New Homes in Africa are Adopting Energy Efficient Design Elements

There is no doubt that Africa’s real estate sector is still young and underdeveloped. Currently, all indications are that the real estate sector in Africa is growing fast. According to analysts, this is due to the growing population levels in Africa as well as a rising middle class. For example, the continent’s current population of over 1 billion people is expected to double within 40 years. Some reports also project that by 2030, the population in African cities and urban areas will increase by 300 million people.

Indeed, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the global building industry accounts for 30% of annual carbon emissions. The carbon emission highlights the growing need for green and sustainable practices within the real estate sector. Luckily, one energy-efficient design element that is quickly growing in popularity and that is the modern electric fireplace inserts.

And the building sectors across Africa are responding to the growing need for sustainability and eco-friendliness. For example, countries like Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda, and Zambia among others already have Green Building Councils (GBCs). Similarly, architects, other building engineers, and even new homeowners are incorporating green and energy efficient design elements. Many people have focused on installing components such as solar panels and energy-efficient lighting and even green building materials. While all this is positive news, it also creates a reason for concern.

Why the Growing Popularity of Electric Fireplace Inserts?

Many residential houses in Africa, particularly those dating back to the colonial times, are fitted with traditional fireplaces. Home buyers in Africa have come to associate fireplaces with wealth and luxury. More new homes, particularly those in cities, are shunning the traditional fireplace in favor of modern electric fireplace inserts. There are some reasons for this;

1. Elimination of Smoke

There are few things as relaxing as watching a fireplace complete with crackling sounds of burning wood. Unfortunately, there are significant concerns regarding the smoke that comes from traditional fireplaces. It is a well-known fact that wood smoke contains carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, both of which are poisonous gases. Similarly, researchers have found wood smoke contains cancer-causing agents.

All of these pose significant health risks for home occupants and users. For example, some studies have established possible links between wood smoke and lung inflammation. Others have associated wood smoke with an increased risk of heart attacks and respiratory issues such as asthma in children. Wood smoke is also potentially harmful to people who already suffer from respiratory problems.

With an electric fireplace, new homeowners need not worry about smoke or its lingering smell. These electric fireplaces emit no smoke and no emissions whatsoever, providing cleaner indoor air and healthier home for its occupants/users.

2. Energy Efficient and Eco-Friendly

Traditionally, one of the core uses of fireplaces was to heat a room/space. While this is a core function particularly in cold regions such as Europe and America, in Africa, it is not. This is because most of Africa lies within the tropics; a fact that means the climate is mostly warm. Nonetheless, this does not mean that African homeowners do not need to heat their homes. Some may find it necessary during the colder seasons.

Unfortunately, research suggests that 90% of the heat that traditional fireplaces produce is lost out of the chimney. This means that the room may take longer to heat up. In turn, this may necessitate one to burn wood to keep the room warm continuously. It also means that traditional fireplaces are not energy efficient.

The alternative to this is using an electric fireplace insert with heater. Since these fireplaces do not require chimneys or specialized venting, none of the heat they provide is lost in the atmosphere. Ultimately, this translates into rooms taking a shorter time to heat up and staying warm for longer. To add on that, users can even control the amount of heat that these fireplaces produce and when they produce it. Homeowners, therefore, get to have better indoor climate control and also reduce wastage of energy.

In addition to that, many electric fireplaces make use of LED technology. LED bulbs consume significantly less electricity than standard bulbs and therefore produce less heat. They also do not contain mercury and may have a lifespan of up to 50,000 hours. All these translate to lower energy costs as well as lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: Dimplex UK

Lastly, it is worth noting that deforestation is an issue of significant concern in Africa. For example, some studies suggest that East Africa lost over 22 million hectares of forest cover between 1992 and 2012. A depleted forest cover may drive climate change and also result in a loss of habitat for birds and animals. Electric fireplaces do no use wood or any wood-based fuel. It is, therefore, a small way for homeowners to live in an eco-friendly and sustainable manner.

3. Increased Adaptability and Versatility

Another significant advantage with electric fireplace inserts is their versatility and adaptability. Since electric fireplaces do not require chimneys, homeowners can place them in any room of the house. Some fireplace inserts come as wall-mounted units while others come as corner units.

There is also a special electric fireplace insert for existing fireplace. Unlike with traditional fireplaces, owners of apartments and small homes may also install electric fireplace inserts. Homeowners can also choose from a wide variety of electric fireplace mantels, all in various colors and designs.

4. Easy Installation and Low Maintenance

Installing plug-in electric fireplace inserts takes a single step. All one has to do is plug in the insert, sit back and enjoy the warmth or ambiance. On the other hand, traditional fireplaces often require the redesign of spaces, lots of planning and possible construction.

Electric fireplaces are also easy to maintain since they do not require wood or even a chimney. Similarly, electric fireplace inserts produce no soot and no ash. All of these translate to reduced maintenance fees and also reduced time spent on maintenance.

