Ventless Fireplace Ultimate Guidebook
Here at Ventless Fireplace Pros we have created an ultimate guidebook to help you find your perfect fireplace. Our guidebook will provide you with comprehensive information about ventless fireplaces and help answer any questions you may have.
Table of Contents
Drawbacks of Electric Fireplaces
What are Ventless Fireplaces?
Ventless fireplaces are an elegant and affordable way to add warmth and beauty to a home or apartment. There is no chimney or ventilation duct to the outdoors, so they are easily installed in any room. Some models can even be moved from room to room! Ventless fireplaces are reasonably priced, and adding one to an existing residence doesn’t require an expensive installation process.
There are several different types of ventless fireplaces, but the two main types we carry at VentlessFireplacePros.com are electric and ethanol. Electric fireplaces use electricity to produce heat and simulate a flame, while ethanol fireplaces actually burn ethanol fuel to produce a real flame and heat. Some ventless fireplaces are freestanding units that can be placed anywhere in your home, while others are permanently installed in a wall. Many units produce an actual flame, while others simulate flame with electricity.
Electric fireplaces will need a standard 120-volt power outlet, and some wall units can be directly connected to your home’s electrical wiring during the installation. Most ethanol fireplaces use inexpensive and convenient fuel packs to fill an internal tank. Both types of fireplace are very safe - there are strict federal regulations as well as industry group standards setting safety standards for ventless fireplaces, ensuring that installing a ventless fireplace is a safe and healthy addition to any home. Ethanol fireplaces have built-in carbon monoxide detectors and devices which monitor the oxygen level in the room, and automatically shut off if the air quality in the room declines.
The primary purpose for a ventless fireplace is to make a room cozy and attractive. Although ventless fireplaces, particularly electric models, can provide a wonderful level of warmth in a room, they are not intended as a main heat source. In purely practical terms, ventless fireplaces can be thought of as a much more attractive space heater. However, unlike a conventional fireplace which lets most of the heat go right up the chimney, ventless fireplaces keep all the heat right where you want it. In small spaces, this may be all the heating you may require.
In this guide, we will look more closely at how ventless fireplaces work, what they can do to make your home warmer and more inviting, the benefits and drawbacks of the various ventless fireplaces, the best manufacturers, and how to safely maintain your fireplace.
Types of Ventless Fireplaces
We carry both electric fireplaces and ethanol fireplaces here at VentlessFireplacePros.com. Electric fireplaces have been around for many years, and they use electricity to create both a visual simulation of fire as well as heat. Ethanol fireplaces are newer, and they burn ethanol fuel in order to produce real flames and heat. Neither type of ventless fireplace requires a connection to the outside air.
Electric fireplaces come in a variety of different types. Some units, generally at the higher end, are installed directly into a wall and wired into your home’s electrical system, while other types are portable and can be plugged into any standard 120-volt outlet. There are electric fireplaces that display a simulated flame using a video screen, while other fireplaces use artificial logs and LED lights to simulate the fire. There are even electric fireplaces that use water vapor to mimic smoke.
Most electric fireplaces have an actual heating unit so that they produce heat; these units generally allow you to shut the heating element off so that you can enjoy the visual ambience of a fire without heating the room. This is a great feature on warm evenings, allowing you to have the atmospheric effect of a burning fire while staying comfortable and cool.
Ventless electric fireplaces come in seven basic form factors.
An electric stove, also known as a portable fireplace, is a highly transportable electric fireplace that is very easy to move from place to place. All that you need to do is carry or wheel it to where you want some extra heat and ambience, plug it into the wall, and turn it on. Portable fireplaces are ideal for small rooms that lack central heat, cold basements, and anywhere in your home that just needs some more warmth.
TV and Media Console
Some electric fireplaces are built into a storage cabinet, TV stand, or media console area, allowing you to save on floor space by combining two functions into one. Furniture units aren’t quite as easy to move around as portable fireplaces, but you still only need an electrical outlet to have your electric fireplace up and running.
