Ethanol fireplaces (bio-ethanol)

Did you know that using an ethanol fireplace carries the risks of getting burned, starting a fire and suffering carbon monoxide intoxication?

Ethanol fireplaces are becoming more and more popular in Quebec. They are now available through fireplace stores, hardware stores and furniture stores. They come in different forms: fireplace inserts, freestanding in steel frames, wall-mount and even portable.

Ethanol fireplaces should not be used for heat. They are decorations, and should be limited to occasional use.

Ethanol, also called bio-ethanol and ethyl alcohol, releases vapours that are flammable at room temperature. Moreover, while burning, it can generate carbon monoxide and other harmful gases. This means that you should be sure to have a portable fire extinguisher, as well as a carbon monoxide detector, not to mention a smoke detector, all of them in good working order.

Requirements and preventive measures

Installation

  • Preferably choose a certified model.
  • Choose a location without strong drafts.
  • Make sure you secure the unit so that it is stable (more than one anchor point).
  • Be sure to set it up in a spot where it will be impossible to bump into it and cause the flammable liquid to spill.
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm in the same room as the fireplace.
  • Contact your home insurance broker to report the risk.
  • Please note that this type of fireplace does not require the installation of a chimney.

Use

  • Check the integrity of the bio-ethanol reservoir.
  • NEVER fill the reservoir when it is hot.
  • Regularly clean the unit.
  • Avoid wearing loose clothing when using it (necktie, housecoat, etc.).
  • It is important to remember that this type of fireplace should not be used to provide heat, only to create a warm ambiance.
  • Many fires and burns have been reportedly caused by using these fireplaces.

Lighting, filling and using your fireplace can result in burns and fires. To avoid such accidents, be sure to follow these basic safety rules:

  • wait until the unit is off and empty before moving it;
  • be careful when your fireplace is on, especially if it was not built to Canadian standards;
  • never direct a fan at your fireplace because drafts can amplify and displace the flame; and
  • follow the manufacturer's instructions, and keep the unit in good working order for cleaner combustion.

Be careful when you fill the reservoir:

  • Only use the ethanol recommended by the manufacturer. Never use a fuel such as ethanol car fuel.
  • Do not fill the burner while it is on or hot. Pouring ethanol into a lit or hot fireplace can prompt a spray of burning liquid and cause burns.
  • Let it cool for at least 15 minutes before filling it for the next use. It may be necessary to wait longer with some units.
  • Never smoke or have a flame (e.g., a candle) near the fireplace when filling it.
  • If some of the ethanol spills, remove any source of flame such as a cigarette or matches, and avoid plugging in or unplugging any type of electrical appliance.

In Gatineau, any ethanol fireplace that can hold more than 250 ml must be manufactured in accordance with the ULC/ORD-C627.1, Unvented Ethyl Alcohol Fuel Burning Decorative Appliances standards. When purchasing a unit, make sure that it carries a Canadian Standards Association certification label, because it is prohibited to install or use an ethanol fireplace that is not certified. A unit that does not carry the label is deemed to be not certified.

Attention: Ethanol fireplaces are not recommended for people with respiratory problems because their use can cause some indoor pollution. This pollution can come from unburned ethanol, the presence of additives in the fuel and combustion by-products.

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