5. Safety

It is not uncommon for people, and more so children, to get hurt from handling or mishandling traditional fireplaces. For example, some inserts come with an automatic shut-off timer function. The auto shut-off actively minimizes the risk of fire from electrical over-heating. In addition to that electric fireplace inserts with heaters often remain cool to the touch hence eliminating the risk of burns and other injuries. Ultimately, electric fireplaces are safe for kids and pets.

6. Interior Design Advantages

Electric fireplace inserts are also an excellent way to give apartments or homes a face-lift. Since they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and designs, these inserts are a great focal point for interior spaces. Moreover, some of the architectural designs allow homeowners to save more space than they would be using traditional wood fireplaces.

Tips on Choosing the Best Electric Fireplace Inserts

There are numerous brands and models of electric fireplace inserts. For homeowners and real estate developers, choosing the best electric fireplace insert is often complicated and confusing. Fortunately, there are a few tips which if followed well, could make it easier on homeowners in Africa;


Once one has an idea of the preferred location for the electric fireplace, it is important to check if space is sufficient. This would include measuring the exact preferred location for the fireplace and checking locations of windows, doorways or even walkways to ensure that space is not too large or too small for the fireplace. In homes where space is an issue, wall-mounted electric fireplaces or even corner fireplace units are ideal.

Counter-check the Electrical Wiring

Homeowners in Africa need to know that many fireplace inserts are manufactured for customers in the West. There is a possibility that the electrical specifications of such units are not compatible with a home’s current electrical wiring. The different electrical current or plug may require homeowners to change their home’s electrical wiring or find the proper adaptor.


Since Africa is mostly in the tropics, using fireplace inserts for heating is not common unless during the cold seasons. Homeowners intending to get fireplace units for such tasks must consider the wattage of the unit about room size. For example, big rooms would do well with a 1,500-watt electric fireplace while small rooms could use units starting from 700 watts.

House decor

electric fireplace insert

Source: AKDY 28″ Black Electric Firebox fireplace insert

Electric fireplaces also add to the aesthetic appeal of the house. For this reason, homeowners should draw inspiration from the current or planned decor of the house. This is to ensure that the fireplace compliments the rest of the house.

Renter vs. Owner

Both real estate renters and real estate owners can invest in electric fireplace inserts. Nonetheless, in the case of renters, a portable fireplace is ideal as it allows them to move with the unit. On the other hand, larger and more permanent units such as a 36-inch electric fireplace insert are ideal for homeowners.

Extra Features

When choosing the best electric fireplace insert, it is often helpful to consider the features each unit offers. Features to look out for in fireplace inserts include;

  • A flame only or heat only feature
  • A flame speed feature to adjust flame intensity
  • Thermostat to regulate the heat the fireplace releases
  • Remote control capabilities
  • An over-heat auto-off feature
  • Availability of a cool-touch unit

Some inserts even include air purifiers whose work is to filter out impurities such as dust and pollen

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q1. What is an electric fireplace insert?

An electric fireplace insert is a device that is designed to mimic the flickering flames of a traditional fireplace. To create realistic looking flames, modern electric fireplace inserts make use of LED lighting combined with water vapor or light fabric and a fan. Some electric fireplaces can produce heat while others are simply for aesthetic purposes.

Electric fireplace inserts come in different types;

  1. Log Sets – These are 3D log sets ideal for old homes that already have traditional fireplaces. One simply has to place the unit in the existing fireplace and plug it in to create the effect of logs burning.
  2. Plug-In Electric Fireplace Inserts – The installation process of these devices is relatively more complex than that of log sets. Most come in a square or rectangular shape making them ideal for positioning in cabinets, existing mantels, and existing fireplaces.
  3. Built-in Electric Fireplace Inserts – These type of fireplace inserts are more fixed in nature and are therefore ideal for home-owners and real-estate developers. Additionally, they are the most complicated to install since they require direct installation into the wall of a room or an existing fireplace. Homeowners also have the option of connecting it to the grid or plugging it into a standard house socket.

Source: MagikFlame – Most Realistic Portable Electric Fireplaces with Sound

Q2. How much is an electric fireplace insert?

The cost of a fireplace insert pretty much depends on the brand of the device and its specifications. Though cost is not always an indicator of quality, one would expect the premium brands and models to cost more than basic models.

One could purchase an electric fireplace insert online for anything from a few hundred dollars to over one thousand dollars. However, for homeowners in Africa, these devices often come at a higher cost due to shipping costs and import duties.

Ultimately electric fireplace inserts come at different prices in different countries. In Kenya for example, fireplace inserts can set back homeowners up to $1,600 or more. In South Africa on the other hand, the market is more developed and prices more affordable.

Q3. Do you have to vent an electric fireplace insert?

As noted before, electric fireplaces do not produce any emissions. Therefore no venting is necessary for these fireplaces. The no emission feature is also what makes these fireplace inserts ideal for use in city homes where it is difficult to install chimneys.

Q4. How energy efficient is an electric fireplace?

Plug-in electric fireplace inserts are highly energy efficient. Some experts claim they are 99% energy efficient. These devices turn all the energy they produce into heat. They do not lose any heat through the chimney or vents. This means that rooms heat up faster and also maintain heat for longer. In contrast, gas and wood fireplaces may lose up to 60% of their heat to the atmosphere.

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