Friday, March 14, 2014

Pros and Cons of Infrared Fireplace Inserts

Classic Flame 28" Infrared Fireplace Insert
I first noticed the inclusion of quartz infrared heaters into the design of electric fireplaces and inserts at the beginning of the 2012 heating season.

From a marketing perspective, expanding into the electric fireplace product line is a no-brainer given the popularity of quartz infrared heaters in general.

But are infrared inserts just a gimmick, or do they provide additional benefits not found in conventional inserts?

Superior Heat Quality
If you already own an infrared heater you don't need to be convinced that its moist, even heat creates a more comfortable environment than the harsh, arid heat that comes from an electric coil heater.

And if you've never experienced the difference you'll be pleasantly surprised when you do.

More Powerful Heater
The typical electric insert comes equipped with a standard electric coil heater rated at 4,600 BTUs, or the equivalent of 1,350 watts.

A quartz infrared heater, by comparison, is rated at 5,200 BTUs, or 1,500 watts which works out to 10% more heating power.

And, since it has a radiant heat source that directs its warmth to inanimate objects such as funiture, which retain heat, it uses less energy to maintain the room temperature.

Flame Display
The identical flame display is used for both infrared and non-infrared inserts of similar sized models within a brand name's product line. For example, the same SpectraFire flame display is used in all of Classic Flame's 28" models.

Although the flame display quality isn't an issure for the purposes of this article, it's understandable why it would be more important than the type of heater for some consumers

By the way, the reviews I've read for the Classic Flame SpectraFire flame display have been good to outstanding.

Heating Area Coverage

I don't know why everyone who sells infrared heaters claims they will heat 1.000 square feet, but they persist in doing so. I know my 1,500 watt DR Heater will comfortably heat around 600 square feet of my Boston condo, but that's about it. There are just too many obstructions (doors, walls) that prevent a heater of this size from reaching every corner of a home's layout.

Or, if you have an open floor plan, it's impossible for any 1,500 watt heating appliance, quartz or otherwise, to keep up with the demand.

So the answer is yes, a radiant heater will do a better job at heating larger areas than most conventional heaters, but it's not going to heat 1,000 square feet unless it's a self contained room in a home built to LEED standards.

Although the additional cost of an infrared heater is not mentioned as a drawback by people who have purchased and reviewed them, it might be a deterrent to some.

Fireplace Inserts Are Versatile
Electric fireplace inserts are popular with RV owners as an after market installation. They can also be used as a stand alone heating unit or, if you're into woodworking, you could custom build a mantle and surround to suit your taste.

Come see our collection of infrared and non-infrared fireplace inserts today.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Improve Your Fireplace's Efficiency With An Electric Fireplace Insert

Nothing beats kicking back in front of a roaring fire with an adult beverage and your favorite  pet or human, and watching 90% of the heat go up the chimney.

Besides, after four martinis who really cares?

Well folks, with an electric fireplace insert, you can now drink as much as you like secure in the knowledge that 100% of the heat is radiating into the room and not going up in smoke.

All kidding aside, the typical wood burning fireplace is only 10%-15% efficient. And when the fire dies down the fireplace actually works in reverse and sucks the heated air out of the room and up the flue.

By contrast, an electric fireplace insert (also called a plug-in firebox) is 100% efficient, eliminates the hassle of dealing with firewood, and keeps your family room free of harmful airborn particulates and ash residue.

Getting Started

Measure the width and height of the fireplace opening.
Inserts are availble in many different widths ranging from 18" to 33". The width measurement refers to the viewing area. The actual width of the firebox is 1" wider than the viewing area owing to the flange that runs along the vertical edge on either side of the insert.

Some models also include a trim kit to cover the space between the insert and the fireplace opening. Other model types come with a flush mount kit for in-the-wall installations.

Choose Your Options
Once you've chosen the appropriate size firebox, the available options are usually limited to what the manufacturer offers for that particular size. Here are some of the choices that are usually offered.

Heating Unit
Most models come equipped with a conventional electric space heater rated at 4,600 BTUs, or the equivalent of 1,350 watts. A popular alternative to the conventional heater is the radiant type powered by quartz infrared tubes. The infrared models generate 10% more heat with a rating of 5,200 BTUs, or 1,500 watts.