Wall Insert Fireplace
Electric Wall Fireplaces can be built right into or placed on your existing wall. Recessing your fireplace into your wall does require some installation work – basically just cutting the drywall and possibly running wiring – but gives you the ability to have a built-in electric fireplace anywhere in your home. For wall hanging fireplaces there is much less installation work involved - just attach them to the studs and plug it in. Wall fireplaces come in a variety of styles, from plain and functional to extremely elegant.
A mantle fireplace unit combines a wall-mounted fireplace with a stylish storage area above. They are excellent for limited space, or in homes where you aren’t able to open up a wall, such as a rental or apartment. There is a wide range of mantle designs available to fit with your decorating style. Mantles are very flexible in where they can be placed – you can put one above a sofa, in a hall, in a cold bedroom, or under a picture window.
Electric Corner Fireplace Units are similar to portable fireplaces but are specifically designed to fit into a corner space. Ideal for those looking for some added warmth but lacking in wall space, corner units let you make the most of the space you have.
If you have an old-fashioned vented fireplace but don’t want the hassle of chimney cleaning and maintenance or the fire risk posed by creosote buildup, an electric fireplace insert which slides right into your existing fireplace opening is a great solution. These inserts are a safe and beautiful way to use your existing room design while creating warmth and comfort.
Ethanol fireplaces use clean-burning, environmentally friendly ethanol fuel packs to produce a real, tangible, physical flame. These fireplaces can be mounted inside or on a wall, on a table top, or can be portable standalone units that go anywhere you would like to have some warmth.
Because ethanol fireplaces produce an actual flame, they cannot be used for ambience only; they always heat up the room they are in. They also emit water vapor and use up oxygen as part of the combustion process; while neither of these is generally a major issue, you should be aware of the need for some airflow into any room where an ethanol fireplace is being used.
There are six basic form factors for ethanol fireplaces.
Ethanol Wall Fireplaces mount directly onto an existing wall and come in a variety of unique and elegant designs. Wall units are great for areas with traffic, as the flame is completely contained inside a glass partition, and can be used even in areas open to the public such as restaurants or waiting areas. Some wall units protrude from the wall while others are built into a recess, so the amount of work necessary to install them can vary. Some wall units require clearance between the back of the unit and other structural elements (such as studs or drywall) while other units, known as “zero clearance” fireplaces, are insulated so well that they can be in direct contact with the rest of your house.
Tabletop fireplaces take the ventless nature of ethanol fireplaces to its logical conclusion. With no need for ventilation hardware, the flame can be literally anywhere in the room. Tabletop displays come in a range of beautiful designs that make fantastic centerpieces for dining tables, astonishing conversation pieces in a living room, or practical yet elegant statement pieces on a corporate desk.
Freestanding fireplaces or floor units combine a heat source and an elegant decorative touch in one convenient package. There is a wide array of designs, ranging from huge firepit-type models to tall and slender pillars of flame. Some are quite small while others can heat an entire patio area.
An ethanol burner is the simplest form of a ventless ethanol fireplace, and it’s intended as a purely functional item to provide supplemental heat in a small area. Burners are just the flame-generating component without any fancy hardware or display elements, and they can be installed almost anywhere. You can install a burner in an old-fashioned fireplace, repair or refresh an older ethanol fireplace’s burner component, or use a burner to make a do-it-yourself fireplace.
Fireboxes are an interesting combination between floor and wall units. As the name implies, in design terms they are a simple box containing the flame – some are more polished and shiny while others are simpler, but all of them are basically just rectangular boxes. They can be installed next to a wall, inset into an existing fireplace, inset into a custom alcove, or even left freestanding.
Smart fireplaces are fireboxes brought into the digital age. Similar in design and appearance to a conventional firebox, the smart firebox has built-in digital technology allowing you to control the flame from the included remote control, or using your own smartphone.
Benefits of a Ventless Fireplace
Ventless fireplaces provide a wide range of benefits, adding comfort and value to any room of your home. A fireplace adds warmth and a glowing ambience to the room.
