The fireplace is the usually the prime focal point of any home – a place where the family gathers for quiet time, and where visitors congregate for conversation and cocktails.
The warmth and atmosphere created by a real flame fireplace is why open fireplaces are still as popular as ever.
However, many home owners these days are too busy to collect fire wood or purchase coal and the demands of modern day life means that few people have time to clean the hearth and arrange for their chimney to be cleaned.
Fortunately, technology has moved on and now you can enjoy all of the benefits of a real flame fireplace, but with none of the hard work. A gel fireplace or an ethanol fireplace is a popular alternative to a traditional wood burner or coal fire.
Both gel fireplaces and liquid ethanol fireplaces, sometimes marketed as eco-fires or bio fires, operate using a clean burning ethanol based fuel. Popular brands include: Planika, Blomus and Firesource which are all imported from Europe.
Gel fireplaces have been available in the United States for over 20 years and more recently across Europe. Gel fireplaces operate using an ethanol based gel which burns slowly, produces a rich yellow flame and does not produce any smoke. Similarly, the latest range of ethanol liquid fireplaces operate using a clear liquid fuel made from denatured ethanol.
Interestingly, these fireplaces have been developed in Europe and are now only just becoming available in the United States and Canada, whereas the gel burning system originated in the United States and only made it to Europe around 2001.
The great thing about these fireplaces, both the gel system and liquid ethanol, is that they can be installed in any room without the need for a chimney or flue. Most are shipped pre-assembled so its simply a case of unpacking, setting it up and placing against the wall. Wall-mounted models are usually hung on the wall, just like a picture, with 2 screws and wall-plugs (suitable for most internal plasterboard or gypsum walls).
Are these fireplaces safe? Unlike gas alternatives, there is no pipe-work required and no flue needed. Both types of fireplaces need manual refilling from bottles of gel of liquid fuel, however, this means they can be easily controlled and no complicated installation is required. When ethanol is burned a small amount of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and water is produced. The outputs are similar to that of a candle, so no specific ventilation is required apart from standard air vents that are present in most rooms. Of course, as these fires are generally open and are real flame, special care should be taken to ensure that children and pets are supervised when the fireplace is in use and also after extinguishing until the unit cools down.
Gel fireplaces and liquid ethanol fireplaces are available in a range of modern and contemporary styles. Some are stainless steel and wall-mounted, others are free standing and include a wooden surround for that more traditional look.
The heat output of a gel fireplace or liquid ethanol fireplace is approximately equivalent to a 3.0 kw electric heater (10000 BTUs). These fireplaces are not designed to be the sole source of heat in the home, but they are also not just for decoration and can provide a welcome boost during the chilly winter months.
The design of most gel fireplaces and liquid ethanol fireplaces means that the heat is pushed out into the room and is not lost through a chimney or flue. When choosing your fireplace you should also check that the top is protected with a fire-proof insulation because the main benefit of these models is that they are safe to place below an LCD or Plasma television. The insulation will prevent the top of the fireplace getting hot. By combining a gel fireplace with a large flat-screen television you can create the ultimate focal-point in your living-room which will truly become the centre piece of any modern home.