14 Pros and Cons of a Gel Fuel Fireplace

A gel fuel fireplace provides homeowners with an indoor heating option that doesn’t require venting for a successful installation. There are several types of appliances that use gel fuels for indoor or outdoor use because there is no need for electricity, a gas hookup, or a chimney to take advantage of what they can do. You can move the fireplace to wherever it works best for your home.

Gel fuel typically comes in a 13-ounce can to give you a total usage time of 2-3 hours. It costs about $3 to pick up this resource at most home improvement stores. Some fuels contain organic materials so that the fireplace will pop and hiss when operating it, mimicking what wood does in a fire. All gel fuels typically come from an isopropyl alcohol mixture.

When you want to burn the gel fuel, then you remove the paper label from the outside of the container. Then you pry open the lid in a manner similar to that of a paint can. Your fireplace will then have a place to hold the fuel, with most accommodating up to three cans simultaneously. Smothering the flames happens when you drop the lid onto the can once again.

List of the Pros of a Gel Fuel Fireplace

1. This technology gives you a freestanding fireplace option.
If you have a small space or home where permanent changes are not practical, then a gel fuel fireplace is the perfect addition to consider. Most of them come with the look of the traditional fireplace, including the molding, columns, and mantelshelf. Some come equipped with glass panels or flames that come through ceramic rocks instead. As long as the room is well-ventilated, then you can enjoy a moment to sit by the fire in almost any situation.

2. Renters can use this fireplace option in their homes too.
Because you are not making structural changes to a property with a gel fuel fireplace, most renters can use this freestanding option as a way to create a new room environment. They stand on solid flooring without requiring a wall mount to be useful. That means you can move this fireplace to a different room, and you can also take it to your new place when it comes time to move.

3. There are outdoor gel fuel fireplace models available.
There are several gel fuel fireplaces that are suitable for outdoor use, ranging from fire pits to the traditional design. Some of the models are easily portable so that they are useful indoors or outside as well. The design works the same way as the indoor unit, with the product ready to fire in seconds when there is a fuel source available. When it is time to go inside, you don’t need to wait for the fire to die down so that it is safe to leave it either. Once you seal the can and snuff out the fire, you can call it an evening.

4. You can choose a wall-mount option if you want.
Gel fuel fireplaces provide the advantage of portability, but you can also find models that come with a wall-mount feature. As with the other options with this technology, you’ll still experience very little heat loss since there is no draft that pulls the warm air from the room and out through the chimney. A wall-mounted model that uses gel fuel can raise the temperature in a small room by up to 10°F without consuming all of the fuel.

5. The gel fuel burns cleanly in every environment.
When you pry open a can of gel fuel to use with a fireplace, then you don’t need to worry about soot or carbon monoxide entering your indoor environment. This technology is safe to use in almost any location where there is some form of air movement. Because no particulates release into the atmosphere from the isopropyl alcohol, the quality of the indoor or outdoor atmosphere remains unaffected as well. You won’t be contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions at all when choosing this product.

6. You get to enjoy a real flame with a gel fuel fireplace.
Thickeners are added to the isopropyl alcohol to provide you with a slow-burning fuel that creates a real fire for you to enjoy. Crackling and spitting are even possible with some additives if you don’t mind paying a little more for your fuel canisters. It’s a beautiful, condensed flame that dances well, providing you with a traditional fireplace experience without the need for permanent changes to the home. If the power goes out for some reason, you can still light your fireplace to provide you with the warmth that you need.

List of the Cons of a Gel Fuel Fireplace

1. It can be more dangerous to use gel fuel than a regular fireplace.
Gel fuel is generally safe to burn both indoors and outside. There are a few essential tips that you’ll need to remember to ensure that you can use your new fireplace safely. If you have a freestanding model, then you must place it on solid flooring where the appliance cannot tip over. You should not burn gel fuel unattended, and avoid lighting a fire during high winds or when precipitation is falling. Adding new fuel to an old container is a bad idea as well.

The best way to light a gel fuel fireplace is to use long matches or a long-handle lighter like you can get for propane grills. That allows you to stand far enough back from the flames and heat if it is stronger than you anticipated.

