Every winter reminds us of the fact that utility rhymes with futility. Try as we might, the desire to save money on our heating bills is trumped by rising energy costs, and frugal intentions are thwarted by the strongest of arguments - cold feet. But there's a thrifty little secret that's known to some owners of electric fireplace heaters: heating one's entire home is both costly and unnecessary.
An electric fireplace heater isn't powerful enough to heat an entire residence, but it is a very energy-efficient and cost-efficient source of supplemental heat when used in a bedroom or living room. Couple a fireplace heater with a timed thermostat, and you have the ultimate combo for home heating efficiency.
Heating an average home requires 90,000 BTU per hour. (BTU stands for British Thermal Unit; one BTU represents the amount of thermal energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of pure liquid water by one degree Fahrenheit at the temperature at which water has its greatest density, i.e. 39 degrees Fahrenheit.) Leave your furnace on overnight, and much of that energy is spent heating unoccupied rooms. Accordingly, one of the smartest home energy efficiency improvements you can make is to simply heat the room you're in.
Fireplace heaters (and electric fireplace stove heaters) are an efficient alternative not only to home furnaces, but also to natural gas fireplaces. A typical Dimplex electric fireplace heater from ElectricFireplaceSource.com provides nearly 5,000 BTU/hour, which is enough to heat an area of up to 400 square feet, at an operating cost of .08 cents/hour. A typical electric fireplace stove heater from Dimplex would provide slightly more than 5,000 BTU at the same cost.
Some quick calculations show that Dimplex electric fireplace heaters (or other brand heaters with comparable BTU) are more energy efficient fireplaces than gas models. A typical gas fireplace provides about 20,000 BTU/hour of heat, which is four times the amount needed to heat a single room - not exactly a model of fireplace efficiency. The operating cost can be determined by finding the residential natural gas price in your state. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, residents of Nebraska paid between $8.45 and $9.81 for a thousand cubic feet of natural gas (Mcf) in 2009 - one of the lowest rates in the country. Utility company bills use "therms," i.e. 100 cubic feet of natural gas. In Nebraska, that means a gas cost of between .84 cents and $1 per therm. One therm equals 100,000 BTU, so 20,000 BTU/hour divided by 100,000 times .84 equals .42 cents/hour, or a heating cost more than five times higher than electric.
Run the numbers for 90,000 BTU gas-powered furnaces, gas fireplaces, and electric fireplace heaters or stoves over the course of a three-month winter, at eight hours per night, and the savings are clear:
|Heat source||Hourly cost||Winter overnight heating bill|
|90,000 BTU furnace||.76 cents/hour||$547.20|
|Gas fireplace||.42 cents/hour||$302.40|
|Electric fireplace heater||.08 cents/hour||$57.60|