Before winter sets upon us we are considering repairing or cleaning the chimneys, or at least looking at all that needs to be done to have a safe fireplace. A lot of people who don’t have a fireplace are considering whether they should add one, whether the cost of construction might be worth it considering the ever present increases on heating costs.
Quick jumps to this page content about ethanol fireplaces facts:
When winter sets upon us we are considering repairing or cleaning the chimneys, or at least looking at all that needs to be done to have a safe fireplace. A lot of people who don’t have a fireplace are considering whether they should add one, whether the cost of construction might be worth it considering the ever present increases on heating costs.
Knowing the Ethanol Fireplaces Facts
This article will please people who are thinking that the cost of repairs to a fireplace or chimney are too expensive, people who think they would like a fireplace but do not want the construction costs or mess, and people who live in apartments without a fireplace and would like one. I am going to look a little closer at ethanol fireplaces.
There is a lot of information online about bio-ethanol fireplaces but much of it is in a jungle of information with large disparities of prices ranging from less than a hundred dollars to several thousands. This article proposes to resume the information you need to make an intelligent decision about buying an ethanol fireplace. Far from being exhaustive this article is intended to compile the most important facts about what is available on the market.
Bio-ethanol is a natural fuel from vegetable origins. It is an agricultural product, produced by industrial fermentation of sugar contained in sugar cane or starches contained in grains like corn or wheat. The extracted alcohol (ethanol) is concentrated then it is dehydrated to get bio-ethanol. The prefix bio indicates that it is produced form living plants, it does not mean that the plant were organically grown. Nonetheless, it is a green energy, a renewable energy.
One of the greatest advantages of ethanol is that combustion is without smoke, without odors and thus can be used in a fireplace without a chimney or flue.
Manufacturers have very quickly appreciated the benefits of such technology and what it means for home owners. They have created a wide array of products and the ads to toot their horns about the advantages of these products.
- No costly installation, and a product that can work right out of the box.
- No wood gathering, cutting, storing, and not ashes to clean.
- Supplemental heating at low costs
- No smoke / can be a ventless fireplace
- CO2 released by the fireplace equivalent to burning 2 candles
- Almost no maintenance
- Easy to use
- Safe to use
Fireplace can be moved when needed, even used in different rooms of the house at different times. But from a consumer point of view we need to bring a little objectivity into the products.
It is important to realize that this is to be used as additional heating, or atmosphere heating and cannot be a primary form of heat or a permanent heating system for the house. These fireplaces are not conceived to produce heat for 8 or 10 hours at a time every day of every winter month.
While CO2 emissions are low, it is still important to place the fireplace in a room with adequate ventilation. It is probably not a safe practice to have an ethanol fireplace in a room without windows, unless it is a very small model like a table top ethanol burner.
All bio-ethanol discharges some water vapor when burning. This is negligible unless you already have a humidity problem. In this case you should use a dehumidifier.
Manufacturers tell you that there is no odor. This is essentially true, however the odor of the fuel may affect some people when refilling the tank, and for a few minutes when first lighting the fire, or when extinguish the flames.
In another article I have explored the safety of ethanol fireplaces in details. I will simply state here that they are safe but some precautions must be observed, especially when adding fuel, you should never refuel a fireplace that is hot, as ethanol is highly flammable liquid, and after refueling you should not start the fireplace right away or without washing your hands.
The biggest problem that I can point out about ethanol fireplaces is a lack of standards. This has left the field wide open to some substandard products.
You may have read about tax credits for using green energy and this may true in some localities, it is not true everywhere. It is better to check your local tax regulations. In the US tax credit for ethanol fireplaces were in effect until the end of 2010, but I have not heard about any proposal beyond that time.
Only a couple of years ago these fireplaces were extremely expensive. Today prices have come down and for the most part they are affordable on any budget. You will find models under $200 and some over $5000. It of course depends on the maker, the designer, the size and the country where you live.
These are the ethanol fireplaces facts you really need to know to make an intelligent decision about using a bio-ethanol fireplace?
You should pay attention to the burners that are the basic functional part of the fireplace. There are two types of burners: the first one has a porous material which absorbs the ethanol. It is a safe way to use liquid fuels, as once it is absorbed the liquid cannot be subjected to any spills. This is visually the closest to a traditional fire, thus probably the one I would prefer.
The other type of ethanol burners has little containers in which you pour the fuel. These will not be as economical to run and will provide less heat for the same amount of fuel. Frequently lower priced ethanol fireplaces use a burner with an aluminum container, which can have a chemical reaction when the fuel is burning and cause emanation of smoke and odors. When buying a fireplace with container type burners, you should only buy it if the container is stainless steel.
You don’t need a permit or anyone’s permission to install one, as they do not need any construction and will not damage any walls. There are different possibilities for installing an ethanol fireplace.
If you already have a fireplace (in working order or not) you can buy an insert or a simple burner and install it in the existing fireplace.
If you don’t have a fireplace you can buy a wall or a floor fireplace. Both have advantages and drawbacks. A wall fireplace is safer as it will not fall, this is the one to prefer if you have children or pets, but also if you have the wall space to install it. A floor design is a good option for some people but you should seriously consider adding a fireproof material between the floor and the fireplace.
It is clear that the fuel is ethanol, but it can be in gel form or in liquid form. Gel seems to be cheaper but the quality is not as even across the brands. Both gel and liquid are being shipped freely in the US and you can buy it at advantageous prices on Amazon and Ebay, but different countries have different regulations and you should check the rules for your area. More and more local stores are carrying ethanol fuel making it easier to access. Usually it is sold in smaller size bottles and should be stored as any other combustible material.
Design is clearly a matter of preference and the large selection available ensures that you will find something that will meet all your decor needs.
I would however encourage you to pass over a low price that looks good but has lesser quality materials. You are after all dealing with fire and your safety is more important. This said you should also be aware that the same model could cost double on one site than it does on another site. Shopping around is really important in this case, as some people are abusing the trust of consumers vis à vis a product that is still fairly unknown to many. Try to find a happy middle ground between quality and price, without ever compromising safety.
A very controversial subject! Because ethanol is still a young product much is yet to be determined. It take a large amount of corn, sugar cane and other raw products to produce the fuel, therefore intensive agriculture is necessary. Then it takes a lot of water. And finally it take energy to heat the fermented grains to produce the fuel. At this point the jury is still out, but it seems that as we progress in this industry more efficiency will result.
My personal point of view, I love ethanol fireplaces mostly on the strength of the designs that have been created, the convenience and the beauty of the fire, even if it is lacking the crackling and smell of wood.
Please let me know what you think of the way I have laid out the ethanol fireplaces facts for you by leaving your comments below. Did these facts help you make a decision? Are you buying or not based on the facts? I would love to hear your point of view.