First and foremost, ventless fireplaces are attractive both as furnishings and objects in your home, and as a source of warmth, light, and ambience. People love the sight of a fire, and love to feel the heat coming from the flames. A room with a ventless fireplace is a room that is cozy, homey, and comfortable.
One of the largest benefits of ventless fireplaces is an obvious one – ventless fireplaces do not need to be ventilated to the outside of the building. If you want to add a conventional fireplace to your home, you have to build a chimney stack, or connect the fireplace to the ventilation system – a difficult, time-consuming, and above all expensive proposition. Adding a traditional brick and mantel fireplace to an existing home can cost more than $30,000 for permits, inspections, materials, and labor. Vented gas fireplaces are less expensive than that, but will still run at least a few thousand dollars in installation costs. Ventless fireplaces avoid all that hassle and expense because they require no or minimal connections to existing construction.
Because they don’t need a direct vented connection to outside air, ventless fireplaces can be used anywhere in your building – or even on your patio, carport, or garage. That conventional fireplace you spent five figures installing only goes to one place – if you want to move it to another room, you’re out of luck. You can put ventless fireplaces in any room of your house, or in multiple rooms – the choice is entirely yours and it’s easy to change your mind later and move things around.
Some ventless fireplaces use electricity to produce heat and simulated flame, while others burn bio-ethanol fuel to produce a real flame. Either way, there are no toxic or smelly emissions from ventless fireplaces, no soot, no smoke, no odor – the only emission from a ventless ethanol heater is a little bit of water vapor, and electrical fireplaces produce no emissions whatsoever. People with asthma or allergies to smoke, or who dislike the smell of wood smoke, can enjoy ventless electrical fireplaces without any health risk or discomfort.
Unlike conventional fireplaces, ventless fireplaces require only simple cleaning and occasional inspection of safety components. This low maintenance requirement means ventless fireplace owners spend their time enjoying their fireplace, not carting wood, cleaning chimneys, and taking care of yet another household chore.
Unlike a conventional fireplace, where it is difficult to control the level of the fire more than very roughly, ventless fireplaces give absolutely precise control over heat and light output. Electric fireplaces, where the heating element and the lighting element are completely separate systems, even allow users to have the visual appeal of a roaring blaze, while putting out no heat whatsoever – ideal for a summer evening.
Ventless fireplaces are environmentally responsible, using clean electricity or bio-ethanol produced from crops. They are also energy efficient – while a conventional fireplace sends all or nearly all of its heat right up the chimney (heating a small area around the fireplace through radiant heat, but cooling the building overall), a ventless fireplace keeps all the heat inside the building. With no ventilation taking the heat out, that warmth stays right where you want it to be.
When you want extra heat in a room, a ventless fireplace lets you warm that area without having to turn on the furnace for the rest of the house, or turning up a thermostat which may cause other rooms to be too hot. Ventless fireplaces allow you to target heat to where you need it the most, and many models are highly portable, allowing you to reconfigure your heating system to your changing heating needs.
Ventless fireplaces are easy to install. The most involved installations only require you to remove some drywall and possibly wire the fireplace into your home’s electrical system; many ventless fireplaces are completely portable and all you need to do is plug them in or carry them to the room you want them to heat.
Traditional fireplaces create untold health and safety risks – creosote buildup can lead to home fires, as can embers escaping from crackling logs, while smoke and other toxic residues are the inevitable byproduct of wood combustion. Ventless fireplaces avoid all these risks, and those fireplaces that do rely on the combustion of safe, clean bio-ethanol come equipped with sophisticated air quality monitors that ensure any degradation in the oxygen quality around the fireplace will cause the fireplace to shut off.
Drawbacks of a Ventless Fireplace
Drawbacks of Electric Fireplaces
Every type of fireplace has advantages and disadvantages, and electric ventless fireplaces are no exception.
The largest drawback of an electric fireplace for some people is that there is no real flame, only a simulated flame. The level of quality of the simulated flames varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and from unit to unit, but most people can tell that it isn’t a real flame. Many electric fireplaces also do not produce the crackling sound of a real fire (although some units do come with a device to make that sound) and the ambience of an electric fireplace, although pleasant and cheery, is not quite the same as having a real flame. However, some manufacturers have taken this perceived disadvantage and have designed their ventless electrical fireplaces to put on a bright and cheery multicolored display, rather than try just to copy a natural flame, and many people like those displays very much.
