Informational Guide

How Do Electric Fireplaces Work To Give Off Heat?

Electric fireplaces work to provide comfort in the home. We showcase how much heat they give off so you can learn to successfully warm any room.

by Josh M

Electric fireplaces are considered one of the most effective ways to heat your home. They can operate in a variety of different-sized rooms, and the best electric fireplaces are very efficient. This means you can get more effective heating, with a lower electricity bill.

In this guide, we’ll explain how electric fireplaces work and how they emit heat into your room so you have a better understanding of what an electric fireplace is actually doing.

Electric Fireplace in a Modern Themed Living Room

Fireplaces have been the primary source of heat in the home for hundreds of years, and before that, open fires were the primary source. In the early 1900s, inventors began to try and emulate this by using electricity to control the heat source. This was intended to reduce the risk of fires in the home and really make the most of newly discovered electricity.

In 1912 the first electric fireplace was invented, but it’s a far cry from what we know today. They emitted so much light that they were actually used in plays to give a dramatic effect. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that electric fireplaces started to be seen in homes as the designers began to embrace more modern ideas about design.

While the initial electric fireplaces looked nothing like the traditional fireplace, the design has kept moving forward ever since and improved year on year. Flash forward to the 21st Century, and we now have thousands of different electric fireplace models which look like a traditional fireplace.

The electric fireplaces we see today are typically made from plastic or metal. The main body is always made from metal as it holds the heating components within, and most plastics would melt if they were exposed to the heat. The heating components themselves are also made from metal, as well as all other internal components. The legs and frame can be made from plastic or metal.

More expensive units are typically made from cast iron or aluminum, which are longer-lasting but heavier to move. You’ll also have the option of a glass display on most modern electric fireplaces which mirrors real fire, giving the look and feel of a traditional fireplace without any of the downsides.

Electric Fireplace in a Conference Room

How Do Electric Fireplaces Work?

Electric fireplaces offer more flexibility than wood-burning or gas-powered heaters because of their simple design. They work using a heating coil which is powered by electricity. Once you plug the device in and switch it on, the heating coils will begin to warm up. Cool air is drawn into the device, heated by the coils, and then released back into the room.

Electric fireplaces typically work using this convection heating, which is heating the air in the room to raise the overall temperature and shouldn’t be confused with infrared heating technology, which emits radiant heat.

Electric Fireplace Exit Diagram

Electric fireplaces are different because there is no physical flame. Gas or wood-burning ovens often rely on a flame being lit, and then the heat will be circulated throughout the room. Electric fireplaces don’t need that and only use an electrically powered heating coil within the device.

As electric fireplaces aren’t reliant on any power sources except electricity, they can be used very flexibly, and it removes the need for gas or wood as fuel. Electric fireplaces also give off no fumes or harmful gases, so there’s no need for ventilation around the heater.

This means they can be used in small spaces, apartments, or even in RVs. They work best in small/medium-sized rooms, but you should remember not to leave any flammables too near the device, or this can be a fire risk.

Do Electric Fire Heaters Really Give Off Heat?

The heat from the electric fire all comes from the heating coils. When connected to an electricity source and switched on, they can heat up to 1100-degree Fahrenheit, which is what causes them to glow red.

Electric Fireplace Hot Coil Spring

The heat from these coils is then used to heat the air within the room as cool air is drawn into the fireplace. The air comes into contact with the coils and warms up, causing it to be pushed back into the room. This is repeated until the room becomes noticeably warmer.

Electric fireplace heaters come in a range of different sizes, and the power level is measured in watts. The watts or wattage is what is needed to power the device, and the output from the heater is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs). 1 BTU is how much heat is required to boil 1 pound of water, so this is a measure of how much heat is being produced. The higher the BTU, the more heat is being produced and the greater area that can be warmed up.

An average electric fireplace is 1500 watts, which will produce about 5000 BTU. This is perfect for keeping you cozy over the Winter months and can heat an area of about 150 square feet. Generally, electric fireplaces won’t be effective on areas greater than 400 square feet, so you may need a different type of heater.

Do Electric Fireplaces Have Real Flames?

Electric fireplaces look to emulate real fireplaces, and for that they need some fire. Electric fires don’t have any real flames, but you may have seen flickering flames in front of the heater, making you think it is real.

