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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Build a fire somewhere

editor's note: City Hippy mentioned this and we thought it was worth passing along. Oxfam has partnered with ReviewCenter.com to raise much needed funds for Mid Eastern Earthquake relief. Essentially you sibmit a product review to Review Center and if they publish it they donate £50 to Oxfam. We don't know how much 50 pounds is but it has to be more than we're used to being paid for writing and it's for a desperate cause. So publishers, build a little fire under your reviewers and help to benefit this important relief effort - it's getting very cold very fast in this stricken region.


Electric space heaters have been around for a long time. I remember an ancient enameled version from my uncle's cabin by the lake which routinely cranked out enough heat to both dry our winter boots and put a warm glow to our cheeks.

Historically, electric space heaters have been more expensive to operate than combustion space heaters, but they are the only unvented space heaters that are safe to operate inside your home. Although electric space heaters avoid indoor air quality concerns, they still carry hazards of potential burns and fires, and should be used with caution. For convection (non-radiant) space heaters, the best types incorporate a heat transfer liquid, such as oil, that is heated by the electric element. The heat transfer fluid provides some heat storage, allowing the heater to cycle less and to provide a more constant heat source.

Today however a new breed electric space heaters designed as elegant home remodeling fixtures the electric fireplace has revolutionized the industry with an out of the box, do-it-yourself project that can bring added heat to your home as well as a touch of designer decor.

We examined products from three of the leading manufacturers and came away with some slight variations in form, function and technology but overall the process of making the old electric heater into a fashionable, safe and efficient replacement for the fireplace is very much a shared technology. Dimplex, which possesses the patent on the fire display feature is perhaps the best known manufacturer and dominates the market offering a bewildering number of options for custom finishes and style combinations as well as control features and filter functions that put it well out in the front of the pack. The other brands were Napoleon and Heatilator both of which make superior products and provide a generous list of options and features as well.

The fireplace heater features a small fan which pushes air over glowing red electric elements, out through a grill and into the room. The amount of warmth generated varies among manufacturers and models, but customers can expect around 4500- 5000 BTUs of heat from an average unit which starts at about 1500 watts; enough to maintain a 10x12 room comfortably warm. A BTU (British thermal unit) is approximately the amount of heat required to raise a pound of water 1 degree. The heat is controlled with a thermostat which increases or decreases the amount of electricity used by the heating elements and produces more or less heat accordingly. Space heaters use electrical resistance heating elements and, therefore, can be expensive to operate as the sole source of heat in a home. The new fireplace models however allow the user to turn off the heat when not required while leaving the flame on for aesthetics.

The flame effect developed for these newest breed of electric heaters is provided by 2 or more lamp sources. One lamp varies its brightness intermittently to create a glowing ember effect while another lamp produces a patterned flickering flame projected onto a glass sheet suspended midway between the glazed opening of the fire box and its back wall. While most agree that the flame is not entirely realistic it does mimic the orange red flames of a cozy fire with mesmerizing effect.

The thing to remember when considering an electric fireplace is that while the unit, no matter who the manufacturer is, will provide heat and ambient light safely to any indoor environment it is not going to be an efficient source of heat compared to whole house gas or electric systems. What these new breed of space heater fireplace units provide moreover is an aesthetic and warming interior element. There is nothing more comforting than a warm fire on a cold night and the security it brings to home and hearth.

by Harlan Weikle
Greener Magazine Managing editor

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