An ethanol fire pit burner is a quick and easy way to add a gas fire feature to your backyard. Ethanol burners use an alcohol-based fuel made with plant by-products. They are simple to install and less dangerous than their more typical counterparts fueled by natural gas or propane.
Ethanol fire pit burners are a good introduction to fire pits for people who are not used to working with gas. You could describe it as a fire pit with “training wheels.”
Take it out for a spin and see if you truly enjoy it before committing to the expense of hiring a natural gas professional or spending hours online watching tutorials on working with propane gas.
How Does an Ethanol Burner Work?
Liquid ethanol burners are simple in design. They feature a stainless-steel fuel box. The ethanol is poured into the burner box and lit with a stick lighter or long match. This makes them perfect for tabletop fire features, or for designs that are hard to accommodate with propane or natural gas. It also makes them highly portable.
Ethanol also comes in gel form. The gel contains additional ingredients. It burns yellow and makes a crackling noise similar to a wood-burning fire. However, the flames are smaller and stagnant. They don’t “dance” around like those from liquid ethanol. Gel also leaves a residue.
While you could create a fire feature using the gel form, it is typically for the use of camp stoves and chafing dishes. Liquid ethanol is the more popular choice for fire pits, fire tables, and fireplaces.
They are both forms of ethanol, but they cannot be used interchangeably in ethanol fire features. For instance, you can’t safely burn liquid ethanol in a vessel designed to burn the gel. Nor can you put gel in a burner designed for liquid ethanol.
If you decide to purchase an ethanol burner, be clear about which fuel source it uses and only use that.
Do Ethanol Fire Pits Give Off Heat?
While ethanol burners do radiate some warmth, they are not the best choice if you are looking for a heat source. Their maximum output does not come close to the upper levels generated by wood, propane, or natural gas fire pits.
Ethanol is more suitable for ambiance than a heat source, which makes it perfect for fire tables where you want the drama without a lot of heat. Small burner boxes are perfect for creating accent pieces like fire bowls for poolside or end tables.
Less heat also makes ethanol fireplaces a good choice for heat-sensitive design challenges like hanging TVs over fireplaces, a modern look made popular on HGTV shows. Whether you want that look for a screened porch or for your living room, it’s important to note that electronics are susceptible to damage caused by high temperatures. The heat output of wood or gas-powered fireplace may be too much. An ethanol fireplace can be the solution to this problem.
Do Ethanol Fires Need Ventilation?
Ethanol fires do not require venting, so ethanol can be a great choice for semi-enclosed porches and indoor fireplaces if heat is not the main consideration. You will not need a flue or electricity to operate them.
However, manufacturers recommend opening a window if using one indoors, to replenish the supply of oxygen in the room. It keeps the fire robust and helps to dilute the carbon dioxide (this is mainly a concern if operating in a small space).
Does Burning Ethanol Create Carbon Monoxide?
Ethanol does not produce carbon monoxide when it burns. Rather, it produces heat, water vapor, and carbon dioxide.
Ethanol is a sustainable fuel source created when plants such as corn and soybeans are processed. It’s renewable and burns cleaner than wood and gas.
However, some studies have raised concerns about the degree of carbon dioxide and particulates in the air when ethanol fireplaces are used indoors without a fresh air source.
If you or a family member have respiratory concerns, it might be a good idea to do more in-depth research before committing to any type of indoor, unvented fireplace including those that burn ethanol.
Is Ethanol Fire Pit Burner Safer Than Gas?
Ethanol burners are safer than gas in some respects. You are not connected to a large supply of gas, which could cause a catastrophic explosion, and there aren’t the same worries over ventilation.
However, ethanol carries the same concern as any fire feature in regard to an open flame. Do not wear loose clothing when working with the fire and take care to keep any debris from getting into it.
Ethanol is highly flammable, so it’s important to clean up spills and wash them off your hands before lighting the fire.
Always observe the manufacturer’s direction on refueling the fire. You must wait until the burner has cooled down (typically 30-45 minutes) before refueling or relighting an ethanol fire feature to avoid the possibility of a dangerous flare-up.
Never add more fuel to an ethanol fire pit burner while it is still burning, or while the box is hot. If the fuel runs out mid-party, you’ll have to wait for it to cool down before you can restart it.
How Long Does a Liter of Ethanol Fuel Last?
One liter of ethanol fuel will last approximately 4 hours depending on the size of the burner and how much oxygen is fed to the flame.
Ethanol is generally sold by the liter (1 liter is slightly more liquid than 1 quart) and can be ordered online and delivered to your door. One liter averages $11. The operational cost will depend on the size of the burner, but typically, the cost is around $2.75/hour, according to Angi.com. That’s more expensive than natural gas and less than propane.
Can You Prolong the Burn Time of Ethanol?
You can prolong the burn time of ethanol by partially covering the air intake with the flame cover. However, this will result in a smaller, less robust flame.
You should never add anything to the flames to prolong the fire. Adding any sort of filler to the fire will result in soot and embers that could cause an uncontrollable flame.
Is There a Difference Between Ethanol and Bioethanol?
Chemically speaking, bioethanol and ethanol are the same things. The difference is due to their source materials. However, they function the same and both are relatively clean burning.
Ethanol Fire Pit Burners Are an Alternative to Gas
Ethanol fire pits and fire tables can be a great solution for people who don’t see themselves dealing with propane or natural gas. The low cost and quick set-up of an ethanol-based feature make it an easy DIY project for almost anyone to tackle.
These fire pits don’t generate a lot of heat and the flames are thinner than the other alternatives, but they fill the bill when looking to create ambiance. And yes, it is safe to roast marshmallows over an ethanol fire!
An ethanol fire pit burner is a low-risk proposition And if you discover your family loves the outdoor life, you can always upgrade to gas later.