Although electric fireplaces are relatively efficient compared to a conventional fireplace (where most of the heat ends up going up the chimney or out the ventilation system), they are of limited capacity and are not intended to be the primary heat source for any but the smallest of spaces.
Electric fireplaces can be used on a standard wall outlet, but they do tend to draw a lot of amperage from those outlets and may have a difficult time sharing an outlet with other power-hungry appliances. You may need to purchase a surge protector, and for larger units you may need a dedicated circuit to prevent blown fuses.
Finally, because they run on electricity, electric fireplaces will not work during a power outage such as during a winter storm. During weather emergencies, they may not be reliable providers of heat, so you should not depend on an electric fireplace as your primary heating source.
Drawbacks of Ethanol Fireplaces
Although ethanol fireplaces are an excellent addition to any home, like any other product there are some tradeoffs that you should be aware of.
Because ethanol fireplaces burn ethanol to produce a real flame, the rooms they are in do need to have adequate ventilation. The fireplace itself does not require a specific vent, but using an ethanol fireplace in a tightly enclosed space with no ventilation will cause a buildup of carbon monoxide as a natural byproduct of combustion. Ethanol fireplaces come with air quality monitors to prevent dangerous levels of carbon monoxide buildup but this is something to be aware of when deciding where in your home to place an ethanol fireplace.
The other byproduct of combustion in an ethanol fireplace is water vapor. In homes with very poor ventilation, this may potentially increase the chance of problems such as mold or mildew. However, even marginal levels of ventilation should be more than enough to prevent water vapor buildup from being a significant issue in a modern home.
Ethanol fireplaces cannot produce a flame without producing heat. If you want a nice fireplace experience in the summer months, with an ethanol fireplace you have to put up with the heat coming from the fireplace. Unlike with an electric fireplace, there’s no way to get the visual impact of the flame without the accompanying warmth.
Speaking of flames, the flame produced by burning ethanol is slightly bluer in color than the flame that one would expect from a wood fireplace, which may be less appealing to some owners. However, the addition of fire elements such as ceramic logs and glass embers to an ethanol fireplace can cause these flames to look more “natural”.
Finally, although they will work during power outages or storms, ethanol fireplaces do burn physical fuel, meaning that you have to buy and store the fuel, refill the fireplace, and pay the ongoing operating expense of running the fireplace. The cost to run an ethanol fireplace is somewhat higher than the cost to run an electrical fireplace for the same heat output.
Ventless Fireplace Manufacturers
There are a number of manufacturers of very high-quality electric and ethanol ventless fireplaces. VentlessFireplacePros.com has had excellent results with fireplaces from these manufacturers.
Ignis is a manufacturer of electrical and ethanol ventless fireplaces based in New York state, and they also produce their own line of bio-ethanol fuel and sell a variety of fireplace accessories.
Ignis makes the “Royal” line of electric wall-mounted fireplaces. The Royal line ranges from 36” to 95” in length, and is available with a simulated flame bed of crystals, pebbles, or logs. The enclosure comes in a choice of white or black, and the Royal fireplaces can come without a heater or with a two-setting electric space heater (750 watt and 1500 watt) built-in. There is an overheat protection sensor and the flame effect has four different levels of brightness.
Ignis produces a line of Zero Clearance fireplace insert fireboxes, a unique insulated double-wall ethanol burner that only passes heat through the glass front, so it can be installed without any clearance whatsoever. Ignis also builds recessed, wall-mounted, freestanding, and tabletop ethanol fireplaces and fireplace burners.
Nu-Flame manufactures bio-ethanol ventless fireplaces and produce a line of bio-ethanol fuel and ethanol fireplace accessories. Nu-Flame has a wide array of unique tabletop fireplaces, ranging from elegant to industrial in design. They also have a line of beautiful free-standing floor fireplaces that can be the design centerpiece of an entire room, as well as sleek wall-mounted fireplaces.
