For many electric fireplace consumers, confusion often arises while researching the various types of fireplaces available on the market. Many customers don't realize that built-in electric fireplaces are suitable for both new construction and retro-fit applications, while fireplace inserts can also be permanently built-in and hard wired within a wall or plugged into an existing socket.

Models are available with exposed wire or a plug at the end depending which look you prefer. Both can be interchanged with a plug kit or by removing the plug and hard wiring the unit into the home's electrical system. For consumers who choose to hard wire their electric fireplace, the cords will be concealed within the wall behind the insert and undetectable to the eye, thus allowing for a more realistic viewing experience.

When purchasing a fireplace, always consult the manufacturer's recommended power supply specifications before you try to install. A unit wired for 120 volts uses three non-metallic sheathed cables with grounding wire for the power supply, while a unit wired for 220 volts has four cables.

Always use the appropriate wires to meet local and national electrical codes for the unit's rated power consumption. All wires should be 12 gauge solid with a dedicated 15 amp breaker for 120 volts. When installing 208/240 volt builder's box models, use two dedicated 15 amp breakers.

Plan to use at least 8 inches of service cable to connect the power supply to the junction box on a fireplace insert before you finish the wall. Allow up to 4 feet of service cable for connections after finishing the wall. It is advisable for do-it-yourselfers to enlist a professional electrician.

Electric fireplaces have a zero clearance design. However, for safety reasons, no combustibles should be placed on the top surface of the fireplace, but they may be installed at the edge of the unit. Insulation and vapor barriers should be placed a minimum of 2 inches from the unit.

Use your dimension specs when constructing the framing and make sure to accommodate any air intake system, particularly if you are customizing the installation of a plug-in unit designed for per-existing cabinets. Be sure to follow all the instructions and warnings in the manual to ensure a successful installation.

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