After spending cold hours in traffic on your way back from work, the mere fact that you are going home to relax by the warmth of your electric fireplace makes all the stress of the insane day seem worthwhile. However, have you ever thought about how the electric fireplace that has become your refuge from the cold stress of the world came to be? This article will give you an exposition on the not so illustrious history of electric fireplaces. So, if you’re a fan of fireplaces, follow through to the end and enjoy the beautiful ride.
History of Fire
The history of the electric fireplace cannot be discussed without making mention of the histories of Fire and Fireplaces. Man and Fire have been closely intertwined from the beginning of time. Its discovery was fundamental to the growth of our species. While different cultures of the world have different stories that relate to the origin of the fire, most of them do not make a lot of sense. (For instance, the legend of Prometheus).
However, we know that the early man’s discovery of fire created a ripple effect on how he conducted his life and is in a way related to the way we conduct ours in more recent times. With the discovery of fire, man stood a better chance of surviving the raging elements. The primary application of Fire in the early times was the heating.
The Earliest Fireplaces
With the discovery of fire, the earliest and crudest ‘fireplaces’ were created. Many archeological findings have uncovered evidence of rudimentary fireplaces. These fireplaces were in the form of fire pits (like this tabletop fire pit). Historians suggest that these fire pits were probably the reason the first human beings came together to keep themselves warm.
From Fire pits to Fireplaces
Over the centuries, fire pits transformed from being an area of space (often not indoors) where someone could sustain a fire to a significant part of the home that served the same purpose (bringing people together to keep them warm). In the middle ages, fireplaces soon began to appear indoors at the centers of rooms. To keep smoke away, a hole was created in the ceiling to let out smoke, and windows were left open. Later in the middle ages, louvers were invented for the roof vents to keep snow and rain from getting indoors.
While the fireplaces of the middle ages solved the heating problem, they posed a new challenge of smoke and fumes being indoors. The holes in the roofs and open windows did little to solve this problem. Soon enough, smoke canopies that were used to prevent smoke from spreading throughout the room by venting it through the roof or a wall appeared. This made it possible for smaller rooms to be heated as before this invention, a fireplace could heat only large halls.
Significant Upgrades to the Fireplaces
In the 11th or 12th century, chimney started appearing all over Northern Europe, and this reliably fixed the problem of fumes by venting smoke outside. The chimney was a significant invention when it came to fireplaces. Apart from fixing the fume problem, they also made it possible for fireplaces to have a draft. Also, it made it possible to put fireplaces in multiple rooms in buildings conveniently. However, they did not become popular immediately, as they were expensive to build and maintain.
As a result of its costliness, chimneys on houses became a sign of wealth and affluence. In a way, Chimneys became a major marvel of architectural luxury. Other improvements to the fireplace include the raising of the grate of the fireplace, which improved the airflow and grating system.
The 18th Century was a landmark period in the history of fireplaces as two significant upgrades were made. The first was Benjamin Franklin’s Convection Chamber for the fireplace, which significantly improved the efficacy of fireplaces by producing less smoke and more heat.
The second was Count Rumford’s novel design of a fireplace with a tall and shallow firebox that was more efficient in drawing smoke out of the building. This design is the foundation of modern fireplaces.
For a while after Rumford’s invention, the new upgrades that came to the fireplace bothered more on aesthetics than on necessity. The 1870s and 1880s saw the rise of fireplaces with simple stone designs. By the 1890s, stone fireplaces became a symbol of wealth and still is, to a considerable extent, today.
Most fireplaces are made up of two parts; the surround and the insert. The inserts are constructed with cast iron and were where the fire burned. The surround often consists of the mantelpiece and side supports, usually made of wood, marble or granite.
Fueling the Fireplace: The History of the Gas Fireplace
When the fireplace was first invented, it was powered by burning wood. Over the years, new inventions gave the consumer other alternatives options not only when it came to designing, but also when it came to fueling options.
Gas fireplaces have been around since as early as the 19th Century. The first commercial model was marketed and sold in the mid-1850s. The early gas versions were simple, standalone movable gas burners. At the turn of the new century, a lot of companies were in the business of selling gas fires.
By the 1920s, the gas fireplaces consolidated themselves in the market with about a million gas fires being sold yearly. The 1950s saw the establishment of gas fireplaces as a viable alternative to wood-burning ones as the convector fire was invented. The passage of the Clean Air Act of 1956 also contributed to the success of the gas fireplaces as they were safer and better for the environment when compared to the wood-burning fireplaces.
All the prior talk about the history of fireplaces is essential because it would give you a glimpse of how fireplaces have evolved from ‘firepits’ to what they are now. Now for the history of the electric fireplaces in detail!!!
