Ethanol fires

There’s something about having a fire in the house (a planned one of course) that is immensely comforting. All our homes in New Zealand had a working fire and in some of them it was our only source of heating. Our home in Aberdeen had two gas fires which we’ve never used and I’ve missed having a fire.

Gas fires don’t produce much heat, are expensive to run, and use a non-renewable resource. They were popular in the 1970s but now most people are having them removed. A few weeks ago we decided to disconnect the gas from our two fireplaces. We thought about putting in a log burner but that will cost several thousand pounds and we’d have to remove the beautiful iron fire insert which is pleasing to look at. Then I discovered you can get an ethanol burning box and plonk it in an old fireplace. It burns cleanly, is carbon neutral, runs on a renewable resource, and doesn’t even require a flue. Here’s our ethanol burner in action:


It produces a similar amount of heat to a gas fire and so in this regard it cannot replace central heating. However it’s a nice boost to the heating in winter and in summer it can be used on cooler nights when the central heating is off. Mostly it just creates a lovely atmosphere, soothes the soul, and makes me happy.

Our burning box is 1.3L and can be adjusted to lower the heat output. We had it running for over 3 hours last night and ended up turning it off by shutting the lid and cutting off the oxygen supply. You can buy ethanol online in 1L bottles for less than £3. If you buy in bulk it’s cheaper.

Here are a couple of places in the UK that sell them:







13 responses to “Ethanol fires”

  1. Denise Avatar

    That looks good. I thought about getting one for our countryside house to warm up some of the rooms but you’re right they’re not that efficient.
    I wanted to rip out the gas fire in our living room but couldn’t get anyone to do it in time before the carpet arrived (I’m not great with organising building projects). Everyone kept saying, why do you want to rip it out, it’s probably a piece of history. And I was just, Seriously??? You call the seventies/eighties history??? It’s not even nice looking like yours. It’s got green tiles behind it.

    1. Rachel M Avatar

      I agree, the 70s and 80s are notorious for hideous design. Most ugly architecture seems to originate from that era. I had to lift up a corner of carpet next to the fire place so they could find the gas pipe and disconnect it but that was easy. Carpet lifts easily and the floor boards underneath will have been lifted in the 70s and 80s to install the gas in the first place.

  2. Hangaku Gozen Avatar

    This is fascinating! So there’s no smoke while it burns? That was the issue with our fireplace in the old farmhouse where we used to live: every time there was a downward draft, smoke would fill the room. The chimney sweep told us we would have to tear down the whole thing and replace it because it was so poorly built, but the cost wasn’t worth it, so we sealed it off. I do miss a warm fire on a chilly evening, though.

    1. Rachel M Avatar

      There’s no smoke at all. Nothing. It’s very clean and easy to use but it’s not as hot as a wood fire so just bear in mind that it can’t be the only source of heating. That said, it definitely warmed up our lounge.

  3. Jonathan Avatar

    We have the connection points for gas fires in our house, and and have never connected them actual fires. We have been thinking about getting a wood burner, because we have so many trees in the back garden, we could fuel our own fire for years. Of course that would also entail teaching the children how to chop logs with an axe – I’d rather not think about that 🙂

    1. Phil Avatar

      Jonathan, There are better things to do with wood. Sorry, its a shameless plug, I know …

    2. Rachel M Avatar

      If you have a free source of firewood then a log burner is the way to go.

      1. Steve Bloom Avatar
        Steve Bloom

        Just be aware what a health hazard burning wood is.

      2. Rachel M Avatar

        What about ethanol? Is it safe?

      3. Steve Bloom Avatar
        Steve Bloom

        Should be since it’s complete combustion at a relatively low temperature.

  4. Phil Avatar

    These look interesting. I, however installed a chimney balloon to stop drafts. I wonder whether one of these would melt it ?

    1. Rachel M Avatar

      I’m not sure. I’ve never heard or seen these before. How far up the chimney is it? If it’s really close to the fire then it might melt.

      1. Phil Avatar

        They are good at stopping drafts from an un-capped chimney. My ones sit just above the opening, so yes they would be quite close. I find I need to re-inflate mine every couple of years or so – they come with a detachable tube that you fit to the valve in the balloon so that you can pump it up. The point being, that the balloon needs to close enough to the fire opening that you can fit the tube.

        If the ethanol fire generates a fair amount of heat then they probably wouldn’t work together … Capping the chimney would be the alternative, but that involves roof scaffolding etc. Shame – they look nice but I suspect I would loose more heat through the uninslated chimney than the fire would provide.

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