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Condo Scene: You can still have a fireplace even if you can’t vent one


Bio-fuel fireplaces like those offered by Cocoon Fireplaces are an option for condo dwellers who can’t easily vent more traditional gas or wood-burning ones.

One thing few condos in our city have is a fireplace. Chilly winter weather invokes images of hunkering down by a cosy fire. So why don’t more condos have them?

There are three major reasons: anatomy; liability; and maintenance.

Anatomy refers to the difficulty of routing flues to the exterior, which can be insurmountable in larger developments with more units per floor. Assuming the architect is able to overcome this barrier and provide flues for all, maintenance comes into play. This is the matter of maintaining the flues to prevent chimney fires.

Each fireplace user has a choice of materials to burn and these will contribute differently to the build-up of soot and tars in flues. But who makes the call in the wood-versus-gas debate, the developer or the owner? And who is responsible for maintaining the flues?

It’s nice to think every owner will take care of his or her unit, but the reality is that some are better at taking care of things than others. This leads us to liability. In a development with fireplaces, it’s usually the responsibility of the condo board to set rules to maintain the flues.

Let’s assume your condo board is liability tolerant and you have a choice between a wood- or gas-burning fireplace. Wood-burning means a fireplace with tradition and crackle behind it, but you have the problem of bringing messy and heavy wood into your building and up an elevator or stairs. You could manage it, but would you want to? If you are committed to a traditional fire (my family, for one, is), then this might be a great option.

If not, you might consider a gas fireplace with ceramic logs. Of course, even gas fireplaces require flues to vent and they must be properly installed to ensure no leakage of carbon monoxide, which can be especially hazardous when sealed in an airtight condo building.

There is a third option. If you have found the perfect condo, minus the fireplace you want to snuggle up in front of, you might consider an eco-friendly bio-ethanol fireplace.

With an increasing array of designs, including freestanding, wall-mounted and built-in, these units use sustainable plant-derived bio-ethanol to provide beauty and warmth without all the noxious byproducts of a fireplace. The alcohol burns at a relatively low temperature to give off small amounts of water vapour and carbon dioxide, both of which are assimilated easily by the air-handling ability of most condo units.

One of my favourite fireplace options for condos is designed by Federico Otero, an inspiring industrial designer who has designed everything from cutting-edge faucets to TAG Heuer watches. Otero designs amazing fireplaces for Cocoon Fireplaces.

The Cocoon Aeris Stainless Steel fireplace is truly brilliant. It’s a shell that can hang from the ceiling at six levels, rest on a single pole or sit on legs. It has a 1.5-litre capacity and burns for up to six hours, giving out three to four kilowatts of heat — perfect for our Canadian winters.

Otero’s designs are inspiring for any condo dweller. View his bio-ethanol fireplaces at

Whatever your design and function needs, there are options, so don’t give up on your dream to warm up your winter.

Marilyn Wilson has been selling real estate for more than 25 years and owns Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties Inc. Brokerage, an Exclusive Affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate. She can be reached through

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