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What is an Ethanol Fireplace? The Complete Guide To Bio Fireplaces

What is an Ethanol Fireplace? The Complete Guide To Bio Fireplaces

Nowadays, there are many alternatives to traditional wood-burning fireplaces. Ethanol fireplaces are one of them. This article will go over everything you need to know about ethanol fireplaces: the definition of ethanol fireplaces, how they work, what fuel they use, how to install them, and how much they cost to operate. 

Modern types of fireplaces are more efficient, eco-friendly, easier to take care of, and more affordable. If you don't want to mess with wood chopping, ash cleaning, smoke, and smell you may consider one of these options:

  • Gas Fireplaces
  • Electric Fireplaces
  • Ethanol (Bio-ethanol) Fireplaces
  • Gel Fireplaces

You've probably heard about gas and electric fireplaces before. But ethanol and gel fireplaces are relatively new and not everybody knows what they're about. Let's learn a little bit about these innovative, eco-friendly fireplaces.

Quicklinks:

What is an Ethanol Fireplace?

A bio fireplace (also known as bio-ethanol fireplace, ethanol fireplace) is a type of fireplace or furnace with combined zones for generation of heat and technological process – combustion of fuel (denatured alcohol). This fireplace does not require a chimney and gives off a real flame, not imitation. Installation is possible at any place in the room. (Wikipedia)

EcoSmart Fire Flex Single Sided Ethanol Firebox
In photo: EcoSmart Fire Flex Single Sided Ethanol Firebox

In simple terms, an ethanol fireplace is a ventless fireplace that runs on clean-burning ethanol fuel. This fuel is alcohol based, creates real flames, and produces no smoke, smell or dangerous chemicals when burning. This is why they don't require any special chimney, vent, or flue and can be installed virtually anywhere. 

How Do Ethanol Fireplaces Work?

Ethanol fireplaces work similarly to a candle.

It burns alcohol-based ethanol fuel. You put fuel into the burner container and light it up with a long lighter. In many models, the size of the flame can be controlled by reducing the burner opening. You can turn it off anytime by closing the burner completely.

Difference between ethanol and gel fireplaces

Ethanol and gel fireplaces are often grouped under one category because their fuels' main component is alcohol. These two offer a lot of the same benefits however, they have some distinct characteristics that might make one a more appealing option for your home.

Although this article's main focus is on ethanol fireplaces, we've provided a comparison table below to give you a general idea about the differences between the two.

Ethanol vs Gel Fireplaces

Ethanol Alcohol Gel
  • Playful, scattered bright orange flames
  • Pourable liquid used to continuously refill burner pan
  • 4,000-8,500 BTUs/Hr.
  • Biodegradable - made from produced by the fermentation of sugars originating from plant forestry products
  • 1 quart of fuel burns for up to 5 hours - may vary depending on the size of the fuel tray
  • Takes 10-15 minutes to warm up until flame reaches its full potential
  • Gathered, thicker flames
  • Ready-to-use canisters set directly inside of the fireplace and disposed of when empty
  • 2,500-3,000 BTUs/Hr.
  • Made with a mixture of pure isopropyl alcohol, water, salt (creates a crackling sound effect) and thickeners
  • Each 30 Oz. can last up to 2.5-3 hours
  • Crackles while it burns to simulate the sound of a real wood-burning fire
  • After just 30 seconds from lighting, flame is at full potential

 

Perks of an Ethanol Fireplace

1. Simple configuration

While the exact components will vary depending on the ethanol fireplace in question, standard features include:

  • body
  • accessories, such as fire glass, rocks, and ceramic logs to enhance the appearance; and
  • burner - pot to hold the ethanol fuel

Structure of Ethanol Fireplace

2. Easy Installation

Ethanol fireplaces are the simplest fireplaces to install. They don't require a flue, pipe connection, or any construction or reconstruction. Think no gas lines, no electric lines or any in-wall work at all!

They're vent-free, and since they run on the fuel that you pour directly into them, they can literally be placed in the middle of the room.

Free Standing Ethanol Fireplace
In photo: EcoSmart Fire Igloo 38-Inch Free Standing Ethanol Fireplace

Ethanol fireplaces are virtually assembly free. Nearly all table-top ethanol fireplaces come assembled, just slide the ethanol burner insert and attach the safety glasses. Free-standing ethanol fireplaces need a simple 5 part assembly which does not take longer than 10 minutes and a screwdriver.

