Fireplaces are—for the most part—a thing of the past. Consequently, many people may be unfamiliar with traditional or electric fireplaces. While electric fireplaces might not look, smell, or operate like conventional fire-burning fireplaces, their primary purpose is to provide heat.
Electric fireplaces are commonly used to heat small indoor areas or individual rooms. They come in a large variety of sizes and heating capabilities, and they do not produce any smoke or soot. For these reasons, they have become more popular than standard, wood-burning fireplaces.
This article will explore fireplace usage throughout history as well as explore what electric fireplaces are and how they’re commonly used.
What Are Electric Fireplaces?
Electric fireplaces are electronic devices that generate heat. They aren’t generally used for cooking, but they are decorative and practical household appliances. Electric fireplaces can be preferable to traditional fireplaces for several reasons. Some of the most positive aspects include:
- How affordable electric fireplaces are, primarily standalone models.
- How many design and customization options are available to consumers.
- Their superior safety and performance as compared to wood-burning models.
- Their lack of soot, ashes, and other harmful airborne contaminants.
An electric fireplace can have a traditional appearance, replete with a mantle. It can also be a standalone device that is exceptionally portable.
Some electric fireplaces have built-in display screens that show digital flames during usage, but these fireplaces are far safer than real wood-burning models. They produce zero carbon monoxide and absolutely no actual flames. Instead, these fireplaces generate heat via internal heating coils and well-placed fans.
Homes that don’t typically get cold enough to warrant having a heater can benefit from an electric fireplace. They’re easy to install and operate, and energy-efficient models abound. Like traditional wood-burning fireplaces, electric fireplaces can help keep homes warm and comfortable during bouts of cold weather.
What Are Fireplaces Used For?
Believe it or not, there was once a time before central heating and air conditioning. There was also a time before electric and gas cooking appliances when most homes housed wood-burning stoves and haphazard fireplaces. These analog appliances kept homes warm and free from starvation.
However, they also caused unfathomable disasters. Many homes lacked stone flooring and roofing. Instead, these often cramped quarters had floors of dirtied straw and roofs of thatched grass. The dried plant matter was incredibly flammable, and many homes caught ablaze from single sparks or embers falling from stoves and fireplaces.
To make matters worse, the first fireplaces were hardly ever cleaned or maintained. The amount of soot and smoke that resulted from continually using these filthy fireplaces was a fire hazard and a significant risk to tenants’ health.
Still, without these early wood-burning fireplaces, their electronic descendants would not exist today.
History of Fireplaces: Ancient Era
Humans may have been creating and utilizing fire for more than a million years. Anthropological records and archaeological sites support the notion that fire was an essential tool for every early civilization. Nearly every tribe of people have relied on fire’s warmth, ability to cook food, and danger to survive.
The development of human civilization can be linked to the mastery of fire, as shown by the ancient Mesopotamian’s complex furnaces, the Harappan Civilization’s understanding of metallurgy, and the Yangtze River Valley Civilization’s early smelting skills.
Sadly, thousands of years’ worth of accumulated knowledge began to disappear during the collapse of the Greek Empire. By the final fall of the Roman Empire, most of Western Civilization’s collective mathematical, scientific, and historical documents were gone.
Somewhat ironically, the thing that helped human beings become more innovative, courageous creatures also destroyed the wisdom that came after that initial discovery. The burning of the Library of Alexandria is perhaps the most notable example of how fire helped to destroy centuries of collected information.
Perhaps if some of this information had survived, the next several centuries of human beings wouldn’t have had to suffer through serfdom and rudimentary, dangerous fireplaces.
For those living in the post-ancient, pre-industrial era, catastrophic fires were an unavoidable risk associated with living in larger, urban areas and low-quality rural housing.
Mostly, it was impossible to escape fireplaces and their inherent dangers. To live without one meant either freezing or starving to death.
History of Fireplaces: Pre-Industrial
From the Early Middle Ages until the end of the Victorian Era, most homes and buildings were equipped with wood-burning fireplaces. While gas-powered were patented before 1900, it would take many years for them to replace their soot-filled predecessors. And by the time the majority of homes installed natural gas hook-ups, electricity was on the rise.
But during this millennium of scientific and artistic revolutions and renaissances, most households still relied on wood-burning fireplaces for warmth and sustenance. Initially, the average family had a hearth fire at the center of their dwelling. This provided enough heat and cooking space to keep several serf families alive and somewhat healthy.
But as feudalism faced a slow death in Europe, housing began to change in dramatic ways. Many who were once doomed to live a life of serfdom took up trades or became merchants. To attract clients, customers, and a steady income, a large number of newly freed serfs and their families moved to large urban centers and developing cities.
This mass migration was also encouraged by pro-serf laws that granted enslaved or owned peoples their personal freedom upon residing in a large city for some time. The result was a sudden rapid increase in population within a minimal area. Because many of these new residents owned little property, the homes they built were often made of less-than-ideal materials.
These slums, or “rookeries,” were cramped, timber-and-brick buildings that endlessly pumped coal and wood smoke out of sagging, dangerously constructed chimneys. They featured homemade fireplaces, and it wasn’t uncommon to find a fireplace in every room. While this was the exact birth of the traditional, middle-class fireplace, it also wasn’t a safe situation.
These homes often caught fire, and when one building began to blaze, its neighbouring shacks tended to follow suit. After the Great Fire of London wiped out a massive portion of the city in 1666, there was a more significant public push toward fire safety restrictions and guidelines.
But when gas-powered alternatives were introduced, these same safety measures failed to protect homeowners from carbon monoxide poisoning and explosive interior gas build-ups. Consequently, many homes continued using wood-burning fireplaces and stoves well into the post-industrial era.
History of Fireplaces: Post-Industrial
The post-industrial era welcomed the rise of the middle class and the Golden Age of Electricity. Thousands of electrical products and appliances flooded the new consumer-rich market, and shoppers gladly bought them in massive amounts.
In 1912, the very first electric fireplace was invented. However, it wouldn’t be until the post-war economic boom of the 1950s that these heated devices would catch fire among the new throng of shoppers.
But once the general public realized how much safer, cleaner, and convenient electric fireplaces were than traditional wood-burning models, even with fireplace blowers, there was no going back.
Electric fireplaces are used to generate heat in homes that lack alternative heating systems. Unlike their wood-burning predecessors, electrical fires don’t pollute interior spaces, pose significant fire risks, or require consistent cleaning and maintenance.
Electric fireplaces can also be more affordable than their traditional counterparts. Owners can also choose to add personalized touches such as faux burned wood pieces, customized lighting, and virtual flame options, and pre-recorded ‘wood-burning’ sounds.
While these devices might not be ideal for roasting marshmallows, they can be an excellent option for chilly rooms or frigid apartments.