To get the heat and the appearance of flames, the fireplace will need a fuel to burn. Three types of faux fireplaces can provide your home with warmth, the glow of a burning fire or both. Gas fireplaces use propane or natural gas to provide real flames. Alcohol gel fireplaces burn a gelatinous fuel similar to the Sterno fuel cans used to heat up food on camping trips. The third type is the electric fireplace that uses heating elements similar to other electric heaters to generate heat and light.
The Gel Illusion
The appearance of real fire is as important or even more important than the heat the fireplace provides. Fake fireplaces that use alcohol gel fuel must present a warm, glowing appearance to fill in for the real thing. The gel is inside canisters that are set inside a fireproof case. The actual flames from these canisters glows behind realistically-painted ceramic logs. The gel will burn for several hours and give the illusion that the logs in the fireplace are on fire and creating the heat and atmosphere.
Electric logs pull off the appearance of a real fireplace in an entirely different way. Inside the fireplace is a simple electric heater with a fan that blows the heat out. The fan has two purposes. It circulates the warm air and also blows fabrics shaped like flames, making them flicker in the air to give the illusion of a real fire. Glowing orange and yellow light hidden in the rear gives the appearance of actual fire glowing. Fireproof fake logs are often placed in front of the fake flames to give it a more realistic appearance.
Pros and Cons
Fake fireplaces have several advantages over real ones, as well as some drawbacks. A fake fireplace has no need for real wood that has to be purchased or chopped. Fake fireplaces do not give off smoke, and no one needs fire-building knowledge to keep the fire going; simply flip on the switch or light the canister. The fake fireplace is easily maintained and does not require a chimney.
On the downside, real fireplaces add value to a home and do not require any electricity, which can make them more affordable in really cold weather when utility bills skyrocket. And the distinct feel and smell of wood-burning fireplaces cannot be replicated by fake ones.