A customer recently asked a seemingly straightforward question:
Is an electric fireplace heater cheaper to run than reverse cycle AC and other electric heaters?
It's a worthwhile consideration, particularly if you're looking to zero your energy bills.
What Are Electric Fireplace Heaters?
Electric fireplace heaters, flame effect heaters, and fake fireplace heaters are all essentially the same thing. They have a heating element just like a regular electric heater but give you that 'fireplace' look without needing to burn natural gas or wood.
They generally range in price from $200 to $2000. Brands include Mistral, FlameGlow, Dimplex and DeLonghi (see Choice Review). They also occasionally crop up at ALDI under their Lumina brand (see image below).
Are Flame Effect Heaters More Efficient Than Reverse Cycle AC?
In short: no.
Reverse cycle air conditioning or 'heat pump' systems essentially move heat from one location to another. As a result, they are often able to 'create' 3 to 4 units of heat inside your building for just one unit of electrical input.
On the other hand, a conventional electrical heater of any sort, including electric fireplace heaters, will only ever create one unit of heat from one unit of electrical input.
So, on paper, any heat pump is more energy-efficient than electric room heaters.
So, Are Electric Fireplace Heaters Cheaper to Run?
To answer this, we need to dig a little deeper. If you look at the picture below you will notice this electric fireplace heater has two heat settings (800W and 1,600W):
This means the unit has an electrical input and equivalent heat output of about 1,600 watts on the high setting.
Now, all you need to do is find the specs of the heater you wish to compare it against.
For example, on a reverse cycle air conditioner, there will be two numbers on the box outside. One is electrical input, and the other is heating capacity or heat output. The input relates directly to your cost (lower is better), and the heating capacity represents the heat output (higher is better).
A heat pump or AC with an electrical input rating of 1,600W heating the same space as an electric fireplace with a rating of 1,600W should always cost less to run.
But the heat pump vs. electrical heater comparison is usually more complex than that. For example, you may already have a large heat pump or reverse cycle AC installed which heats your entire home. If you only want to heat one room, switching to an electric fireplace can sometimes be cheaper.
What Options Are Better Than Electric Fireplace Heaters?
As you can see from the answer above, 'it depends.' And like with any high powered electric heater - they can easily result in high electricity bills.
But a few options are definitely more efficient and way cheaper to run than electric fireplace heaters. These include:
- Heated foot mat - ideal for the home office.
- Heated throw blanket - ideal for in front of the TV.
- Electric blankets - ideal for bedrooms.
All of the above heaters use about 100W or less. They work by heating you directly, rather than the entire room around you. Contrast that with a typical electric fireplace heater that uses 800W to 1200W on 'low' and 1600W to 2400W on 'high'.
Note: operating cost is directly proportional to input power / wattage. It's generally true to say that a 1600W heater costs sixteen times more to run than a 100W heater.
So - to answer the question posed in the title: are electric fireplace heater cheaper to run than...
- Reverse cycle AC? Usually not - AC is cheaper per unit of heat output.
- Other electric heaters? It depends on the wattage.
- Energy-efficient heaters? Nope - low wattage heaters beat them hands down.
Having said all that, electric fireplace heaters are not all bad. In the absence of a (much worse) gas or wood fireplace, a flame effect electric heater does create some worthwhile ambiance. Just use them carefully! If you don't already have one, I'd highly recommend you install a wireless energy monitor, no matter what type of heating you use.