The 10 Best Tabletop Fireplaces
This wiki has been updated 19 times since it was first published in October of 2015. If you want to enjoy the warmth and ambiance of real flames without any of the hassle and mess of traditional fire pits, then these clean-burning, compact tabletop fireplaces can instantly add a touch of elegance to any room or outdoor patio. They come in a wide selection of attractive designs to suit any taste, and all are sold at very reasonable prices to accommodate any budget. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best tabletop fireplace on Amazon.
A Brief History Of The Tabletop Fireplace
By the 12th century, the first chimneys were erected in northern Europe, essentially eliminating the smoke hazards associated with indoor fires.
The history of tabletop fireplaces starts with the prehistoric fire pit, which our human ancestors built in their huts and caves. These fire pits were built across all of the inhabited continents for thousands of years, despite the risks their toxic smoke posed in closed spaces.
In medieval times, homes and the great halls of large structures featured centrally placed hearths. These hearths vented their smoke through an opening in the roof. It was not until the Middle Ages that louvers were created to allow roof vents to open and close. Later in the Middle Ages, smoke canopies — a precursor to modern chimneys — were built to direct smoke outside.
By the 12th century, the first chimneys were erected in northern Europe, essentially eliminating the smoke hazards associated with indoor fires. Initially, chimneys were prohibitively priced and costly to maintain, but as word spread of their effectiveness, demand increased, and builders developed construction standards.
One important development in the history of fireplaces came in 1678, thanks to England's Prince Rupert. After surmising that it would improve airflow, Rupert invented a grate that would keep firewood off the fireplace floor. Not only did this allow fires to burn hotter and faster, but it also made venting easier.
Benjamin Franklin also contributed several fireplace improvements of his own in the 18th century. The so-called Franklin stove featured an empty space at the rear of its metal frame that allowed it to radiate more heat than an ordinary fireplace. Thanks to improved airflow, this design also produced less smoke. Franklin's innovations were incorporated into the fireplaces and stoves of his time, and can still be found in modern models.
While Franklin's stove was a great improvement over its predecessors, the fireplace developed later in the 18th century by Sir Benjamin Thompson was revolutionary. Thompson's shallow design, upon which today's fireplaces are based, drastically improved the amount of heat exuded by the fireplace.
While today's tabletop fireplaces take some design cues from standard fireplaces, almost none of them require venting. Also known as bio fireplaces, these tabletop models typically burn ethanol or another denatured alcohol. Because they don't produce hazardous black smoke, bio fireplaces can be placed anywhere they will fit, and do not require extensive construction to install. These fireplaces grew in popularity in the late 20th century, and today are more popular than ever. Because they burn a clean, self-contained fuel, bio fireplaces don't require the accessories of standard fireplaces, either.
The tabletop fireplace is the smallest variation of the bio model, and is often used as decoration, rather than as a heat source.
How Tabletop Fireplaces Work
With tabletop fireplaces consumers need not worry about the toxic fumes and particulates generated by wood-burning fires.
On many models, the height, warmth, and shape of the flame can be customized.
Tabletop fireplaces are typically fueled by ethanol, a byproduct of fermented organic matter like corn and potatoes. Some fireplaces use this fuel in a liquid form, while others call for an ethanol gel. Both forms are easy to find at hardware stores. This fuel is placed in a burner, which when lit allows the ethanol to combust in a controlled setting.
While they don't offer the same sense pleasure as wood-burning fireplaces, tabletop fireplaces are highly customizable. On many models, the height, warmth, and shape of the flame can be customized. Some even offer scented fuel cartridges which attempt to recreate the smell of burning wood, or produce other scents like vanilla and cinnamon.
The most advanced tabletop fireplaces can be controlled by a smartphone application and attached to a smart home system.
Many tabletop fireplaces sport decorative facades. Because bio fireplace burners are small, tabletop fireplaces can assume many shapes, making them ideal for interior decoration.
Tabletop Fireplace Safety
Smoke from traditional wood-burning fires is dangerous, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Concerned about the hazards they pose, New York City banned new wood-burning chimneys in 2014.
For this reason and numerous others, many are turning to ventless ethanol-fueled fireplaces instead.
Because ethanol burns clean, it can be difficult to tell whether the fireplace is still burning.
Tabletop fireplaces emit negligible fumes and very little organic material. Unlike traditional fireplaces, they do not require frequent cleaning to remain safe. The most advanced tabletop fireplaces even feature sensors that can extinguish the flame if the area gets too hot, or if there is low oxygen in the room.
While the U.S. Fire Administration considers them safe for use inside the home, ethanol-fueled tabletop fireplaces must still be handled and positioned carefully. It is still unwise to place these fireplaces in a confined space with little ventilation, according to some research. Ethanol burns slowly, but it is still highly flammable. Owners should be careful to follow all manufacturer instructions. For instance, most tabletop fireplaces specify that only a candle lighter or extended match should be used for ignition.
As with any flame source, tabletop fireplaces should be positioned as far as possible from combustible materials like curtains. They should also be kept away from children.
Before adding fuel to the burner, it is critical that you make certain the flame has been extinguished. Because ethanol burns clean, it can be difficult to tell whether the fireplace is still burning. To be safe, it is advised that you never attempt to light a fireplace that is still warm from a previous ignition.
It is also important that you never use fuel cartridges that were not designed for your fireplace.
Liquid fuel easily spills, and it is advisable to use a funnel during fueling. If you do spill ethanol, clean the area and your hands thoroughly before lighting.
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