the 360 days of the year, when the power is not out, and in every other year for the next 50 or so years until the next Great Ice Storm, an electric fireplace makes far more sense than a gas unit.