Wall-mounted ethanol fireplaces require mounting on a wall, just like hanging a picture or a flat screen TV and all the hardware is included in the box.

This short video will show you how to install a wall mounted ethanol fireplace:

3. Customizable

If you choose to build a custom ethanol fireplace then you will be dealing with a more complicated project. The installation will vary from project to project, however, ethanol fireplaces themselves are ready to use right out of the box. 

The main component of all ethanol fireplaces is the ethanol burner. The burner holds ethanol fuel and has the opening from which the flame comes out. 

Ethanol burners are perfect if you are looking to build a custom fireplace, fire pit, or fire table. There are burners with simple manual operation and burners with electronic components that can be controlled remotely.

The next step up from a burner is an ethanol firebox. It includes ethanol burner and stainless steel walls that are insulated. An ethanol firebox is a great choice if you are looking to build a one or two-sided ethanol fireplace. Just like the burners, fireboxes are available with manual and electronic controls.

4. Can Be Installed Anywhere

Ethanol fireplaces can be used in any room and some models can even be installed outdoors.

Some of the most popular installations include living rooms and dining rooms. Many people install these fireplaces in their bedrooms and bathrooms or even their personal spa rooms.

EcoSmart Fire XL Series Stainless Steel Ethanol Fireplace Burner
In photo: EcoSmart Fire XL Series Stainless Steel Ethanol Fireplace Burner

Ethanol fireplaces are also popular in bars, restaurants, and hotels. They can enhance the ambiance and attract customers because their inviting look.

As is protocol when buying any furniture, you'll need to make sure your room is big enough for the fireplace you're looking to get. You can find more information about the appropriate room and fireplace size in this article: What is the Largest Ethanol Fireplace for your Room?

5. Easy to Move

Both table-top fireplaces and free-standing fireplaces are easy to move from one room to another or from inside to the outside areas. Many free standing fireplaces come with wheels making it easier to move them around.

IMPORTANT: When moving an ethanol fireplace you need to make sure it is not lit and cooled for at least 15 minutes.

6. Doubles up as a coffee table

EcoSmart Fire Manhattan 50 Compact Rectangular Fire Pit Table
In photo: EcoSmart Fire Manhattan Compact Rectangular Fire Pit Table

If you're looking for a unique coffee table for your living room or outdoor patio, there are some sleek modern fire tables powered by ethanol. These tables can be used indoors and outdoors. Or you can build your own fireplace table using an ethanol burner. 

Are Ethanol Fireplaces Safe?

Ethanol fireplaces are safe for your health and they're much better for air quality than wood or gas fireplaces. Here's why:

The result of ethanol fuel combustion produces water, steam, and carbon dioxide. The quantity of carbon dioxide or CO2 emitted by burning ethanol fuel for 3 hours is almost equivalent to the amount of CO2 produced by burning 2 average-sized candles!

how ethanol fireplaces work

What is Ethanol (Bio-ethanol) Fuel?

A biofuel (also ethanol or bioethanol fuel) is a fuel that is produced through contemporary biological processes (agriculture and anaerobic digestion) rather than geological processes, such as those involved in the formation of fossil fuels (coal and petroleum) from prehistoric biological matter.

Biofuels can be derived directly from plants, or indirectly from agricultural, commercial, domestic, and/or industrial wastes (Wikipedia). Bio-ethanol fuel is 100% alcohol which is why it cannot be sold untainted to prevent human consumption.

That's why ethanol manufacturers denature ethanol with a variation of odorless unpleasantly tasting flavors to transform a pure alcohol substance into bio-ethanol fireplace fuel. The bio-ethanol fireplace fuel is also known as denatured ethanol.

Bio-Ethanol Production

Bio-ethanol fireplace fuel is available online and at some hardware stores. Our selection of bio-ethanol fuel is carefully tested prior to offering it to the public to ensure the best quality and value to each and every customer. However, if you choose to purchase fuel locally, you may do so but make sure that you buy the fuel made specifically for fireplaces.

