A gel fireplace is designed to function in environments where normal fireplaces, including gas units, may be impractical. They use an environmentally friendly gel that burns a flame clean enough to be used indoors or outdoors, often without the need for a a ventilation system such as a chimney fluke. A gel fireplace can be either a fireplace constructed specifically for the flammable gel or an existing fireplace altered so that gel can be used in it.
How Gel Fuel Works
Fire gel is created with an alcohol substance, usually isopropyl alcohol that has been treated to be as environmentally safe and slow-burning as possible. The thicker the gel, the longer the flame lasts; the faster-burning gels tend to produce hotter and brighter flames. Before being mass-produced, a manufacturer's gel must be cleared by OSHA and the EPA for use to prove it is safe enough and clean enough for households. Each gel can holds enough gel to last about 2 1/2 or 3 hours when burning. Gel fuel produces around 3,000 BTUs per hour, per can. The gel flame is not perfectly clean, but is designed to produce minimal odors and a only small amount of carbon dioxide -- unavoidable by-products that cannot be fully removed.
Gel Fireplace Construction
A fire gel fireplace uses gel exclusively, and is available in DIY kits. Gel fireplaces typically include a metal shell with decorative ceramic logs and grating. The shell is covered with some type of wood, often an inexpensive base such as pine. The final layer, such as a layer of finer wood like mahogany or an enamel, is added on top of the pine. If the fireplace is intended for outdoor use, a stronger ceramic or metallic shell is used instead. Gel fireplaces are designed to function with either fuel gel canisters or a system where fuel is injected into a tank. With some manufacturers and with some models, you can buy and trade out the tanks themselves.
Altering an Existing Fireplace
If you already have a fireplace in your home, you can alter it to burn gel. Existing gas or ventilation lines must be closed, and the fireplace is often redesigned to include ceramic logs or other decorative materials -- similar to those used in modern gas fireplaces. You then set gel canisters strategically in the back of the fireplace and light them; the flames look as if they are coming from the ceramic logs. You can use up to three canisters at one time for a more realistic and longer-lasting fireplace flame.