The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) recently revised their clean air standards for residential wood heaters. The new standards will establish federal air standards while strengthens new wood stove standards, and are based on the improvements to heater technology. Between the fire hazard danger and the effects on the city’s air quality (studies have shown that the effects of inhaling wood smoke harms your health), more and more cities and homeowners are turning to alternative fuels for fireplaces. Beyond the environmental effects and potential fire safety concerns, wood burning fireplaces have a number of downsides.
Disadvantages of Wood Burning Fireplaces
• Heat Efficiency: In a wood burning fireplace, up to 90 percent of the heat is sucked up through the chimney, and the heat created by the fire can actually interfere with the effectiveness of a home’s electrical heating.
• Maintenance: Between the ashes and soot, the amount of day to day care that comes with a wood burning fireplace is vastly more than what’s required with a fireplace that burns alternative fuel, or plugs into the wall.
For these reasons, turning to alternative heat burning fireplaces is becoming more and more common. These alternative fuels can include bioethanol and isopropyl alcohol. For those unfamiliar with bioethanol, and alternative fuel sources in general, bioethanol is an absolute ethanol that is produced through the fermentation of sugars originating in agriculture and forestry products. These can include sugarcane, potatoes, and bananas. Global regulations prohibit the resale of alcohol in its purest form. Therefore, this absolute ethanol is converted into denatured ethanol through a variety of methods that dilute it from its purest form and adhere to global regulations.
Before we walk through how ethanol fireplaces work, let’s consider why homeowners would make the switch. Are there advantages to alternative fuel burning fireplaces?
Advantages of Alternative Fuel
• Installation: No need for a chimney or flue — therefore eliminating the need for a complete home renovation to install a fireplace.
• Mobility: Ethanol fireplaces are either wall mounted or free standing. The free standing fireplaces offer additional mobility. The fireplace can be moved from room to room depending on a family’s entertaining or heating needs.
• Fume Emissions: Bioethanol emits the same amount of carbon as the burning of two candles, thereby making alternative fuel fireplaces a cleaner, more eco-friendly option for homes. Because of this fact, these fireplaces are permitted in smoke controlled zones.
• Flame Safety and Height: The flames of an ethanol fireplace are adjustable in strength and height – thereby giving homeowners a higher degree of control over the safety of their fireplace.
• Cleanup: The lack of ashes and soot makes cleanup easier. Simply extinguish the fire and close the doors.
How Does an Ethanol Fireplace Work?
1. Installation: An ethanol fireplace is either mounted to the wall or left freestanding. Either way, installation is fairly straightforward because of the lack of a need for a chimney or flue for ventilation. For freestanding ethanol fireplaces, a bioethanol burner is placed inside the fireplace once it is placed in the desired location. For wall mounted fireplaces, the same wall mount used to mount a flat screen TV to the wall holds the fireplace. In both cases, once the fireplace is set up, denatured bioethanol is poured into its burner for use. To light the fireplace, use a lighter to set fire to the bioethanol and then close the burner.
2. Purchasing of Fuel: Bioethanol – or denatured ethanol – can be purchased at most major hardware stores, grocery stores, corner stores, and petrol stations. A local fire station can be contacted if local stores do not sell denatured ethanol.
3. Burn Time: Once lit, a bioethanol fireplace will burn for up to six hours if set at the maximum heat level and for up to eight hours if operating on a minimum level. These estimates are based on the use of one liter of bioethanol fuel. The amount of carbon released into your home after three hours of use equals the amount given off by burning two candles in your home.
4. Heat Emission: While alternative fuel fireplaces do not give off the same level of heat as traditional wood burning fireplaces, they will still offer an extra heat source for your home. The lack of a chimney or flue results in increased heat emissions because the heat is trapped in the room, rather than escaping through a flue.
5. Storing Fuel: All bioethanol fuel should be stored in the original bottle in a dry, cool location away from children and pets.
6. Converting a Traditional Fireplace: For homeowners with a traditional fireplace, many bioethanol fireplace retailers offer conversion inserts that will safely re-purpose an existing fireplace. For homeowners converting from a wood or gas burning fireplace, conversion requires closing the flue and disconnecting the existing gas line. Once those steps are complete, an ethanol fireplace burner insert can be inserted and used immediately.
In a nutshell, bioethanol fireplaces use the power of water steam and bioethanol to produce flames with carbon-free emissions. By utilizing biodegradable materials such as potatoes, corn, beetroots, and wheat in the ethanol, these alternative fuel fireplaces offer an eco-friendly, energy efficient alternative to traditional fireplaces for homes and offices.