 

How to Use An Ethanol Fireplace

1. Buy the right type of fuel

We always recommend buying single liter bottles of bioethanol, as well as using a funnel to avoid any spilling of the fuel.

Make sure that the fuel you purchase is intended for indoor use with ethanol fireplaces. Always buy high-quality ethanol fuel. Cheaper brands can make your entire room smell like alcohol. We recommend the  Smartfuel brand.

2. Pour fuel into the burner

Once you have the correct fuel, simply pour it into the burner as recommended in the user manual.

We recommend filling the burners until the fuel is visible (1/2" from the top of the burner). Pouring too much fuel into the burner can make it difficult to extinguish the fire as well as cause the fuel to overflow if the fireplace is bumped into while lit.

3. Light up the fire

Use a long lighter or a long match to light up the fuel inside the burner. 

4. Adjust or extinguish the fire

Ethanol fireplaces usually come with a lid and a regulator rod, which makes it possible not only to decrease the flame size but also to extinguish the fire easily by pushing the lid over the opening.

How long does it burn?

In general, 1 liter of bioethanol fuel would last at least 4 hours on the maximum setting and up to 8 hours on minimum setting.

Shutting the fireplace off early will preserve the rest of the fuel until you wish to light the fireplace again. The fuel itself will only evaporate if you forget to close the lid.

Should you wish to refuel an ethanol fireplace shortly after having it lit, we recommend closing the lid and waiting 15 minutes before refueling. By waiting 15 minutes, the fireplace is allowed to cool off before reigniting it.

IMPORTANT: Refueling a hot fireplace is a safety hazard and can cause accidents like a burst of flame when lighting the fire.

How much does it cost to run an ethanol fireplace?

One liter/quart of bio-ethanol will burn for around 4 hours. The cost of 1 liter of bio-ethanol varies depending on place and quantity of purchase. On average, they cost US $10 per liter (price subject to change).

1 liter = 4 hours (minimum) = $10

Therefore, 1 hour will cost you about $2.5

To put it into perspective, in order to operate a 40,000 BTU/hour gas fireplace it would cost you roughly around $0.50/hour to operate for natural gas and about $1.61/hour for propane. 

Anywhere Fireplace Chelsea Wall Mounted Ethanol Fireplace
In photo: Anywhere Fireplace Chelsea Wall Mounted Ethanol Fireplace

Wood (depending on the type and degree of dryness) will usually burn at a rate of 5 pounds per hour. This is about half of a typical bundle that costs about $5 apiece (not including delivery costs). So, a wood-burning fireplace will cost you about $2.50/hour.

As we see, the difference in the cost of operation is not that big among fireplaces, however, when we look at the purchase price of a fireplace and the cost of installation, ethanol fireplaces win the battle. 

And there you have it! Aren't you excited about ethanol fireplaces now? Take a look at our collection of Modern Ethanol Fireplaces.

 

If you want to find a perfect fireplace to match your style and needs, we can help you with that. Just give us a call or shoot us an email at support@modernblaze.com.

Want to save on your fireplace purchase? Click here to get on our email list!

 

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What is an Ethanol Fireplace? (The Complete Guide)

 

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Comments

Anastasia - November 12, 2020

Hi Kyle!

Thanks for the question. I’m not familiar with the site you are referring to but it looks that they sell ethanol fireplaces in the UK.

All ethanol fireplaces run on the same ethanol fuel and it is currently a little more expensive than other fuel types as you noted above. If you are looking for a more economical solution that you don’t have to refill all the time, check out water vapor fireplaces or electric fireplaces. You can learn more about these fireplaces here:

Electric Fireplaces – https://modernblaze.com/blogs/shopping-guides/35641475-electric-fireplace-buying-guide
Water Vapor Fireplaces – https://modernblaze.com/blogs/shopping-guides/water-vapor-fireplace-buying-guide

Kyle T. - October 2, 2020

Hello! Thank you for this article. So far I did not know the differences between the types of fireplaces. I love the idea of an ethanol fireplace. However, 2.5$ seems expensive for only 1 hour. I love to keep the fireplace going the entire evening, especially when we have visitors. 10$ per day seems to much for us. Therefore, we are looking for cheaper alternatives. Are the fireplaces from https://www.bioethanol-fireplace.co.uk/ worth it?

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