What Is an Ethanol Fireplace?

Ethanol fireplace

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The look and warmth provided by a fireplace creates a comfortable atmosphere to relax at home with friends and family, but after the logs have burned down to nothing more than soot and ash, you need to break out the cleaning tools before the fireplace can be used again. Even propane and natural gas fireplaces need to be regularly cleaned. While they don't produce creosote, like wood fireplaces, they can still leave behind a thick layer of residue.

Ethanol fireplaces are a relatively new type of fireplace that is maintenance-free, environmentally friendly, and can be used without the need for a chimney, saving on installation costs. These fireplaces are easy to set up and use by simply adding bio-ethanol fuel to the burner and igniting the fuel with a suitable lighter. Find out more about the benefits and drawbacks of ethanol fireplaces.

What Is an Ethanol Fireplace?

An ethanol fireplace is an environmentally friendly fireplace that uses ethanol as a fuel source and doesn't leave behind soot or ash.

What Is an Ethanol Fireplace?

Instead of relying on wood, natural gas, or propane for fuel, ethanol fireplaces use clean-burning ethanol or bioethanol. This fuel is an alcohol derived from the fermentation of sugars that is commonly made from industrialized crops, like corn, wheat, and sugar cane. It can also come from forestry byproducts, like wood pulp and sawdust. The wide variety of sources makes this fuel inexpensive and plentiful, but it is also renewable and biodegradable.

However, ethanol fireplaces aren't just becoming popular due to the environmentally friendly fuel. They are also have a ventless design, which means that they do not need a working chimney or vent system. This is because when bioethanol is burned it doesn't produce smoke. Instead it releases a little bit of carbon dioxide and water as a byproduct, making ethanol fireplaces essentially maintenance-free. Simply set up the fireplace in a safe, well-ventilated location, add the bioethanol fuel to the burner, and light the fuel with a suitable lighter.

In theory, the ethanol fuel burns completely, leaving only water and a small amount of carbon dioxide, but according to the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research the reality is different. The ethanol does not burn out completely. Instead, when you burn this fuel it can produce small amounts of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, benzene, and other organic compounds, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and ultrafine combustion particles. To use these fireplaces safely, it's important that the space is well-ventilated to prevent these byproducts from building up and affecting the air quality of the home.

Safety Considerations

As may be expected of any type of fireplace, there are a number of safety concerns that need to be addressed before lighting up the ethanol fuel. The first factor you need to worry about is flammable materials. Do not set up the fireplace anywhere where the flames or the heat generated by the fire can ignite nearby material. Find a safe location to set up the fireplace and never leave the fire unattended.

Take your time pouring the fuel and make sure to use a suitable lighter, like a barbecue lighter, to ignite the fuel. Additionally, the ethanol fireplace should only be used in an area that is well-ventilated to prevent the buildup of byproducts in the air. Keep a window open, avoid closing doors, and never set up the ethanol fireplace in a small, enclosed space. While water and small amounts of CO2 are relatively harmless, ethanol can also produce respiratory toxins, like carbon monoxide, carcinogens, benzene, and irritant gases, such as nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde.

Is an Ethanol Fireplace Right for Your Home?

Whether an ethanol fireplace is a good option for your home or if you would be better off investing in a wood, propane, or natural gas fireplace depends heavily on your personal preference, but there are a few other factors to consider. Ethanol fireplaces offer an environmentally friendly, low-cost fuel that can be used in place of more costly options, like propane or natural gas. Additionally, ethanol fireplaces do not require the installation of a chimney, so the overall cost is significantly lower.

These fireplaces are also portable, making it easier to enjoy the ambience and warmth of the fire in almost any room of the home. The drawback to this portability is that you need to be aware of the surrounding area when you use your fireplace, which could be much more vulnerable to fire and the heat produced by the fireplace, increasing the risk of fire damage.

  • Environmentally friendly fuel that is renewable and relatively safe

  • Low-cost alternative to propane and natural gas

  • Easy-to-use maintenance free design that does not require the installation of a chimney

  • Portable fireplace can be set up in a variety of places throughout the home

  • Low heat production cannot supplement the home's heating system

  • Byproducts of the burning fuel can linger in the air if the room is not well ventilated

  • The risk of fire is greater without a built-in fireplace to contain the flames