Ethanol Fireplaces have a large number of positive attributes that make them an increasingly attractive choice for today’s buyers. With no installation costs, an environmentally-friendly fuel, no requirement for venting, no need to purchase wood, season it, and store it, these units can be an excellent, convenient choice for both indoor and outdoor fire features! However, the heat produced by ethanol fireplaces is different than that produced by natural gas fireplaces and wood burning fireplaces, and many shoppers are concerned about heat output. So do ethanol fireplaces produce heat? Or are they simply for aesthetics?
The short answer is yes, ethanol fireplaces produce heat, but there’s more to the story than that. In this article, we will look at how ethanol fireplaces work, and whether an ethanol fireplace will be right for your needs.
About Ethanol Fireplaces
Bio-ethanol fireplaces are available in a wide variety of formats, from wall-mounted fireplaces to tabletop fireplaces to vent-free inserts. These fireplaces generally consist of a housing for a reservoir of ethanol fuel and a burner that burns the fuel to create a flame.
No electricity is needed, and no natural gas or propane is used. Ethanol is an environmentally-friendly fuel that is made from fermented switchgrass and crop silage that would otherwise have been thrown away.
Unlike many natural gas fireplaces, most ethanol fireplaces do not feature a fan or blower system that will project heat from the fireplace into the space beyond. Like traditional masonry wood burning fireplaces, ethanol fireplaces produce heat that radiates from a central source.
For more general information on ethanol fireplaces, see our fireplace mega guide for more information.
Do Ethanol Fireplaces Produce Heat?
Ethanol fireplaces produce heat, but generally not enough to be the sole heat source in a room. When used outdoors, they produce heat for those immediately surrounding the fireplace, but not much beyond that.
That said, the vast majority of houses built today have a primary heating system, that generally burns natural gas, oil, or propane, to heat the house. Most fireplaces are used purely for aesthetic reasons, or for supplemental heat.
If your goal is to have a warm, cozy fireplace that supplies some heat to those in its presence, but not to have as a primary heat source, then an ethanol fireplace is an excellent option for you.
Most users simply want a pretty heat source that will warm the air around them by a few degrees, as a supplement to a traditional whole-house heating system.
If you wish to have a heat source that could be used as a primary heat source during power outages, for example, you may want to look to a wood stove or natural gas fireplace, as an ethanol fireplace isn’t the ideal choice in these circumstances.
How Much Heat Does an Ethanol Fireplace Produce?
The amount of heat generated by a bio-ethanol fireplace depends on the size of the burner(s), and most ethanol fireplaces give ratings for BTUs of heat generated when fully operational. By using this number, we can get a general idea of how much heat will be produced.
Of course, every interior environment is different, and it can be hard to determine exactly how much heat an ethanol fireplace will supply to a given space. Here is a very helpful calculator that will give a good sense for how large of an ethanol fireplace you will need for your circumstances. The variables are discussed below.
The size of the room in which the ethanol fireplace is located is the primary determining factor for heat output. The larger the room, the less heat is produced.
As room size increases, the warmth is diffused through the larger area, and each additional square inch of area receives less heat.
If you have an open floor plan or have a large room you are looking to heat, you will want to purchase a larger format ethanol fireplace.
Heat rises, so the higher the ceiling, the more likely the heat produced will travel up and out of the space occupied by people. This will reduce the temperature at the bottom of the room, and warm the air at the top.
A ceiling fan running on low speed can circulate the air around the room and help disperse the heat from the top of the room to the whole room. Alternately, if you have a duct-based primary heating system, you could try turning on the fan of your HVAC system and running that to help circulate the air around the room.
The existing ambient temperature of the room will impact the heat output of an ethanol fireplace. If your room is already quite warm, adding another heat source will not add as much heat as if the room was already quite cold.
The quality of the insulation in the house and the number of windows present will greatly impact the amount of heat added to a room. If the house is poorly insulated or is an old house with a significant amount of draft, at least some of the heat produced by the fireplace (and produced by your primary heating system!) will escape to the outdoors.
If your house is extremely well insulated, with energy efficient windows, the heat is much more likely to stay in the room.
If you’re living in a very drafty house, and are constantly finding that you’re cold, it may be wiser to forgo the extra fireplace and to air seal and insulate your home more efficiently in order to improve the thermal envelope of your home. Weather stripping and air-sealing are surprisingly helpful in cutting heating costs, and getting more efficiency out of your heating systems.
Comparing Fireplace Types
It’s hard to compare a traditional wood fireplace to an ethanol fireplace in terms of heat output. A traditional wood-burning masonry fireplace would typically produce 6-9kw of heat, but a not insignificant portion of that heat goes right up the chimney.
Ethanol fireplaces likely produce less than half of that output, but of course, nothing is escaping up a chimney.
Similarly, with a natural gas fireplace, at least a portion of the heat is vented to the outside, making exact comparisons somewhat difficult.
Ethanol is not a cheap fuel source, so if you’re planning on using your fireplace a lot, you may want to figure fuel source in the calculation. You won’t have to pay for any install, but if you plan on using the fireplace every night for hours, it may be cheaper to pay a plumber to install a natural gas fireplace, or similar, given the savings on fuel.
If the fireplace is going to be more a once per week kind of thing, then ethanol will be fine.
Usually, this will consist of a slightly cracked window or an opened door in order to allow fresh air to flow through the room and to keep the ethanol fireplace burning.
Be sure to read your particular fireplace’s instructions for ventilation before using.
Outdoor Ethanol Fireplaces
You can think of the outdoors as one big room. Very quickly you will see that ethanol fireplaces, when used outdoors, do not produce much heat. That said, like chimineas, fire pits, and bonfires, ethanol fireplaces can be extremely pleasant outdoors.
They produce heat that will bring warmth to those huddled around them, produce the ambient beauty of an outdoor fireplace, can be used to roast marshmallows, etc. and can easily be moved and used inside when the time is right!
Plus, the generally ultra-modern look of an ethanol fireplace can be really striking when used in the right outdoor setting!
Is an Ethanol Fireplace Right For Me?
If you are looking for primarily supplemental heating, then an ethanol fireplace can be an excellent choice. A common use case would be a tabletop or wall-mounted ethanol fireplace, placed in a living room or bedroom.
You may want to use it in the living room for its charming ambiance, and then when it’s time to head to the bedroom, close off the fireplace (and wait until it cools!) and move it into the bedroom, where it can be re-lit and add to the ambiance in the bedroom.
The portability of these fireplaces makes them quite unique, as they can be used indoors, outdoors, and in virtually any environment.
Please see our tabletop ethanol fireplace reviews for more information on these easy-to-use units. If you want something more built-in, check out our ethanol fireplace insert reviews for these types of units.