Fireplaces are a great way to keep a room warm during cold seasons and add flair to an otherwise mundane living space; but they’re not always practical. People living in apartments or similarly condensed spaces tend to not have fireplaces because finding safe ventilation is unrealistic. This doesn’t mean that people in compact residential situations can’t still enjoy the flicker of a warm flame; they just have to think outside of the box. Learning the answer to the question “how does an ethanol fireplace work” can establish the groundwork for beginning a gorgeous, heat-centered interior design.
What Are Ethanol Fireplaces?
Ethanol fireplaces are a simple alternative to the usual wood-burning fireplace or gas-burning one. Learning how does an ethanol fireplace work isn’t that different from learning about the fireplaces we already use — just add fuel and heat. Unlike other fireplaces, ethanol fireplaces burn using a biofuel. Biofuels are substances derived from agricultural products and morphed into usable fuel.
How Biofuel Is Made
To make this specific biofuel, manufacturers ferment the sugars within plants like corn, sugar cane, wheat, and potatoes into alcohol. Since 100% alcohol is unfit for human consumption, ethanol is denatured by mixing it with bitter and harsh-tasting chemicals to prevent accidental consumption.
With ethanol typically made from biodegradable resources, the finished product is biodegradable too. Ethanol is sometimes mixed with gasoline, but pure ethanol is nontoxic and breaks down into safe by-products if it’s spilled. Along with being less harsh to the environment, ethanol also burns cleaner than gasoline and wood. Ethanol produces the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide when it’s burned, but the CO2 produced is offset by the CO2 plants absorb when they grow.
How Does An Ethanol Fireplace Work Within A Room?
Figuring out how does an ethanol fireplace work involves learning their functioning purpose in interior design. Ethanol fireplaces differ from your run-of-the-mill fireplace. First, they’re not meant to be a primary source of heat for a room. While ethanol fireplaces emit a warm fire, it’s not intense enough to keep a room heated on its own; but that was never the intention behind their design.
Ethanol fireplaces are made for people that would enjoy seeing a real fire in their home without the cleanup. A normal fireplace set underneath a chimney burns wood which leaves ash and residue. Ashes can appear unsightly if they’re strewn across a room, and residue build-up inside a chimney can eventually lead to a chimney fire if left alone for too long. This assumes you have a ventilation system prepared already; installing a chimney is probably as difficult as it sounds in theory.
Ethanol fireplaces are on the polar opposite side of the fireplace gradient in terms of installation and clean-up. Instead of dealing with ashes littering the floor and a chimney that can potentially burn your home down, ethanol fireplaces offer a cleaner, more controlled fire relative to wood-burning fireplaces. Installation is also far more straightforward than trying to install a chimney.
How To Install An Ethanol Fireplace
One of the main benefits of ethanol fireplaces are their simplicity, and this remains true with their installation. There are a broad range of ethanol fireplaces available in a variety of shapes and sizes with either no installation process or a very minimal one. Since ethanol burns cleaner than wood or gas-burning fireplaces, a chimney or flue is not required. They’re almost as mobile as portable electric heaters. After learning how does an ethanol fireplace work, choosing which type of fireplace best suits your needs is something worth considering.
There are a few different fireplaces available with mildly varying installation rates based on their purpose. Table-top ethanol fireplaces come pre-assembled. Just add a safe amount of fuel to the burner, light it, and installation is already done. Expect it to take 10 to 15 minutes to warm up, though. Free-standing fireplaces are similarly easy to install but take up more room than the table-top ones.
Last and maybe the most difficult are wall-mounted fireplaces. These will require the longest installation time to mount. They may provide the maximum amount of aesthetic quality at the cost of being a greater hazard than free-standing or table-top fireplaces.
Once the fire starts, there’s a maximum burn time of 8 hours on the lowest setting and a minimum of 4 hours on the highest setting. This doesn’t mean it has to all be used in one sitting. Any fuel remaining in the burner the last time it was used will stay there as long as the lid is closed afterward. If not, those flammable vapors will evaporate into the air.
Not carefully storing and using ethanol can lead to a list of undesirable effects, which is why we should learn how does an ethanol fireplace work prior to using one. Side effects of misuse range from lighting plastic on fire and releasing toxic fumes into the air to causing a mild explosion from using open flames in a room full of eco-friendly fuel.
Using the Fireplace Safely
Dangerous fires caused by ethanol fireplaces tend to start in a few ways. Spilling fuel is a common one. Ethanol, being flammable enough to keep a fire burning, can be dangerous if it lands anywhere outside the burner when you’re filling it. If ethanol gets on the fireplace and isn’t cleaned before it’s relit, the resulting flame can potentially lead to an entire room burning down.
Another danger is fueling a burner that’s already hot. Ethanol burns by vapors. Pouring fuel into a hot burner can increase the amount of vapor in the air, which promptly leads back to the possibility of burning a section of your home or all of it down. Fortunately, this can all be easily avoided: just pour fuel into the burner through a funnel and clean up anything that didn’t make it into the burner. Less vapor, less chance of sudden combustions.
But what if you didn’t know that the burner was hot? Once the flame grows dim, it might be hard to tell that it’s still burning. To alleviate this, close the lid after use and always wait for the fireplace to cool before adding more fuel.
The last concern is similar to the previous two. Overfilling a burner can, once again, cause highly unwanted fires. Fuel spills, vapors fill the air, and someone is one match flick away from having to find a new home. This is simple to avoid after learning how does an ethanol fireplace work. When adding fuel to the burner, always leave at least a centimeter of space between the top of the actual burner and the top of the burner fluid.
Indoor Pollution Concerns
While their minimalistic look makes ethanol fireplaces seem perfect for putting them anywhere you see fit, they’re not quite as versatile as they initially appear. Even after learning how does an ethanol fireplace work, there are a few guidelines to follow. Keep the fireplace away from crowded areas in a room to minimize the chance of accidental fires. The silent flame ethanol fireplaces are known for might make them feel inherently less dangerous than their wooden and gas variants, but it’s still a fire; if anything flammable touches it, it will light. Thus, if you choose a ventless fireplace, ensure you give it space away from fire hazards, including children.
Carbon dioxide is considered the primary greenhouse gas given off by ethanol fireplaces. Though even without carbon dioxide concerns, there’s the chance that other dangerous gases are infiltrating the room the fireplace resides in. A 2014 study published in Environmental Science & Technology found that burning liquid-based or gel ethanol fuels left unsafe amounts of benzene, formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, and fine particles in the air. These are some of the same compounds found when wood burns and are some of the reasons behind why wood smoke is bad for your health.
The reason why, says one of the paper’s researchers, Dr. Michael Wensing, is due to the nature of burning ethanol. “As a rule, ethanol does not burn out completely,” he explains in an article published on ScienceDaily. “In purely theoretical terms, ethanol and bioethanol completely burns up into carbon dioxide and water. But under real conditions, things turn out differently.”
Ethanol fireplaces are a great addition to a room’s interior design. As long as they’re of decent quality (the cost of which starts at around $1,000) and the fuel is also of high quality, then they might be what your room needs to liven up the space and create a more homely atmosphere for your abode. Since quality is essential when considering an ethanol fireplace, focus on fireplaces that are tested and certified like the EcoSmartFire and Decoflame. These and similar fireplaces have been tested in labs for safety, although this is just a general rule of thumb when shopping; not all certifications are created equal.