Flame Display
The realistic quality of the flame display and log sets has really improved across the board. Each manufacturer gives their flame display a brand name such as the Classic Flame Spectrafire or Dimplex Multifire.

The flame display itself can emanate from either a log set or a bed of glass pebbles for a contemporary look. Most flame displays offer multiple settings to shape the color and brightness effect to suit your mood.

Standard Features
All units come with a glass enclosure and a remote that lets you control all fireplace functions from the comfort of your easy chair.

Friday, February 28, 2014

5 Best Selling Space Heaters for 2014

The 5 best selling space heaters for 2014 represent a notable departure from previous years. Conspicuous by their absence are the Lasko ceramic heaters that had dominated the list for years. As a matter of fact, the only holdover from last year is the Dr Infrared Heater.

One trend that really got my attention this year was a major shift in pricing. The traditionally more expensive heaters like the Vornado and Dr Heater cost about 20% less this year, while the formerly "cheap" space heaters like the Impress have almost doubled in price over the last two years. 

Here then are the top 5 selling space heaters (so far) for 2014 according to

DeLonghi TRN0812T
Coming in at #5 is the Delonghi oil filled radiator heater. Still the only space heater I know of that's allowed in college dorm rooms.

The new contemporary style, compact design is 7" shorter and 5" wider than what you're used to seeing in a radiator type heater. 

The DeLonghi is equipped with a GFI (ground fault interrupter) plug to prevent electric shocks which makes it suitable for bathroom use.

Energy-saving timer with 96 settings allows you to heat rooms for any desired amount of time and lets you select different time periods throughout the day and night. Best suited for smaller rooms 100 - 150 sq ft. Takes a while to heat larger rooms because it has no fan to distribute the heat. One year warranty. Lowest price: $69.

Vornado PVH
The space saving Vornado PVH quickly heats larger rooms and basements with its patented Vortex technology. 

The most effective way to use this heater is to place it at one end of the room with unobstructed air space between it and the opposite wall. When the powerful stream of heated air hits the opposite wall it splits and curls back along the walls to spread the heat evenly throughout the room.

Has 2 heating settings and an adjustable thermostat. Safety features include over heat and tip-over protection. Currently sells for around $60 which is a good deal for this heater. 5 year warranty.

Dr Infrared + PTC Heater
 3. Dr Infrared Quartz + PTC Portable Space Heater 
I own(ed) the Dr Heater and I love it. If you'd like to read about my personal experience with the Dr Heater you can do so here.

The Dr Heater easily heats large rooms 400+ sq ft quickly owing to a dual heating system. First, the PTC ceramic heater quickly warms the air with fan forced convection heat. While this is going on, the infrared quartz tubes provide radiant heat that warms the objects in the room which in turn store the heat and radiate it back into the room.

Listed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) USA and (ETL) Canada ensuring the highest safety standards. Perfectly safe around the children and pets with no exposed heating elements. Overheat cut off and tip-over protection. Around $150 with a 3 year warranty.

Holmes Desk Top
2. Holmes HFH111T-U Desktop Heater Fan with Thermostat
It must be the $32 price tag that's attracting all the buyers because it sure isn't this warning from the manufacturer: 

"This heater is hot when in use. To avoid burns, do not let bare skin touch hot surfaces. If provided, use handles when moving this heater."   

Yikes! This is the first time I've encountered a space heater that requires oven mitts to safely move it around. Needless to say, you don't want this heater anywhere near kids, pets or the forgetful.

Impress 1500 Watt Heater
1. Impress 1500 watt Space Heater with Quiet Fan & Adjustable Thermostat
Drum roll please! Are you Impressed? Truth be told, the #1 spot has aways been occupied by an inexpensive heater. But at $30 this heater isn't really much of a bargain. Especially when you consider it sold for about half as much two years ago.

Although this 1,500 watt appliance has the same power as the larger oscillating tower heaters, it won't heat as much space as a tower heater because of the small grill area and uni-directional air flow..  

