Why Does My Electric Fireplace Smell Like Fish?


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The electric fireplace has become increasingly common because it is generally safer, cheaper, and less of a hassle when compared to traditional fireplaces that require wood or gas. Even though it pleasantly serves the purpose of providing heat and the simulation of flames crackling while burning wood, this popular fireplace is simply an electric heater and uses an electrical circuit to create heat. 

Overheated and overloaded circuits can cause your electric fireplace to have a fishy smell when in use due to the heating of the plastic covering the wiring within the circuit. This smell means you may have an electrical problem and you should have an electrician inspect your fireplace for safe use.

The rest of this article will explain some causes of overheated and overloaded circuits, what you should do if your fireplace is emitting a smell, how electric fireplaces work, and some general safety guidelines that can help prevent overheating in the future so you can have peace of mind and warm feet. 

The Causes of Overheated and Overloaded Circuits

Electrical wires are insulated by a protective covering that prevents electrical shocks. When this plastic covering is exposed to high temperatures it starts to melt and emit a very unpleasant odor that may be described as “fishy”. 

This is a video that shows how overheated wires can affect the heating component in an electrical appliance:

These are a few reasons your electric wires may have overheated in your fireplace: 

  • An overloaded outlet
  • Using an extension cord or surge protector 
  • Poor connection 

Electric fireplaces are composed of a heating component that works like a fan. Cool air is pulled into the system, heated by a coil, and then released into the surrounding air. Depending on the type of fireplace, the LED lighting system within the unit can range from simple to complex. This will generally depend on the model. 

Inserts vs. Stand-Alone Fireplaces 

Fireplace inserts are actually installed within a mantle where a pre-existing traditional fireplace may have been. They usually have the capacity to heat a larger room and have become increasingly common for this reason. The stand-alone fireplaces work best in smaller rooms. These may be built into TV stands or other furniture pieces and offer more options as far as room placement. 

If you have an insert, you should also check to make sure your chimney is cleaned. Even though an electric fireplace does not have a real flame so there is no real smoke, you should still pay attention to the surrounding area of the heater. The heat created from the unit could cause a smell when in contact with any soot residue that may be in your chimney. 

Whether you have an insert or a stand-alone, you should always refer to the instruction manual and/or a professional to make sure your electric fireplace is operating as it should. If your fireplace is new, the smell could be related to the first use and the owner manual will usually tell you this. 

How an Electric Fireplace Works

Your electric fireplace is made up of a few basic parts including a heating element, a wind turbine, and a screen that displays the pleasant image of a fire burning firewood. There is also a flame plate behind the imaging screen that contributes to the shape of the flames and the movement or flickering of the flames is caused by the rotating motor. 

Although the flames and burning wood are simulated in the display, most units do not include sound. 

If you are missing that comforting crackling sound that a real fire makes while burning wood, check out this Comfort Smart Fire Crackler Sound System on Amazon. 

As for the heating component, the wind turbine uses electricity to create a hot wind and release it into the room giving the illusion that the heat is actually coming from the flames. 

Both the light and heat components require electricity to produce the visual effect and the warm air. This is why it is so important to make sure the fireplace is correctly plugged into the electrical outlet and stick to the safety guidelines mentioned above. Electric fireplaces are high wattage appliances so they do use a lot of power and plugging the power cord securely will help the electrical current flow smoothly. 

How to Safely Operate an Electric Fireplace

If your fireplace is giving off a smell then you should definitely pay attention to this and discontinue using it until you can have a professional inspect the unit. Even though electric fireplaces are much safer than a real fire, especially for children, there are some general safety measures you should take when operating any electric heater. 

  • Plug the power cord directly into the wall outlet. Power strips and any other type of extension cord should not be used with electric heaters. It would be important to keep this in mind if you have a stand-alone fireplace and want to position it in an area of the room that is not near an outlet. 
  • Do not plug other devices into the same outlet. You should plug your fireplace into an outlet that is not being used by another device to prevent overloading or overheating the circuit. 
  • Make sure the power cord is securely plugged into the outlet. When plugs hang loosely from an outlet this can cause overheating as the circuit is continuously pulling electricity. 
  • Do not use the heater while unattended. Most electric fireplaces allow you to use the imaging display without the heating component if you just want the ambiance of a real fire without the heat. It may be tempting to leave the unit on when you’re not home but it is best to turn it off completely if it does not have an automatic shut-off. 

Final Thoughts

When an electrical circuit is overloaded or overheated it can melt the plastic covering on the wires and cause your electric fireplace to smell like fish. If you do notice a smell you should unplug it and have an electrician inspect the wiring to make sure it is safe to use. 

These fireplaces are made up of both lighting and heating components to give the full effect and they use a lot of power to do this so it is important to make sure they are set up correctly. 

Even though the fireplace simulates a traditional wood-burning fireplace, it is still an electrical heater and you should make sure it is plugged directly into a wall outlet by itself, make sure it is securely plugged into the outlet, and avoid using the fireplace while unattended. 

Steve Rajeckas

Steve Rajeckas is an HVAC hobbyist with an avid interest in learning innovative ways to keep rooms, buildings, and everything else at the optimal temperature. When he's not working on new posts for Temperature Master, he can be found reading books or exploring the outdoors.

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