2. The heat output from a gel fuel fireplace is much less than other options.
If you have a conventional wood-burning fireplace or cast-iron stove, then you can achieve up to 40,000 BTUs of heat output when the fire starts roaring. Gas fireplaces can go even higher at 65,000 BTUs. When you choose a gel fuel appliance instead, then you’ll receive about 3,000 BTUs per can. If you purchase a model that can burn three cans simultaneously, then you’ll receive a total of 9,000 BTUs of heat output. That level is comparable to an entry-level gas fireplace at best.

3. Outdoor gel fuel fireplaces can lose a lot of heat.
If you operate a gel fuel fireplace outside, then there is a tremendous amount of heat loss that occurs once you step away from the unit. This technology does an excellent job of heating those who are close to the product, but the warmth dissipates as you move away from it. The same effect occurs with a fire pit, campfire, or similar options as well. That’s why you will see seating that surrounds the fireplace in most outdoor designs. You’ll want to use heat-resistant, flame-retardant items for sitting to ensure an accidental flame doesn’t occur.

4. You must wait to reignite the fireplace.
If you turn off the flames from your gel fuel fireplace, then you must wait for the canisters to cool down before relighting them again. The cup, reservoir, and fireplace can all stay hot for up to an hour after you extinguish the flames, which means you can experience a significant injury by lighting up the fuel source while everything is still hot. There are some other tips and tricks to consider in the owner’s manual for your preferred product as well, so always follow the exact directions provided by the manufacturer to ensure you get to experience the best possible results.

5. It is more expensive to operate a gel fuel fireplace.
Although you will save some cash when purchasing a gel fuel fireplace compared to one that operates on natural gas, the cost of fuel is going to eat into your savings over time. The average homeowner (or renter) can save above $1,500 when purchasing a unit that operates on cans of thickened isopropyl alcohol, but the cost-per-hour for operation is significantly higher. Running a fireplace on natural gas averages $0.42 per hour, but running a 3-can model with gel fuel can cost about $3 per hour.

That means you’ll end up paying more over the lifetime of the product if you use a gel fuel fireplace regularly. Even if you purchase them in bulk, you’ll pay $64 on Amazon as of August 2019 for a 24-pack of canisters, placing the cost at just under $3 per can.

6. There is no way to regulate the flame levels.
A gel fuel fireplace burns based on the canisters you place in the holders of the unit. You’ll get a nice flame once they start burning, but there is no way for you to control the size or shape of the fire itself. The only option you have is to decide if one, two, or three cans of fuel is what you want to use for the evening. Extinguishing the flames can be a challenge as well since you need to lower the lid to the fuel can. There is no way for you to cut off the oxygen supply to the fire in a safe manner otherwise.

7. It is not an all-day solution.
You can take a few logs in a traditional fireplace, and then use it all day to supply warmth. A natural gas model can run without electricity as well if you have a manual lighting option. Gel fuel fireplaces can operate when the power goes out as well, but the expense can be outrageous. If you wanted to run this technology for 8 hours, then you would go through 9 canisters of fuel to do so. That means you’d be spending about $27 to heat your home for the day. If you were using natural gas, then the cost would be $4.50.

8. Gel fuel fireplaces are not entirely odorless.
The gel fuel itself is odorless. You can smell the alcohol in the product when you pry off the lid, but that is the extent of the issue. When you light the canister to start the fire, you’ll get a faint smell of liquor from the fireplace with some fuels. If there are crackles in the fuel source, then you can smell the ignition of the organic materials as well. Some people love this experience and it isn’t a disadvantage for them, so you’ll want to try out this fireplace option before buying it to see if you can handle the experience.

The pros and cons of a gel fuel fireplace seek to balance portability with reasonable heat output. Although you will spend less to get more heat from a traditional fireplace or one fueled by natural gas, there are fewer dangers to consider with this technology. There is no gas line to break, and you can move the fireplace to any room whenever you want. If you have a small place or want to spice up your patio, then you’ll want to give this option a closer look.

About the Author
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.