Features include: Fan forced heat for faster warm up. Dual heat settings (750W - 1500W) with adjustable thermostat control. And 3 fan settings - fan only, low heat, high heat. Overheat protection circuit. Carrying handle. 1 year warranty.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Space Heater Safety Update

Surge Protector
According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters (electric and non-electric) account for 33% of all winter house fires. However, this statistic is misleading because it implies that a vast number of all space heaters are inherently unsafe; which is not the case.

Rather, it's the improper use of the space heater, not the heater itself, that is responsible for a third of all winter house fires. And approximately half of these fires are the result of locating the heating appliance too close to combustible items such as furniture, bedding, clothing and draperies.

Of course, defective space heaters appear on the market from time to time, but a space heater recall is a rare event.

For years, one of the most important electric space heater safety tips was to always plug the heater directly into the wall outlet and never use an extension cord. This warning extended to power strips and surge protectors as well.

The extension cords referred to in articles like this one are the indoor, 6 foot long, 16 gauge variety you can pick up just about anywhere for five or six dollars. These are fine for low powered items such as lamps or computers, but are altogether too flimsy to safely handle the amps that an electric space heater draws.

New Thinking
But, just like conventional medical wisdom changes from time to time (or day-to-day), so also does the thinking about best practices for space heater safety - at least according to a recent investigative piece from the Fox News affiliate in Indianapolis, Indiana.

While discussing space heater safety, one of the participants, Lt. Larry Tracy of the Indianapolis Fire Department, made an unconventional recommendation to avoid one cause of space heater fires.

According to Lt. Tracy, a space heater plugged in the wrong way could start a fire that may go unnoticed until it's too late. He went on to explain: "They short out at the heater or they short out possibly behind the wall, which you can’t see. Then, the residents end up going to sleep, later on, they have a fire situation."

His solution to this potential hazard is not to plug the heater directly into the wall outlet as previously recommended, but instead plug it into a surge protector equipped with a built in circuit breaker.

A word of caution here. Although they look similar, a surge protector and a power strip are not interchangeable. While both can accommodate multiple plugs, only the surge protector offers the automatic shut off feature.

Finally, make sure only the space heater, and nothing else, is plugged into the surge protector.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

5 Strategies To Get The Most From Your Solar Installer Training

1. Know The Market Where You Plan to Work
Do you live in a good solar market? If not, do you plan on following the job? You can make it in an emerging market but it takes planning, professionalism, partnership and grit. The economics of solar can sell, but new markets require a lot of customer education. Nothing ruins a new market faster than shoddy work. If you plan on entering a new market, invest in technical sales training.

There is a lot of opportunity for a local electrical contractor to add solar to his or her suite of services. A good sales professional can help do just that. And, a journeyman or master electrician with years of local experience is a great candidate for North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) PV Installer Certification. We’ve found that combining these two credentials is the best assurance for quality.

2. Build On The Skills You Have
Are you an electrician? NABCEP PV Installer Certification will get you into the solar game. Do you have sales experience in a technical field? Maybe an electrical supply house? NABCEP PV Technical Sales Certification will help prepare you for the rapidly changing PV marketplace.

Are you pursuing a degree in electrical technology or engineering? Maybe you already work at a utility? Utilities are dipping their toes in the solar market, and it’s only a matter of time before they jump in. Having transferable skills with a solar emphasis is a good strategy for maintaining employment in the volatile solar industry.

3. Ask A Lot Of Your Training Program
Discount lectures in the local hotel conference room with a pretty letter of completion will not cut it in the solar industry. Search for training programs that have accreditation Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC or ANSI/IREC accreditation are the gold standards).

Instructors should have depth of experience and training programs that have a breadth and depth of instructors. Look for a solid track record in training with continued support for alumni through professional networks and related market development activities. Most importantly, look for training that leads you toward industry certification.

4. Get Work Experience (Whatever It Takes)
There is no substitute for experience in the solar industry. Enough said.

5. Don’t Be A Robot
No matter what part of the solar industry you are working in, you need to be an educator. It may surprise you, but solar market growth is becoming a less a technical challenge and more a social one. To sustain current levels of growth, we will need educated customers, jurisdictional authorities, policy makers, realtors and lending institutions, as well as others.

