Your living room fireplace is fantastic, right?
Well, you don’t have to imagine it. Portable fireplaces are already a thing, and they’re one of the most versatile pieces of furniture you’ll ever have in your home.
They make Christmas morning more magical, help heat up chilly outdoor spaces so you can enjoy your time with friends, and act like space heaters in basements that get a little too drafty. Let’s go over all their benefits, and why you’re currently missing this fantastic piece of furniture.
- 1 What is a Portable Fireplace?
- 2 How Much Do Portable Fireplaces Cost?
- 3 What Types of Portable Fireplaces Exist?
- 4 Pros and Cons of Portable Fireplaces
- 5 Safety of Portable Fireplaces
- 6 Do Portable Fireplaces Give Off Heat?
- 7 Can They be Used to Cook Food?
- 8 Portable Fireplaces: A Perfect, Atmospheric Solution
What is a Portable Fireplace?
A portable fireplace is a small, detached fireplace that emulates a mantle, entertainment center, or a built-in brick fireplace (in appearance). These units are generally rectangular in shape, and have a similar size to a built-in brick fireplace with a chimney.
Portable fireplaces can run off of gas, coal, wood, or more commonly, electricity. A true portable fireplace will be able to burn some sort of fuel to create heat. You’re allowed to take those anywhere with no holds barred.
However, those are actually the least popular options. Nowadays when someone refers to a portable fireplace, they simply mean something that isn’t bolted down or relies on a fixture to work, such as a chimney base.
How Much Do Portable Fireplaces Cost?
It all depends on what type you want. You can get a decent 1,500 watt electric fireplace for under $400. In many cases, base models exist for around $115 to $170.
With gas fireplaces, they end up running you around $220 to $600 if you want them to be portable. Oddly enough, a portable gas fireplace is less expensive than a built-in gas fireplace.
This is mostly because portable gas fireplaces are smaller, so you’re getting less of an area to produce heat from. Either way, they’re just a little more expensive than most electric fireplaces, but have more portability.
What Types of Portable Fireplaces Exist?
You have electric, gas, and you technically also have wood-burning or coal-burning. However, the latter are very straightforward, just like a standard built-in fireplace. Let’s talk about electric and gas.
These utilize a n electric coil system to turn electricity into heat. Heat is sent through a vent system, not unlike gas fireplaces, and it exits the unit to heat the room.
Electric portable fireplaces will commonly feature a faux log that glows with a fiery red or orange hue. These are usually just LEDs at work to create an atmospheric look, while vents around the faux log actually produce the heat.
Electric fireplaces are cheaper than gas fireplaces to run, but they do have their limitations. They can only go as far as your extension cable allows them, but they’re safer in just about every way.
Instead of a heating coil, gas fireplaces burn liquid propane or natural gas, and give off immediate heat without the need to sap it from a coil. The heat is pushed through a vent to exit the unit so the actual unit itself doesn’t overheat, and the room can be heated properly.
Gas fireplaces are more portable than electric, because you don’t need to run an extension cable or hook it up to an electric generator.
Then again, you need to make sure you have the gas on-hand to run it properly. Gas portable fireplaces are commonly more dangerous than electric portable fireplaces.
The argument for having a gas fireplace instead of an electric fireplace is in case the power goes out. You can use these during the winter if an ice storm or snow storm knocks the power out for a few days, and your home didn’t include a wood-burning fireplace with it.
Pros and Cons of Portable Fireplaces
It comes down to what you’re comfortable with, so let’s take a look at the benefits and the drawbacks of both electric and gas portable fireplaces.
Whether it’s gas or electric, you just pop it on and you feel the heat in a few minutes. Portable fireplaces are convenient because you can just pick them up and drop them wherever you want to. Is it chilly on the back deck, but you don’t want to come in?
Run an extension cable and bring out your portable electric fireplace. It’s heat where you want it, whenever you want it.