One of the most unique Nu-Flame designs is the Ardore tabletop fireplace. A refined black cover atop a stainless steel burner, the Ardore produces a warm burst of flame between two tempered glass panels which reflect the fire. The flame is easily adjusted, and the Ardore weighs just over 17 pounds, making it easy to move from room to room.
Another outstanding Nu-Flame product, the Fiero freestanding floor fireplace can be the center of any room. Constructed of tempered glass and stainless steel, the Fiero is distinctive and beautiful and makes any room pop. The Fiero is also available with white or grey ceramic pebble or log inserts to produce a more natural-looking flame.
Amantii manufactures high-end electrical fireplaces in a variety of styles and designs, along with electric fireplace accessories. Many Amantii designs are absolutely unique and beautiful, especially their line of three-dimensional electric fireplaces where the flame is visible from three directions.
The Amantii Panorama Deep XT series of built-in wall fireplaces range in size from 40” to 88” and have the special Amantii “Fire and Ice” three-color display, allowing you to choose from several different color combinations. The Deep XT series also comes with a beautiful selection of logs, embers, and glass pieces to create a convincing illusion of flame. The heating element is able to heat a 450-square-foot room.
Amantii’s True-View XL line has the ability to display flames on up to three sides at once. The True-View XL fireplaces can be installed with all three sides open, with the front and the left open, with the front and the right open, or with just the front open for an extra-deep fireplace. Ranging from 40” to 72” wide, this line of fireplaces is a truly beautiful addition to any room.
Eco-Feu is a Canadian manufacturer of bio-ethanol ventless fireplaces based in Montreal. They also produce bio-ethanol fuel and ethanol fireplace accessories. Eco-Fue produces refined-looking tabletop fireplaces, elegant wall-mounted fireplaces, unique freestanding floor fireplaces, and utilitarian ethanol burners.
One interesting Eco-Feu design is the Romeo tabletop biofuel fireplace. Built around a stainless steel ethanol burner, this cylindrical glass fireplace is attractive and durable and features a flame height of up to 7 ½”. The Romeo can be used indoors or out, and is built with high-temperature glass for extra safety. The Romeo is completely self-contained, and weighing just 14 pounds, is easy to move from room to room. A large fuel reservoir allows for burn times of up to eight hours per fill.
The Eco-Feu Vision III free-standing biofuel fireplace has an intriguing design based on stainless steel and glass that offers beautiful and portable heat and ambience wherever you need them. Made with tempered safety glass and featuring an automatic convection system and shutter mechanism, the Vision III is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use and can burn for six to eight hours.
Maintenance on an electrical ventless fireplace is extremely simple and consists primarily of inspecting the electrical connections to make sure the cord and plug aren’t frayed, and doing some basic cleaning. You’ll need a clean soft cloth, glass cleaner, and a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment, or a handheld vacuum.
- Unplug the fireplace; if it has been operating recently, let it cool off completely. Some internal components can get very hot and you do not want to burn yourself.
- Check the electrical connection components – the power cord, the plug, and the connection to the fireplace itself – for fraying or wear. Do not use your electric fireplace if any of the electrical connections are frayed or worn.
- Use a clean, soft cloth to wipe dust or debris from the interior and exterior surfaces of the fireplace. Use a handheld vacuum cleaner or a small brush attachment to a regular vacuum cleaner to clean off the heat vents (where the hot air comes out of your fireplace).
- Finally, use glass cleaner (not an abrasive cleaner, which might scratch your glass!) to clean the inside and outside of the glass panel(s) of your fireplace. You may need to remove the panels from the fireplace, depending on the design of your fireplace, in order to reach both sides of the glass.
You should repeat this maintenance cycle perhaps once every three months; do maintenance more often if you are in a dusty environment, are using your electric fireplace heavily, or notice debris building up anywhere on the fireplace. If your electric fireplace uses a lightbulb or set of LED lights to simulate a flame, those lights will need to be replaced periodically if they burn out.
