The Markham is a complete ready-to-assemble electric fireplace package from Vermont Castings.

Fireplaces once meant chimneys, venting, plumbing, and masonry work. Such installations were permanent and not intended for apartment dwellers. But the advent of electric fireplaces coupled with advances in cabinetry and technology have made them a smart choice for apartment dwellers, condo owners, and office types who want instant glow and ambiance without knocking holes in walls, running flue pipe, or hauling logs.

Fireplace Features
Electric fireplaces offer ambiance and warmth. Logs glow, simulated flames flicker, and heat is pushed into the room by an internal fan. Owners can select flame only, heat only, or heat-and-flame combinations on most models. These fireplaces can be operated from mantel-mounted controls or by remote. The amount of warmth generated varies among manufacturers and models, but customers can expect around 4,500 BTUs of heat from an average unit. "It’s enough to maintain a 10×12 room at a comfortable level of heat," says Rina Ristagno, marketing manager for Vermont Castings.

Electric fireplaces are not intended to replace a heat source. They are built to provide comfort and beauty. "It’s the aesthetics and the cabinet that sell people," Ristagno says. "It’s a piece of furniture. It’s a place where people put their treasured belongings." These are beautiful pieces of furniture that complete a room and provide a focal design element.

Fast, Safe, and Easy
Fireplace manufacturers are marketing electric fireplaces as aesthetic pieces that can be installed anywhere there’s a plug and a wall. Unlike traditional fireplaces, electric fireplaces belong to the owner not the house. They provide flexibility to renters, condo owners, builders, even business owners who want a plug-in fireplace that can go anywhere. There are no installation costs for the mantel and firebox or stand-alone woodstove-style fireplaces. There are no additional wiring requirements and no clearances or approvals.

Electric fireplaces can be installed in an afternoon and packed up for a move like any piece of furniture. Models like the Markham, from Vermont Castings, come ready to assemble in one box. They require no maintenance, are completely self-contained, and are safety rated. With an electric fireplace, heat and simulated flames come with the flick of a switch for between seven and fourteen cents an hour.

"All electric fireplaces are safe," Ristagno says. Unlike gas fireplaces that generate up to 20,000 BTUs of heat, electric fireplaces are low-heat and send their heat through a blower. Installation guides stress that grilles cannot be blocked and combustible materials cannot sit directly on the firebox. With cabinet models, however, the materials and clearances have already been tested and rated for safety.

The Options

Electric fireplace cabinets can be selected individually and paired with a firebox. The Taiko, from Vermont Castings, is a compact model with a rustic character.

Customers can choose from a number of different options when selecting an electric fireplace. There are inserts that can be purchased for use in an existing fireplace with a fireplace surround purchased separately. Inserts require a surround that fits around it to complete the space between the firebox and the mantel or cabinetry. Surrounds and grilles come in all manner of style and finish.

Manufacturers also sell free-standing fireplaces that are designed to look like wood stoves. There are two and three-sided fireplaces, as well. Firebox and cabinet combinations are the most popular, however, with tremendous variety in sizes, finishes, and features. Cabinets may be rustic, contemporary, classic, or period. They typically come prefinished or stained.

Electric fireplaces are flexible, convenient, and beautiful. They begin in price from under $1,000 for the firebox, cabinet, and mantel. Customers can customize the look by combining fireboxes with cabinets of their choosing. There are even corner models. Customers can also choose a hardwired or plug-in installation. The decision whether to hardwire a fireplace depends on whether it is a permanent installation, how much heat the unit will generate, and whether the customer prefers a dedicated circuit.

Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac