Next week on July 1st, new wood-burning fireplaces in New York City will be banned as part of New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio’s proposed, new clean air initiatives. Additionally, existing wood-burning fireplaces will be required to burn wood with less than 20% moisture content, helping the fire burn more cleanly. If enacted, New York City would be added to a growing list of cities passing similar legislation, and considering New York City’s trend-setting track record, many more metro areas are likely to follow in its footsteps. Montreal has gone a step further to require all wood-burning fireplaces to be removed from within the city limits by the end of 2020. So what does this change mean for the average city dweller or design professional? Even if the ban goes through you can still enjoy a fireplace!
As most design professionals know, conventional wood-fireplaces, especially older ones, are not a very efficient way to heat a space. The fire tends to draw warm air from the room up and out the chimney which is then replaced by cooler air from the outside. They also require yearly maintenance to keep them burning safely and cleanly. And they produce a lot of smoke and other problem combustion by-products. The Mayor’s objective in banning the use of wood-burning fireplaces in densely populated NYC is cleaner air and less pollution-related health problems for the general populations - undoubtedly desirable goals. However, many design professionals, builders, hospitality industry processionals and homeowners will be left frustrated and wondering what fireplace options they have left in New York City (and elsewhere).
Let’s discuss those options.
There are electric fireplaces, but they don’t have real flames and are generally not satisfactory to most in the design and construction of higher end projects.
Alternatives to wood-burning fireplaces that actually have real flames are gas fireplaces and alcohol fueled fireplaces.
Vented gas fireplaces are cleaner burning than wood and can generally be used in most NYC projects under certain conditions. But they incur many of the same installation and design limitations as wood fireplaces – the time, labor, and cost of installing a chimney or venting system, regular cleaning and inspections, in addition to the need to provide a gas line. Purchasing and installing a gas fireplace can often be quite expensive and time consuming, considering the flues, gas lines, engineering, permitting, and approvals that will be needed. Plus there are logistics and space utilization problems. If the project is on the top floor of a building only the roof has to be penetrated for the flue. But on lower floors a path has to be found for the flues through the floors above, floors that may already be occupied and owned by others. If more than one fireplace is being installed on several floors in a multiple story building, let’s say a new residential condominium building, each will require a flue and those flues will take up an increasing amount of valuable floorspace as they pass through the floors above, space that cannot be used by or sold to the units above. As for ventless gas fireplaces - they are banned, in many places, including New York City according to the New York Times.
So if wood is out of picture, gas isn’t possible or fiscally prudent for most projects, and an ‘electric fireplace’ is just a glorified radiator, let’s examine the alcohol option.
While using alcohol as a fuel isn’t a new concept for anyone familiar with chafing fuels for fondue or catering, many people haven’t heard about their use in decorative fireplaces. The main benefit of alcohol as a decorative fireplace fuel is that it is very clean-burning, much cleaner than wood and there is no smoke or soot. The restrictions tied to needing a chimney or venting for wood or gas fireplaces can be eliminated. A ventless fireplace system using an alcohol fuel allows for much more design flexibility regarding where you can install a fireplace, saves space, simplifies the planning and design process, and vastly reduces construction costs.
When it comes to alcohol fuels for ventless use there are essentially two choices – liquid or gelled. The major difference is the filling process. Ventless alcohol fireplaces that use a liquid fuel system require the end user to buy and store the liquid fuel in bottle or jugs, then pour it into a decanting device, and from that decanting device pour it again into a fuel reservoir system in the fireplace system. A lot of steps. And most of the liquid alcohol systems also pour the fuel into fireplace systems where incidental or accidental contact with the flame can easily occur. And none were approved for use in NYC.
At HearthCabinet Ventless Fireplaces in 2007, the founders, a product liability attorney and an architect, felt that a better system and solution was needed and set out to invent one, that was safe to use, great to look at, and approved for use in NYC. The result is the safest ventless fireplace system available, a system that the end user and the architect, designer and contractor can use with confidence and ease of mind. We invented a better solution using patented single-use, pre-filled rectangular cartridges of gelled isopropyl alcohol. Neither pouring of fuel nor multiple decanting steps is ever required. Used in a HearthCabinet Ventless Fireplace featuring other patented safety controls like a rigid cartridge holder and a locked screened safety door with a rigid mesh, we believe this system provides the safest ventless fireplace experience available. HearthCabinet Ventless Fireplaces are the ONLY ventless fireplaces approved for use in New York City by the NYC Fire Department and Department of Buildings. No building permit is required to use them in New York City as long as they are installed according to manufacturer’s instructions. HearthCabinet also offers ventless fireplaces that are ETL listed, tested against the national UL safety standard, making them appropriate for use virtually anywhere.
HearthCabinet’s gel fuel cartridges produce a golden flame that is tall and lively, with a real crackling sound that resembles a wood flame. HearthCabinet Ventless Fireplaces are offered in a range of standard sizes and modern or traditional styles but can also be completely custom designed to match the look of any project. All models were and are designed by an architect-led team in our NYC Chelsea studio and are handcrafted in New York City by our excellent local craftsmen. No other company offers the level of experience or expertise in incorporating ventless fireplaces into beautiful projects. The safety benefits and design features have made them ideal for residential uses well as commercial and hospitality projects, from living rooms and bedrooms, to kitchens and bathrooms, bars, lobbies and reception rooms and suites.
So while a ban on wood-burning fireplaces will perhaps dampen some nostalgic spirits it may actually bring about a move to lesser known but safer and cleaner alternatives that will allow an even greater number of people to enjoy a wonderful fireside experience – be it in a 30 story high rise, a hotel lobby or lounge, or a cottage in the country.
For more on the NYC fireplace ban, check out the NY Observer’s article featuring an interview with HearthCabinet’s President, Arthur Lasky:
Contact us for more information on HearthCabinet Ventless Fireplaces.