Régie du bâtiment du Québec

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Ethanol fireplaces

The popularity of ethanol fireplaces is of increasing concern to fire safety services. Indeed, when such appliances are not of an approved design or are used irrespective of the essential safety precautionary measures, they may pollute ambient air, or cause serious burns, fires or carbon monoxide poisoning!

The Régie du bâtiment du Québec (RBQ) would like to give you a few tips that will allow you to enjoy your fireplace safely.

Verify that the ethanol fireplace is certified

Regardless of the model you chose or of where you decide to buy it, your fireplace must be compliant with the Canadian standard ULC/ORD-C627.1-2008, Unvented Ethyl Alcohol Fuel Burning Decorative Appliances.

Here are examples of certification seals or labels affixed on ethanol fireplaces and attesting their compliance with the Canadian standard:

This standard is mandatory for ethanol fireplaces in buildings subject to the Buildings chapter of the Safety Code (BCSC), which contains provisions for this type of machinery. Although the BCSC does not target small residential buildings (e.g. single-family homes, residential occupancies with less than 2 storeys and less than 8 apartments), several municipalities have integrated this obligation into their regulation. Your insurer may also ask that your fireplace be certified.

Beware of appliances which are offered at a cheap price and uncertified. The following may happen:

  • The walls become too hot and set ablaze some materials nearby.
  • Flames spread to the outside of the appliance following a draft or the warming-up of the ethanol.
  • The corrosion of the tank or a leaktightness failure of the appliance causes vapor leaks or a spill of ethanol.

Follow the installation instructions

The installation of an ethanol fireplace is simple, consisting essentially in assembling certain parts and in fitting anchoring devices. However, do remain careful and follow all the manufacturer’s instructions:

  • Place the fireplace inside a well-ventilated room of sufficient dimensions. The more powerful your appliance is, the larger the room needs to be, given the risk of poisoning inherent to the combustion of ethanol. We strongly advise against installing a fixed appliance inside a bathroom or a bedroom.
  • Install the fireplace in an area that is uncluttered, at a distance from any combustible substance or material, and so that it cannot be run into or stricken by persons or objects.
  • Give particular attention to the moveable items adjoining the appliance. The fireplace can set ablaze objects located near it (such as curtains, newspapers, etc.).
  • Secure the appliance firmly in place so that it may not be moved or tipped. A lack of stability can indeed make the fireplace tip over, thus causing a spill of ethanol and a fire.
  • Use only the fuel and accessories recommended by the manufacturer (stones, logs, glass panes, etc.) inside or around the fireplace.

Use it wisely

The incorrect use of an ethanol fireplace may result in burn injuries and fires! To avoid such accidents:

  • Use the appliance as a decorative item and not as a heating appliance.
  • Move the fireplace when needed, only once it has been turned off and emptied of any combustible.
  • Do not direct a fan towards your fireplace since drafts may cause the stirring-up and migration of the flame.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use, and maintain the appliance in good condition of cleanliness in order to obtain a cleaner combustion.

Attention! An ethanol fireplace is a decorative item and should not be used as a heating appliance.

Choosing the right ethanol

Only use the ethanol recommended by the manufacturer, as the appliance has been approved to be used with a certain type of ethanol.

Install a carbon monoxide detector

Ethanol is a flammable liquid that technically should burn cleanly. However, under certain conditions, its combustion in a fireplace is imperfect and may produce carbon monoxide (CO) and certain other noxious gases, for instance, when the combustion temperature is too high or too low.

Even if ethanol is of a similar nature than the fuel used in fondue warmers, the danger is greater due to the higher volumes. As no chimney is necessary, the toxic substances may accumulate, in particular with certain appliances of the more powerful types. Therefore, make sure to have a CO detector installed.

Filling up: always with carefulness

Ethanol, also called bioethanol or ethyl alcohol, gives off flammable vapors at room temperature.

During fill-up or upon a spill, liquid ethanol can evaporate and produce dangerous vapors. These may stagnate, since they are heavier than air. If their concentration is high enough, such vapors may be set ablaze by any flame.

When using an ethanol fireplace, it is therefore very important to be equipped with a portable fire extinguisher in good working condition. The installation of a smoke detector is also called for.

Do remain alert at the time of filling up:

  • Use only the ethanol recommended by the manufacturer, as the fireplace was registered for use with a specific type of ethanol.
  • Do not fill up the burner when it is in operation or if it is still hot. Pouring ethanol in a fireplace which is turned on or is still hot may cause a projection of inflamed liquid.
  • Let the appliance cool off for at least 15 minutes before filling it up to use it again. A longer cooling off period may be necessary with certain types of appliances.
  • Avoid smoking near the appliance, and keep at a distance any open flame (for example, a candle). In case of an ethanol spill, remove any source of flame, such as a cigarette or a match, and avoid plugging in or unplugging any electrical appliance.
  • In case of an ethanol spill, remove any source of flame, such as a cigarette or a match, and avoid plugging in or unplugging any electrical appliance.

Storage of ethanol: never more than 5 L

It is recommended to store no more than 5 liters of ethanol and to not store any combustible substance inside a room where a fireplace operates or near any source of heat.

It is also advised to store ethanol at room temperature. This flammable liquid must be kept out of the reach of children.

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