Fuel for Summer Activities

Camping, cottaging and meals on the barbecue are Canada's summertime passions. In addition, more and more Canadians travel by RV during the summer.

Propane is the energy source that often powers these activities. It is versatile, economical and safe, and can be taken where no other fuels can go. Stored as a liquid and used as a gas, it will cook meals, heat the cottage or trailer, ensure a supply of hot water, and even refrigerate food.

According to Bob Cunningham, managing director of the Propane Gas Association of Canada, propane appliances are growing in popularity.

"People who use propane all year round are usually familiar with how to handle it properly," he says. "But many Canadians use it mainly on vacation or for the barbecue. As with any fuel, safety is always important, and special care is needed when reacquainting yourself with a product not used for several months."

Propane is a colourless and odourless gas. A smell is added so you can detect a leak by a strong, distinct odour like rotten eggs or boiling cabbage. Leaking propane is heavier than air and will flow to low-lying areas.

If you suspect a leak, turn off the supply of propane at the cylinder and leave the area immediately. Do not turn light switches or flashlights on or off, or operate phones. Once you are well away from the area, phone your service supplier. If you suspect your gas barbecue is leaking or smell an odour shut off the cylinder and do not light the grill.

Propane incidents are rare, in part because of strictly enforced safety regulations. All cylinders must have a decal identifying the contents as a flammable gas. In Canada, they must be inspected and re-qualified or replaced every 10 years. A date stamp on the collar of the cylinder indicates when it was last qualified. Only a qualified technician may fill your cylinder. It is illegal for an attendant to fill an outdated cylinder, or to fill a cylinder beyond 80% capacity.

Anyone who uses propane cylinders must follow the rules when transporting, storing or handling them. (See box on right)

It comes down to common sense. Look after your appliances, make sure they are well ventilated, and use them only for what they were meant to do. For instance, burners and ovens are designed for cooking, not to heat your tent or RV.

The Canada Safety Council recommends an annual safety inspection of your whole system, including the appliances.

For many summer chefs, gas barbecues are the appliance of choice. They require similar precautions, including a safety check, cleaning and maintenance at the start of the season, and good ventilation around the equipment.

"It's absolutely essential for the tubes to be clear and in good repair," notes Ivan Tanner of the Ottawa Fire Service. "Spiders and other insects love to build nests in them and that can cause dangerous blockages."

When using the barbecue, turn the cylinder service valve on first, and turn it off first. When you finish, ensure no propane is left in the hose and then close the burner control valves. Make sure the gas grill is shut off and has completely cooled before covering it.