Electric Fireplace Contemporary Fire

When electric heaters first came out, they used strips of aluminum that would flutter and reflect the light.

This was a poor imitation of flames and didn’t add much to the aesthetics, but the method has come a long way since then.

Modern electric fireplaces often use reflective rocks or glass panels with bulbs hidden behind which appear like flames.

This electric fireplace flame effect has been intelligently designed to mimic real flames, and the technology has become more sophisticated year on year with some great features:

Warm Glow

The electric fireplace flame effect is generally linked to your settings. This means as you increase the heat, the flames themselves will become bigger, giving the illusion of a larger flame providing more heat. It gives a warm glow throughout the Winter months and can provide a cozy, warm glow when you turn down your other lights.

Flickering Firelight

One of the best features of electric fireplace flames is that they flicker like a real fire. Mirrors are used within the fireplace to reflect the light and make it dance like real flames. This gives a much more lifelike feel than a static LED.

Energy Efficient LED Bulbs

Some people might question the need for the flame effect and say it’s not worth the extra energy cost. The LED bulbs used in the electric fireplace are actually really efficient, and even running them all day all month will barely add $2 to your energy bill. They’re also long lasting and won’t need to be replaced very often.

Dramatic Lit Effect

Many electric fireplaces have a variety of settings that allow you to customize the flames. This allows you to give your whole room a dramatic effect which can really help add to the atmosphere in your home.

What To Do When The Flame Effect Is Not Working

The electric flame effect really adds to the overall appeal of the device, so it’s frustrating if it’s not working. If your heater is new, then you can simply request a new one from the manufacturer, but if it’s a fault that’s developed over time, then it’s typically your bulbs or your rod.

If your flames are no longer moving as they should, then it’s an issue with the rod, which connects to a motor and controls a series of mirrors that reflect the light and give the flickering effect. Over time, this rod can become stiff and no longer moves correctly.

This is relatively easy to fix; just make sure the device is turned off and completely cool, and then apply some lubricant (WD-40) to the rod so it can move freely again. If the flame effect doesn’t start working normally, you may need a professional to help you.

If the flames in your electric heaters are no longer showing at all, then it’s an issue with your LEDs. This is usually because a bulb has died and will need to be replaced. You can do this quickly enough by opening up the access cover, removing the old bulb, and replacing it with a new one bought from the store.

It’s imperative that you turn the electric fireplace off and let it cool down completely before you carry out any maintenance work, or you could risk injuring yourself.

People Also Ask (FAQ)

How much will an electric fireplace raise my electric bill?

An electric fireplace is more efficient and therefore cheaper than other forms of heating. If you are fitting an electric fireplace into a room without heating currently, it will cost between 20 and 40 dollars a month. If you are replacing your existing heater with an electric fireplace, you will probably save 5-10 dollars a month in energy.

For the most energy efficient heating solution, head to our guide for more options.

Can you plug any electric fireplace into a regular electrical outlet?

Yes, as long as it’s the correct voltage. Check the packaging or specification of your electric fireplace and make sure it’s compatible.

Is an electric fireplace better than gas?

Electric fireplaces are more expensive upfront but are more efficient and can be more effective at heating a room. They are reliant on electricity, but other than that they are easy to maintain and long lasting. Gas fireplaces can be effective but are slightly more limited than electric models.

What is cheaper to run than a gas or electric fireplace?

Electric fireplaces are more efficient than gas fireplaces, so they will cost you less to run.


Electric fireplaces are a great way to warm a room and can really make you feel cozy during the winter months. It’s not just about the heat but the look and feel of the electric flames that make them so appealing. Hopefully, this article has helped you understand how they work and given you some insight into whether they’re suitable for you.

Also consider other room heating solutions based on your needs:

Best Electric Wall Heaters
Best Heaters for Small Rooms
Best Heaters for Large Rooms
Best Apartment Heaters

Last Updated on November 21, 2021

Josh M

My name is Josh and I am obsessed with the HVAC industry. I created this website to help HVAC techs of all levels get the best out of their heating & cooling systems. I have spent thousands of hours studying air conditioners, heaters and home air products so you can learn & buy with confidence. Learn more about the team here.