One of the best things about using a portable fireplace is that, if it’s electric, you can only heat up the rooms that you’re going to be spending time in so that you don’t waste money on heating costs in every room.
With a portable fireplace, you get to choose which unit to buy and dictate how it looks… to an extent.
This is like a pro and a con, because if you custom made your indoor space, you might not find an electric portable fireplace model that looks similar or works in your space at all.
You can position an electric fireplace to look like a built-in real fireplace, but not if it’s completely contrasting everything else in the room.
These don’t heat evenly. Heat escapes through vents on the front of a portable fireplace, so it’s always going to be directed at one zone of your room.
If you put it in the middle of your room, it projects that heat onto one side of it. Put it in the corner so it’s sending heat into the entire room, and that corner will get extremely hot while the adjacent corner on the other side of the room won’t get enough heat.
There aren’t 360° portable fireplaces, so you’re always going to run into one issue or another with evenly heating your room.
Portable fireplaces have a fair amount of safety features to them, which we discuss throughout this guide.
If you go with a gas fireplace… that’s a little less safe. Electric fireplaces come with tip-over protection, so if you’re ever worried about your fireplace getting a little too hot, you don’t have to worry here.
Cost vs. Standard Fireplaces
If you want a portable fireplace for the sole purpose of not having a built-in fireplace, that’s definitely an option.
I’m not going to pretend the costs of installing a brand new fireplace and chimney is anything comparable to simply buying a new portable unit, but if you strictly compare maintenance costs, a portable fireplace will save you money.
Chimneys can easily fall into disrepair, break away from the home, and cause property damage. It’s actually more common than you’d think, especially if you bought a home with a brick chimney included (most people don’t take care of them). It’s costly to maintain, but a portable unit isn’t.
Safety of Portable Fireplaces
Portable fireplaces include plenty of safety features. This is usually on a brand-to-brand basis, but there are EL listing ratings that manufacturers are required to comply with if they want to sell safe heater products in the United States.
This applies for space heaters as well as portable fireplaces.
This ensures electrical compliance, which in turn ensures safety.
Electric portable fireplaces cannot exceed 1,500 watts for any reason, which is why you won’t see space heaters reach over this threshold either. Anything over 1,500W is for commercial use, and it comes with a lot more danger associated with using it.
Electric fireplaces are safer than gas or natural burning. They include plenty of failsafe functions, which is why they’re the only electric heaters that can be left on overnight, although it’s still not a good idea.
Can They be Left on Overnight?
It entirely depends on what type of fireplace it is. If it burns a natural resource and is not controlled by electricity, then you run an extremely high fire risk if it’s left unchecked while you sleep (even if you are nearby).
It’s the same reason that you put a campfire out before you go to sleep on a camping trip – it could spread when left unchecked.
You might be thinking, “I’ve been around plenty of fires before and there’s never been a problem,” but the point is you were there. If a problem arose, you could have handled it straight away. It doesn’t take much time at all for live fire to spread.
This is why electric fireplaces are the number one solution. They can be hooked up to an emergency generator that uses a resource anyway, so the argument of “what if the power goes out?” does have a curb to it.
Electric portable fireplaces are better for a number of reasons, but in this case, it all comes down to fire protection.
Heaters are the number one reason for house fires in the US (in the wintertime), which is why there are constant changes to new models of heaters every single season. It’s difficult to make something that’s cost-effective and extremely safe in this instance.
Heaters and portable fireplaces have the same safety settings, but a portable fireplace is bigger, built more sturdily, and runs a smaller risk of ever causing a fire. These are some features that portable fireplaces have that allow you to leave them on overnight:
If your heater reaches over a certain temperature to the point that it becomes a fire hazard, it will automatically shut down. This is a feature that we find in just about every space heater on the market, and it’s certainly persistent in portable electric fireplaces as well.
If you’re worried about leaving a portable fireplace somewhere that it could cause a fire hazard, place it carefully, and rely on the overheat protection to help you out if you should ever need it.
