Of all the possible heating solutions people talk about these days, it’s perhaps modern electric fireplaces that are the least understood. It’s no surprise. Let’s be honest. In the old days, electric fireplaces weren't that classy. They belted out the heat in a cold room, but they usually looked a bit fake. With a few glowing orange bars, and perhaps a noisy whirring motor under a moulded cover that was generically designed to look slightly like coal or wood, none of us was really fooled. But at least it was warm. These days though, the modern consumer is a lot more canny. We have higher standards. We watch HD TV and own smartphones. So when we light the fire in our own home, we want it to look and feel like a real fire. So what about electric fireplaces? Are they truly realistic enough for the contemporary homeowner?

Well, you still get what you pay for. But even the less expensive models of electric fire are a huge improvement on their old-fashioned ancestors. You can heat a cold conservatory or infrequently used bedroom with an electric fireplace designed to look quite a lot like a log burning stove. It’ll make all the difference to the ambience of the room, as well as the warmth. A lightweight electric fire with a flame effect is going to be fairly realistic these days, even at the entry level.

However. If you want something that looks as realistic as possible, you will probably want to upgrade to models with more control at your fingertips. Here are some of the possibilities modern technology can offer for electric fireplaces.

Consider one where you can alter the flame intensity. That means you’re going to be able to select, probably via remote control, how fiercely the flames are burning, and how hot the embers look. With some models, you can alter the light behind the fire, and even opt for flames that have graduations of flickering colour, just like the real thing. LED and 3D lighting can make a significant difference to the realistic look and feel of an electric fireplace.

That might enough for the average realistic fireplace fanatic. But if you really mean business, it’s going to matter to you that the fire has a sense of its own progress - from the flickering start, through the roaring phase, to the glow of the embers, with hand finished logs that resemble the real thing much more closely, and even offer a smoke effect. All this is available. Very realistic.

It’s incredible how sharp and lifelike electric fires can look these days. And usually, you even have the facility to turn off the heat output and only have the visual display if necessary. That can be a great option for a warmer spring morning when that background flicker gives the psychological signal of a cosy room, but you don’t need to spend any money on the actual heating. Whether you see it as an oversized screensaver, an ambient focal point alternative to the television, or just a gentle way to let the room flicker with a sense of natural light, yes. Electric fireplaces are surprisingly realistic.