How to Use Gel Fuel Fireplaces

Brookstone Gel Fuel Fireplace
Image via Brookstone.com

A gel fuel fireplace is a type of vent-free fireplace that uses canisters of an alcohol-based gel as a fuel source. There are many types of gel fuel appliances, for both indoors and outdoors. Because they need no chimney, gas hookups, or electricity, these handy fireplaces can be moved wherever you want them. Using a gel fuel fireplace indoors or outdoors is as easy as lighting a match. Gel fuel appliances are generally quite safe, but it's important to use fireplaces and fuel canisters as directed.

Gel Fuel Basics

Gel fuel is typically made with isopropyl alcohol and is sold in 13-ounce cans that burn for about two hours, 30 minutes to three hours. Cans cost about $3 each. Some fuel mixtures contain organic materials that make a sizzling or popping sound when burned, to mimic the sound of burning wood. Gel fuel does not smoke or create soot when burned.

To burn gel fuel, you remove the paper label from the outside of the can, pry open the lid (similar to a paint can), and set the can in an appropriate place inside the fireplace. Then, you simply light the gel with a match or a lighter. Most fireplaces can accommodate up to three cans that can burn at the same time. To extinguish the flame, carefully drop the lid onto the can, smothering the flame. Cans can be resealed and saved for future use.

Indoor Freestanding Fireplaces

Most gel fuel fireplaces intended for indoors are freestanding, meaning they simply stand on solid flooring and do not require mounting to a wall. This allows you to move them from room to room. A freestanding fireplace is an appealing option for homes or small spaces where you cannot or don't want to make permanent changes. Many indoor fireplaces have the look of traditional fireplaces, with a mantelshelf, columns and molding, a fireplace screen, and ceramic logs. There are also modern styles with glass panels or flames that burn through decorative rock.

Outdoor Gel Fuel Fireplaces

Gel fuel fireplaces for outdoors come in a wide range of styles, including fire pits, fire tables, fire bowls, and traditional fireplaces. Some models are small and easily portable so they can be carried indoors or out. Outdoor units operate just like indoor fireplaces. The easy setup and shutdown are perhaps even more convenient outdoors because the fire is ready in seconds, and when it's time to go inside, you don't have to wait for the fire to die down so it is safe to leave it. As soon as the flame is snuffed out and the can is sealed, it's safe to go inside.

Wall-Mount Fireplaces

In addition to freestanding fireplaces, there are also wall-mount units designed for indoor or outdoor use. These are great for small rooms and outdoor areas because the fireplace doesn't take up any floor space. They also let you put a fireplace where you normally would not think of installing one.

Heat Output

A single can of gel fuel typically provides about 3,000 Btus (British thermal units) of heat. Burning three cans at once puts out 9,000 Btus. As a comparison, a wood fire in a conventional wood-burning fireplace may produce 20,000 to 40,000 Btus, while a gas fireplace can put out about 8,500 to 60,000 Btus. While gel fuel fireplaces create less heat than wood or gas, very little of the heat is lost because there is no chimney--and no draft pulling warm air from the room and out through the chimney. A gel fuel fireplace burning three cans of fuel can raise the temperature in a small room about 10 degrees F. An outdoor gel fuel fireplace or fire pit can provide some warmth for those seated close to the unit, but the overall heat benefit is much smaller than that of a wood-burning appliance.

Gel Fuel Safety Tips

Gel fuel is safe to burn both indoors and outdoors, but there are a few important things to remember when using gel fuel fireplaces:

  • Never burn gel fuel unattended.
  • Place freestanding models on the level, solid flooring or outdoor surfaces to prevent them from tipping over.
  • Exercise care when using gel fuel outdoors; do not burn fires during high wind or when it is raining or snowing.
  • Burn gel fuel only in its original container. Do not refill used containers or add fuel from one container to another.
  • Place fuel containers only in appropriate locations inside the fireplace unit.