This shuts off after a certain amount of time or if certain parameters are met.
Some portable fireplaces can identify when there’s a blockage that’s preventing heat to leave properly (such as if something got pushed in fron of your portable fireplace) and can shut off on its own.
Utilize internal timers to shut down your portable fireplace or your heater whenever it goes off. Some of these timers cap out at about eight to twelve hours.
Timers usually don’t go much higher since you could just leave it on a continuous run at that point, and rely on the automatic shutoff or overheat protection. Timers are just automatic shut offs that you set instead of having it set for you.
If you tip over a small space heater, it will turn off. If you tip over a portable fireplace, it has the same features built into it just to be on the safe side. This tip protection works kind of like the rotation mode in your phone when it flips from portrait to landscape.
A sensor knows that the equilibrium of the device has been thrown off, so it automatically stops allowing the electric element to continue heating.
This isn’t completely foolproof, because if the heater is already hot enough to cause a fire and it tips over on carpet, you have an obvious problem on your hands. This feature is simply a failsafe that works nearly all the time, but it’s not a get out of jail free card.
So should you leave them on overnight?
No, you shouldn’t, but an electric portable fireplace isn’t going to cause you the same problems that a small space heater would. You have these failsafes to help you out.
Do Portable Fireplaces Give Off Heat?
Yes, they do. Most portable fireplaces are electric, and despite not having a roaring fire, they still give off heat. Inside of an electric portable fireplace, electricity is converted to heat.
Electricity gives off heat as a byproduct, which is why lightning strikes can cause trees to catch fire even during the wet season.
It’s extremely powerful. 1,500W coursing through a coil is going to give off a considerable amount of heat. These coils are also optimized to utilize that heat.
If you’re using a gas-burning fireplace or a wood-burning fireplace, the heat is just coming off of the fire. Sounds pretty simple, but that’s just how it goes.
The only difference between a gas-burning or wood-burning fireplace and a fire pit is that a fireplace is designed to specifically ventilate heat in one given direction. It heats in front of the unit, instead of all the heat just rising and being wasted. This works for electric fireplaces as well.
Can They be Used to Cook Food?
Well, that depends on what type you end up getting. Remember – there are two different types of portable fireplaces. Electric (1,500W) units that need to be plugged into an extension cord (110V) or a portable generator, and natural fuel fireplaces.
Natural fuel fireplaces use pellets, wood logs, coal, and other firestarters/fuel to actually create the fire. These don’t really have ratings like electric fireplaces do, they just have capacity. You can keep burning more fuel over and over again, but it comes with increased risk.
You could absolutely use a natural fuel fireplace to cook food. Bring a cast iron skillet, sizzle some hot dogs over the fire or canned food, and you’re good to go. This is great if you live in a place where winter can bring ice storms and days of blackouts following a major storm.
You cannot cook food on an electric fireplace. An electric fireplace is essentially a 1,500W heater, and unless that heat is coming out in a controlled area around at least 145°F, you couldn’t cook meat or eggs thoroughly. It’s just not going to work.
Some people suggest modding your electric heater to allow more than 1,500W to pass through, but that’s asking for trouble. There’s a reason that manufacturing guidelines and safety regulations stop at this number.
Look at just about any space heater for your basement, or any space heater in general, and you’re going to find that nothing comes over 1,500W unless you’re able to shop for commercial-grade equipment (and most of us aren’t able to do that).
Portable Fireplaces: A Perfect, Atmospheric Solution
Zero drawbacks. They’re safer than space heaters, inexpensive to purchase and run, and they’ll keep you warm throughout hundreds of square feet worth of space. Bring them outside, leave them in, whatever it is you want to do.
As a relatively low-maintenance device, you’ll be able to enjoy it without worrying about its functionality. It just keeps on trucking on, supplying you with that warm atmosphere time and time again.