The market will demand fluent, persuasive, knowledgeable and personable solar professionals. If you plan on getting into the solar industry to keep your head down and fasten modules to racks, you will most likely be replaced by a robot — and, nobody wants that to happen to you.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Wow Your Friends With This Easy Home Decorating Idea

If you've been scanning the home decorating magazines and websites for ideas to liven up your home in general, or a special room in particular, an electric fireplace might be the perfect solution.

Unlike other home improvement projects, an electric fireplace will:
* Save you the hassle of putting a job out to bid
* Eliminate the construction disruption
* Avoid unforeseen last minute costs
* Give you exactly what you want, when and where you want it
* Wow your friends and neighbors (and yourself)

This is one home beautification project that is almost impossible to get wrong simply because there are so many styles, finishes, and sizes to choose from at prices anyone can afford.

And, if you enjoy woodworking, another option is to buy just the fireplace insert, which is sold separately, and custom design a mantel and surround to your specifications.

Electric fireplaces solve a multitude of decorating challenges.
When most folks think of an electric fireplace it brings to mind the traditional living room or family room setting. But there are at least a dozen other styles designed to enhance or complement any part of your home. Here are a few:

Petite Foyer Its diminutive size is perfect for hallways

Portable Fireplaces Also known as "Amish fireplaces" these electric heaters are equipped with wheels for easy movement from room to room.

Corner Units As the name implies, these units fit squarely into the corner of any room. Many corner units can also be converted to fit flush against the wall like traditional fireplace.

Media Centers Stylish and versatile, they are designed to hold all your entertainments and keep you warm at the same time.

Built-Ins The built in models are installed in the wall and are hard wired to your home's circuitry. The heater function can be wired for either 120 volt service (1,350 watts) or 220 volt service (2,700 watts), giving you the option to double the heat output.

Wall Mounted You can even get a fireplace to hang on your wall. If you really want to blow your friends away, this contemporary heater-cum-wall art will do the trick.

About the heater
Just about every fireplace fan works with or without heat for year round use.

Most units are equipped with a standard 1,500 watt heater - the maximum you can run on a typical 15 amp household circuit.

Occasionally you will see the heat output stated in BTUs rather than watts. You can convert BTUs to watts by multiplying the BTU number by .2931 enabling you to compare apples to apples.

You can see the complete collection of electric fireplace models and styles including some beautiful photos at Electric Fireplace Reviews.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Solar Related Jobs Growing Fast - And They Pay Good Too

There's a hiring mini-boom going on in solar which might provide you, or someone you know, with an opportunity for a good paying job.

According to a job census conducted by The Solar Foundation, the solar industry added almost 24,000 jobs  in 2013 representing a 20% increase in hiring from 2012. Here are some of the facts taken from their press release:
On January 27th, 2014, The Solar Foundation released its highly anticipated National Solar Jobs Census 2013, which found that the U.S. solar industry employed 142,698 Americans as of November 2013. This figure includes the addition of 23,682 solar workers over the previous year, representing 19.9 percent growth in employment since September 2012. During the period covered by the Census, solar employment grew 10 times faster than the national average employment rate of 1.9 percent. This growth rate is also significant in that it shows – for the first time ever – the solar industry exceeded the growth projections made in the previous year’s report.
The pay isn't bad either. Wages paid by solar firms are competitive, with the average solar installer earning between $20.00 and $23.63 per hour, which is comparable to wages paid to skilled electricians and plumbers and higher than average rates for roofers and construction workers. Production and assembly workers earn slightly less, averaging $15.00 to $18.23 per hour, slightly more than the national average for electronic equipment assemblers.

The solar industry is a strong employer of veterans of the U.S. Armed Services, who constitute 9.24% of all solar workers – compared with 7.57% in the national economy.

Here's an infographic showing the top five states for solar. The appearance of Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania on the list has more to do with generous rebate programs and high utility rates than generous amounts of sunshine.

Click to enlarge

Here's another infographic showing solar job participation by state:

Click to enlarge

Job training opportunities
The fastest growing segment is solar installers, but you'll need experience and/or certification from an organization like NABCEP. Make sure you familiarize yourself with their requirements so you don't get ripped off by some technical institute offering a solar PV installer course that leaves you short on qualifications and long on debt.