“A Slice of Heaven”
Almost every home we’ve lived in during these thirty-seven years of marriage has had a fireplace, excepting only a less expensive place we rented when we first moved to San Diego. We only lived there a year, and its lack of a fireplace was a large factor in our moving. All of them were wood burning fireplaces, including our present home, and in those early years, a much younger man (ME!) was quite happy to schlep in firewood and tend the fire whenever we decided to use it. But there eventually came a time when it just struck us as something of a hassle, not to mention the way termites just love to make themselves at home in firewood stacked along the side of one’s home, thereby raising the possibly of those ravenous beasts entering one’s home and doing even more damage. I eventually came to buy only enough wood for one fire and only when we were going to spend the weekend with one. Once we purchased our home, I got very busy with other things, and fires became something of a memory. About that time we decided to have a gas log installed, and doing so was one of the smartest things we ever did because it meant we could use the fireplace whenever we wanted by simply opening the flue and turning on the gas. The upshot is that our fireplace now gets a lot of use during the winter months.
But seeing the amount of pleasure we get from that fireplace, I sometimes find myself walking around the house, thinking of other places we might put a fireplace. The master bedroom is pretty much made for such a concept. The other place that would welcome a fireplace or two is an elaborate backyard; it’s completely built out with a number of permanent structures, four fixed benches, and room enough to entertain thirty or forty guests in total comfort. But ours is a house that tops a hill with an unobstructed view of the ocean some fifteen miles away, which means we get the sea breeze at night. Even during the middle of a hot summer, we often don jackets back there at night.
And if I really wanted to push the envelope, I might install a fireplace in the kitchen, not as a pizza oven, mind you, but just as a fireplace, maybe site it at once end of a counter or some such. And by now you’re surely thinking, “this man has lost his mind,” because how in the world would one go about casually placing a fireplace at the end of a kitchen counter? If it’s wood burning, it requires a lot of schlepping (I hate schlep!), and if one runs a gas line, there are all the mechanical issues to contend with in getting a gas supply to one’s fireplace. But overriding all of that is the most fundamental; how are you going to properly vent it and still maintain a nice clean look for your cabinets? Because face it, an improperly vented fireplace introduces carbon monoxide into one’s home, and in the right—or perhaps I should say wrong—circumstances that stuff kills. And that, in a nutshell, is what I find so intriguing about the subject of today’s blog.
Start with what it burns: bioethanol. This stuff is the ultimate pretty much when it comes to this sort of venture simply because it’s not a conventional fire in any way, excepting only the heat it provides. Burn wood, and you have smoke and ashes and cinders and so forth. Even burning gas as we do requires proper venting. I once forgot to open the flue when I turned on the gas; an oversight I was made aware of in some ten or twenty seconds! Bad gas log, bad! Bioethanol is simply another word for ethanol, but adding the “bio” reminds us that it is completely biodegradable and biosphere-friendly, if there is such a term. Unlike coal, oil, or natural gas, bioethanol is a totally renewable energy source. It’s made by fermenting the sugar and starch components of a long list of plant by-products. The finished product can be blended with gasoline, which helps reduce our oil consumption, or it can be used to create the romantic, flickering, clean burning flame in EcoSmart Fire’s many fireplaces, special emphasis on clean burning.
When it burns, bioethanol produces heat and a small amount of water vapor and carbon dioxide, not to be confused with carbon monoxide, which kills. Carbon dioxide, by decided contrast, is a natural byproduct of respiration; we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants. It is then processed via photosynthesis to help the plant grow. So every time you breathe out or fire up the EcoSmart Fire, you’re part of the “Circle of Life.”
What that means, though, is that you don’t need to vent it, and that factor alone allows a person to make design statements that one would never think possible. You can put them in kitchens, studies, and offices. I’ve even seen a number of pictures of this product in use in bookcases if you can believe such a thing! It’s because you don’t have to vent it. Of course, it’s still a fire and still requires certain things to be used safely, but the folks at EcoSmart Fires have worked all this out. They have taken that one concept—burning ethanol—and made it possible to use it just about any place you can imagine, and a lot of other places you probably never thought of at all.
I spent quite a bit of time on their website before I sat down to write this, and I have to say that the entire system is very well thought out. One of the things one most wants to have in such a system is a fair amount of “idiot-proofing” because anytime you’re dealing with an open flame there is a certain risk involved. The challenge is to avoid any foreseeable error so the resulting system works in complete safety. I have to say these folks have flat-out done their homework.
They have two basic fireplace units; one is intended mostly for outdoor use, the other for mostly indoor use. Both of them are fairly simple in their configuration, but then they up the ante with an incredible array of concepts, ideas, materials, configurations, and I don’t know what all. They’re available in pretty much any size and any price range. Some of them are small enough to make them easily transportable, which is something my wife asked about. Because we’re in San Diego, we would only use such a thing once in a while. The rest of the time it would be in storage, so having a fireplace that is easy to move around is wonderful. And to actually own a totally portable outdoor fireplace with no wood to haul, ashes to remove, gas lines to lay, vents to configure, and all the other paraphernalia that comes with a standard outdoor fireplace? Aw, man, that’s Heaven pretty much.
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