Are Ethanol Fireplaces Safe?

January 14, 2015

Are Ethanol Fireplaces Safe?

Ethanol fire Safety

When discussing the question “are ethanol fireplaces safe?” or “which ethanol fireplace is safest?” there are many questions rolled into one:

  • Are Ethanol Fireplaces Safe?
  • Which is the safest Ethanol fireplace?
  • What is the effect of a unvented ethanol fireplace on air quality?
  • What about the safety of the ethanol fireplace fuel I am using?

And one big question concerning us very much as a manufacturer of ethanol fireplace fuel:

“Are ethanol fireplaces with multiple burners safe to use?”

It is this question I will primarily address in this post, and hopefully within my answer some of these questions and other pressing concerns for a consumer researching their purchase of an ethanol fireplace will be addressed.

Today, consumers searching for popular priced “long” ethanol burners – those over, let’s say 24″ in length – are presented primarily with the option to purchase a fireplace with 2, or 3 individual burners sitting inside a fireplace surround. In some cases this number can go up to 4 or more if you are building a fireplace of 4-6 feet in length.  Is this a safe configuration?

First we need to understand the nature of the ethanol fireplace fuel that will be consumed in the burners. Ethanol fireplace fuel when handled with respect and knowledge can be used safely providing an enjoyable experience with a clean and green alternative to wood, or gas flame. But understanding the inherent danger in use of ethanol fireplace fuel is important. That does not mean it is too dangerous to be used by homeowners. Ethanol fuel for your fireplace is no more dangerous than gasoline. The difference is we have been well-educated to the safe use of gasoline, where we may not have been so well educated as to the safe use of ethanol fuel. Most of us go to a gas station and fill our tank multiple times per week. If we run out of gas, we have no problem filling a correctly certified gas container and refueling our vehicle. We know that gasoline and its vapors are highly flammable and we take the obvious steps to ensure our safety. Such as not smoking a cigarette during refueling, and ensuring there is no source of sparks or open flame in the general vicinity. Well, ethanol fuel is no less or no more dangerous than use of gasoline. And we just need to take similar precautions.

Ethanol has a low flash point – the flash point of a solution is the point at which it turns from liquid to vapor. For ethanol this is 58ºF – which is below normal room temperature. So when we open a bottle of ethanol fireplace fuel in our home, it is already generating a volatile vapor. This vapor is highly flammable, and is heavier than air. So it will collect at the top of the bottle and when you attempt to pour the bottle, it will be forced out by the pouring liquid. Being heavier than air it will sink… directly toward the source of where it is being poured. If that happens to be a fireplace that has not been properly extinguished and there is still a burning ember in the tank, this could lead to the fumes being ignited and the result can be anything from a small pop that is startling, to a larger explosion as the flame follows the vapor trail into the bottle igniting a larger volume of fume. Fortunately, this can be easily avoided:

  1. Ensure your fireplace is completely out and cool. The general recommendation being to wait 15 mins or so and ensure the burner is cool to the touch.
  2. Ensure the bottle your fuel comes in, has a flame arrestor in the opening of the bottle. Preventing a flame from entering the bottle.

Fortunately, all ethanol fireplace fuel supplied by Nu-Flame® has a flame arrestor in the opening of every bottle sold – for your safety and protection.

Flame arrestor in bottle

Some manual fireplaces have a separate fill hole. Which by design is closed when the fire damper on the unit is open (allowing the burner to operate – meaning a flame is present). But most consumers will bypass this fill hole due to ease and fill directly into the burner flame opening. And for almost all manual ethanol fireplaces there is no way to prevent this action. So by design this presents a problem. And one that is exacerbated in fireplaces with multi-burner design. In such a fireplace where there are multiple ethanol burners in close proximity, the burners will typically consume the fuel at slightly different rates. So it is possible for one or more the burners to run out of fuel and extinguish sooner than others, and herein lies the problem. A consumer might be tempted to refill the extinguished burners while there is still a flame (however small) in one of the adjacent burners. This is an EXTREMELY dangerous act that can lead to a flash explosion and possible injury to the consumer. Certainly, most all fireplace manufacturers clearly explain this in their operating manual –  DON’T refill one of the burners when a flame is present in any of the burners. But unfortunately, not all consumers are diligent in their reading of the fireplace manual and may easily miss this point. For that reason, we at the American Ethanol Complany do not advocate the use of multi-burner ethanol fireplaces under any circumstance.

You can now readily find manual burners up to 48″ in length available in the market. And now there are extremely safe units that are remote control electronic ethanol fireplaces that have a sealed tank and electronics that monitor all safety aspects of the burner operation. These absolutely prevent you from filling the unit when there is a flame present. They monitor the unit for safe operation looking at such events as overfilling the unit, excessive heat, excessive CO2 generation, seismic motion or tilt, and more. These units are available in lengths up to 72″. And now some companies such as aFire USA with their MODULO units allow for a ganging of burners up to 50 feet in a continuous ribbon of fire, all controlled by one remote.

We highly recommend you think long and hard before purchasing a multi-burner ethanol fireplace and consider all the safer options now available to you in the market. There are many safer alternatives when it comes to needing a long ethanol burner. Choose one that assures your family’s enjoyment in the investment you make. An ethanol fireplace can provide many evenings of romance or family entertainment. Ethanol fireplace fuel burns clean requiring no vent. Making it quite affordable and easy to install an ethanol fireplace in your home. Make sure you make the safest choice available to you.

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