Are Ethanol Fireplaces Safe?
A look at fireplace safety.
A General Understanding of Burning Ethanol.
To begin, it is important to understand ethanol and its combustion of it in an ethanol fireplace. Ethanol fuel is a clear liquid and flammable fuel. When ignited, it produces an authentic fire – real flames that produce real heat. Although clean-burning, ethanol fires have the capability of causing the same harm and damage as any other authentic fire if precautions aren’t taken. When installing or operating an ethanol fireplace, it is vital to take the same safety precautions that you would with a wood-burning fire, a candle, a gas fireplace, propane grill, or any other appliance that produces fire.
Ethanol Fireplaces: Problems of the Past.
It is our opinion that the problems that had been experienced with ethanol fireplaces in the past were a result of a non-understanding of the technology. Many “sales pitches” for bio fireplaces tout the ease of use and cleanliness of the burn. It seems like these benefits caused some to forget that ethanol fireplaces are like any other fire-breathing appliance. As such, the necessary diligence wasn’t performed. People were hurt and the consumer, because of these incidents, started to look at ethanol fireplaces as being dangerous. Perhaps too much blame was put on the appliance and not those who sold or used them incorrectly – not for us to weigh in on.
Are Ethanol Fireplaces Safe? The IGNIS® Position.
As mentioned above, our brand strives on providing safe fireplace experiences with our product. We refuse to sacrifice safety for the dollar and make no apologies for it. So, when asked whether ethanol fireplaces are safe, here are the points we review with the questioner:
- An ethanol fire doesn’t spark. As with more traditional wood-burning fireplaces, ethanol fireplaces do not pop or spark. This adds a “safer” element to biofuel fireplaces. You don’t need a screen in front of the hearth, as there are no fireballs jumping from within the confines of the fireplace. Therefore, the risk of a carpet or other combustible material being ignited by random sparks has been eliminated.
- Ethanol fires don’t smoke. Because ethanol fireplace fuel burns cleanly, there is no need for a chimney or vent. This makes ethanol fireplaces safer, as there are no toxic emissions or apparatus where carcinogens can build up over time causing an unhealthy condition or house fire.
- There is no large fuel tank. Unlike other fireplace solutions, an ethanol burner is self-contained. There is no large amount of fuel stored next to the open flame or connections that may leak, malfunction, or be attached incorrectly.
- There is no fuel line. Unlike gas fireplaces, there isn’t a direct fuel line running under your home to the fireplace. This leaves no possibility for leaks or incidents with conduits that are filled with noxious fuel.
As mentioned, however, ethanol fireplaces still produce a genuine fire. So, there are some inherent safety concerns about which the user should be aware. As fireplace experts who study all aspects of the element, IGNIS® has put measures in place to best control the possible danger caused by the inherent risk of burning biofuel:
- Flame follows the fuel. Because bio ethanol fireplace fuel is liquid, should it escape the confines of the ethanol burner while lit, the fire will escape as well. Known as a runaway flame, this may lead to a house fire or injury.
a. IGNIS® Intuition. With an understanding that this condition exists, all IGNIS® fireplaces, fireplace inserts, and fireboxes have been designed to add levels of security to combat this risk:
i. All IGNIS® ethanol burners are manufactured with an integrated media that prohibits liquid ethanol fuel from escaping the intended fuel chamber. The media, cloth-like in appearance, but made of ceramic, absorbs the liquid, and prevents leakage should the fireplace be overturned.
ii. All IGNIS® ethanol burners are constructed with dual layers of stainless steel. Because our manufacturing process contains welds that fuse metal together, the possibility of leakage – albeit on rare occasions exists. Therefore, a second “safety tray” has been added to all burners. So, if the rare instance of leakage occurs, all fuel is contained. The second layer of defense overall backs up both the spill-proof material and the burner’s physical integrity.
2. Metal gets hot. When burning ethanol in a stainless steel burner, the burner itself and the surround will get hot. Should someone touch it, they will get burned. Should combustible materials be in the surround, the possibility of ignition and inherently an uncontrolled fire, exists. While this is true for other fireplace applications, it is still possible for damage or injury to occur.
a. IGNIS® Intelligence. To control this inherent risk, the principals of the company have coupled their collective forty years of fireplace experience with that of on-staff professional firefighters. With the combined expertise, installation and user manuals are made available in both hardcopy and digital formats. Concise, comprehensive guides, the instructions very specifically guide the installer and user in materials needed for proper installs and best practices for safe use.
Added to the written instructions, the IGNIS® Ignites program makes a fireplace expert available during the initial ignition of any IGNIS® fireplace. The verbal guidance and visual assurance of the fireplace expert ensure that the fireplace is being used in the safest manner and that the user is comfortable operating the ethanol fireplace. This program is, of course, in addition to phone, email, text, and chat support that is available before purchase, during design and build phases, and whenever else customer support is needed.
IGNIS® has also perfected and patented a zero-clearance firebox solution. These fireplace inserts include a surround that may be installed into any material. Combatting the heat transfer that occurs from the fireplace burner, the fireplace surround is manufactured using a proprietary and patented design. As with the ethanol burner itself, the surround is made with dual layers of stainless steel. Between these layers, the IGNIS® Insulant and Air Flow System cools and impedes the heat before being emitted to the outer layer. With this patented construction, the fireplace’s surround experiences so little heat that it may be installed into any type of construction material.
3. Ethanol fireplaces produce carbon dioxide. While the emission of CO2 is akin to the level that is emitted by humans exhaling, it is still a condition to which note should be made. Coupled with fire’s natural need for oxygen, it is vital that the fireplace, fireplace insert, or firebox only be installed into a space with adequate air exchange.
a. IGNIS® Insight. To be sure that any IGNIS fireplace, fireplace insert, or firebox is installed in a size-appropriate room, the minimum levels required for each model are made available on every product detail page on the brand’s website, in every datasheet specific to each model, and contained within checklists IGNIS® makes available as a tool for the safe installation and use of its fire producing appliances. Additionally, it is the very first question asked by any fireplace expert in communications with potential customers or those in their employ.
4. Refueling an ethanol fireplace. One of the most common user errors when operating an ethanol fireplace occurs when refueling. When ethanol fireplaces consume the biofuel, the intensity of its flames ebbs over time. At the end of combustion, when the fireplace has expended most of its fuel, the flames may not even be seen by the naked eye. It is for this reason that a period of fifteen to twenty minutes MUST elapse, and the ethanol burner is cool to the touch prior to introducing more fuel into the burner. Should someone add ethanol fuel to a fire that is not extinguished, a “flashback” and injury are almost certain to follow.
a. IGNIS® Intel. To increase awareness of this potential condition, warnings are published in each product’s user manual. Additionally, the reminder to not fuel an active or warm burner is laser etched into the top of each fireplace burner. IGNIS® burners have been designed to include a fuel capacity that will lessen the need for refueling during most fireplace experiences. When filled to capacity, the smallest burner offered will burn for approximately five hours before needing to refill. Our experience is that most consumers use a fireplace for less time, also minimizing this potential danger.
So, in a nutshell, are ethanol fireplaces safe?
Overall, yes. Ethanol fireplaces are safe. However, if installed or operated improperly, they can be unsafe. As with any other fireplace or fire-producing appliance, there is an inherent risk. But, with the experience of and tools provided by IGNIS®, our fireplaces, fireplace inserts, and fireboxes may be the safest fireplace solution on the market.
As mentioned, fireplace safety and consumer education are chief values that steer the IGNIS® brand. If you have questions or need clarification about the installation or use of our, or any, ethanol fireplace, please contact us. If we feel that an ethanol fireplace is unsafe for your specific situation or environment, we will help to offer alternatives. If we can’t, we simply won’t sell you a fireplace. Period.