Ethanol ventless fireplaces require a bit more maintenance than their electrical counterparts, but are still a very low-maintenance piece of hardware. You’ll need a clean cloth, a can of compressed air, glass cleaner, and a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment, or a handheld vacuum.
- Turn the unit off and let it cool off for at least half an hour.
- Remove the ceramic logs or other inserts used in the fireplace and wipe them with a clean damp cloth to remove any soot or buildup. Check the logs for blackened areas, which might indicate that the log is getting too much direct heat; clean the blackened areas off and rearrange the logs so as to distribute the flames more evenly.
- Check the air inlet holes, where oxygen is drawn in from the room to mix with the bio-ethanol fuel, and make sure they have not become clogged with dirt, dust, or debris.
- Use the can of compressed air to blow the burner tube clear of any debris that might be blocking the flow of ethanol to the burner.
- Vacuum the base of the unit to get rid of any dirt or debris which could build up and pose a fire hazard.
- Clean both sides of all glass panels; you may need to remove the panels from your fireplace to gain access to them for cleaning.
- Inspect the air quality sensors in your ethanol fireplace and make sure that they are functioning.
You should perform this maintenance checklist on your ethanol ventless fireplace every three months or so; if you notice a lot of buildup or are using your fireplace frequently, do maintenance more often.
That’s it! Your electrical or ethanol fireplace is now ready to go back to work, heating your home and making it a more comfortable and appealing place to live.
Ventless fireplaces are in general extremely safe products for your home – they are certainly much safer than conventional fireplaces. However, there are some basic steps which you should take to ensure that your ventless fireplace poses no risk to your home and family.
For electrical fireplaces, make sure there are no electrical hazards around your fireplace. Your fireplace should not be situated near any source of water – sinks, water heaters, or water features are all things to keep your fireplace away from. Make sure that the cord is not positioned where it will be regularly stepped on, creating wear on the cord.
Electrical fireplaces also draw a lot of current, and it’s critical that you have a circuit for the electrical fireplace that can handle the load. Don’t put other high-drawing appliances or equipment on the same circuit as your fireplace – and remember that a given circuit can have more than one outlet, so don’t assume that two different outlets must be on two different circuits.
Keep flammable objects away from your ethanol or electric fireplace – fireplaces of any sort generate a lot of heat, and the ethanol types have an open flame. The area around your fireplace needs to be kept clear of flammable objects such as books, papers, pet beds, etc.
Keep your fireplace clean, in and out. Dust buildup can pose a fire hazard. Use the maintenance guide in Chapter Six to keep your fireplace free of this fire risk.
Ethanol fireplaces have built-in air quality sensors that will automatically shut the fireplace off if there is a drop in the oxygen concentration or a dangerously high carbon monoxide buildup. For maximum safety, you may wish to install a separate air quality sensor with an audible alarm in any room with an ethanol fireplace in operation.
Make sure that your fireplaces are approved by Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) in the United States, or Underwriter’s Laboratories of Canada (ULC) in Canada. The UL or ULC label will appear prominently on the back or side of the fireplace if it has been approved.
Ethanol fireplaces protect people in your home from being burned by using safety glass around the flame elements. However, the glass itself can still become quite hot – don’t allow children or pets to play around floor units, and make sure that tabletop units can’t be easily pulled down by an inquisitive child or rambunctious pet.
Do NOT refill your ethanol fireplace while it is still burning! Put the fire out and allow the burner to cool off before adding more fuel. Use a long match or long-reach butane lighter to ignite your ethanol fuel – NEVER use a Bic lighter or a regular match. Keep your hands and face well away from the combustion area of your ethanol fireplace. If you spill ethanol fuel on your skin or clothing, wash it thoroughly before attempting to light the fire. Make sure that the ethanol fireplace you choose has a spill tray underneath the burner, so that any spilled fuel will not create a fire hazard.
Hopefully you now know more about ventless fireplaces than when you started this guide, and that means it is finally time to get out there and choose the fireplace that is perfect for you!
- Catherine Sibi