Fueling the Fireplace: The History of the Electric Fireplace.
It may surprise you that electric fireplaces are not a recent invention and the history of how it came to be is somewhat interesting. Electric fireplaces were first used in the theatre as set props as early as 1912 because they were lightweight and required no fuel. For the most part, the early electric fireplaces created no fires of their own. However, stagehands used fabric and glow sticks tor flames. By 1995, Dimplex had produced the first wood-burning flame we know today. But we will get to that later.
Who invented the electric fireplace?
Sources available to us at the moment do not give a clear picture of who invented the electric fireplace. A quick google search would tell you that Benjamin Franklin invented the electric fireplace. However, that answer can prove to be misleading. While Benjamin Franklin played a massive role in the development of fireplaces, it would be quite misleading to conclude that Benjamin Franklin invented the electric fireplace. He only invented the fireplace stove that was made out of cast iron. This invention allowed the stove to radiate heat more effectively. These stoves have only been adapted to accommodate the new electric fireplace stove.
However, we do know that Dimplex first patented electric fire and flickering flame effects in 1995. But, between 1912, when the first set of electric fireplaces were used by stagehands till 1995 when Dimplex patented the electric fire and flickering flame effect, there was a sequence of events that allowed for the acceptance of electric fireplaces in the American market.
Electric Fireplaces between 1912 and 1985
The first electric fireplaces were too impractical in their infancy. Also, they were too expensive to install and maintain. There was also the problem of electric fireplaces not being realistic enough. Though they heated homes just as effectively as the conventional wood and gas fireplaces, electric fireplaces did not just feel right. Another drawback was the fact that not many American homes had electricity in the early years of the previous century. Thus, making electric fireplaces more unpopular.
A minor drawback was the fact that for the first half of the 20th Century, the world experienced two world wars and the Great Depression. As a result, new innovations were not allowed to thrive.
However, three factors allowed for the increasing acceptance of the Electric fireplace in the American market.
One was the fact that electric fireplaces reduced the chances of dangerous fires catching. Heating equipment was estimated to be involved in about 54,000 fires and cause 400 deaths in 2011. Electric fireplaces created none of these tragic events.
Two, the electric fireplaces were pushed by the American government during the Cold War era to showcase the brilliance of America and the ’Free World.’
Three was the creation of the flickering flame effect by Dimplex. (it seems like we have told this story a thousand times already)!
How do Electric Fireplaces work?
Basically, there are types of electric fireplaces. Some standalone models have a mantel and heater. Then there are the custom versions that can be mounted on or built into a wall, based on the user’s preferences. Lastly, there are inserts that can be placed inside an older hearth with LED with different flame effects.
All three types of fireplaces work in one of two ways. They use metal coils to create heat. A fan then forces the warmed air into the room. Other electric fireplaces use Infrared technology to heat a room directly. The realistic-looking flames are created by a refractor that reflects light from an LED bulb. Some fireplaces even have a device installed to emit the sound of a crackling fire.
Electric Fireplaces Early days vs. Present Day
The power consumption of electric fireplaces (then and now) varies based on several factors. For the most part, in contemporary times, the amount of heat produced by the fireplace determines how much power it will consume. Electric fireplaces use an average of 1500 watts of power. It is important to note that the figures reduce if you are only using it for ambiance and not for heating. The cost of this ranges between 0.003 and 3 cents per hour. However, when placed on medium heating, the cost increases to about 9 cents an hour. If you put it on its maximum setting, it would cost about 18 cents an hour when used. So the average cost of use per year will cost about $50 to $80, assuming you don’t use it full time. Also, the cost will vary based on your region.
However, the scenario is quite different for the first generation of electric fireplaces. While the power consumption levels may not have been different from what we have now, it would have been a lot more expensive to maintain because electricity was not so popular then.
Shapes and Sizes
Today, electric fireplaces are available in different shapes and sizes. The large ones are often custom made to fit the consumer’s specifications. Whatever size you choose, a significant thing you should factor in making your decision is the size of the room.
List of the Current Manufacturers of the Electric Fireplace
Here is a list of some of the most prominent manufacturers of electric fireplaces. Most of these brands have websites where you can conveniently order your electric fireplace from. They may also offer assistance on electric fireplace inserts.
Dimplex: The pioneer brand is still very much in existence and is well known for its realistic flames. Among retailers, it is regarded as the Industry Leader.
Napoleon: Napoleon Electric Fireplaces are famous for their contemporary designs.
SEI (Southern Enterprises Incorporated): This brand is known to merge old and new designs. If you are a fan of the traditional fireplace, this is your plug.
Amantiii: Amantii are known for their unique wall mounted fireplaces that are ideal for modern homes, foyers and office buildings.
Other popular electric fireplace brands include: