When the weather begins to grow cold, individuals turn to supplemental forms of heat for a variety of reasons. The rising cost of home ownership as well as escalating fuel prices often set people on a search for the least expensive and most efficient ways to keep comfortable during the cold weather season. Space heaters, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces are among the more common and popular supplemental heating sources.
The same heating sources that can be cost-effective and safe when used correctly can become hazardous when safety guidelines are not followed. The National Fire Prevention Association states that in 2010 heating equipment was involved in an estimated 57,100 reported home structure fires in the United States alone, resulting in 490 deaths, 1,540 injuries and $1.1 billion in direct property damage. These fires accounted for 16 percent of all reported home fires.
In an effort to prevent property damage or loss of life, homeowners should follow the safety guidelines that come with a supplemental heating device. Also, simple steps can prevent fire and injury.
* Test smoke alarms monthly to ensure they are in proper working order. Should a malfunction of a heating appliance occur or a fire start, a smoke alarm could be your first indicator of a problem.
* Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from any heating equipment, including a furnace, a wood stove, portable space heaters, or a fireplace.
* Consider the use of a gate or another obstruction to keep children and pets several feet away from a space heater or another appliance that can easily be knocked over.
* Never use fuel-burning appliances without proper room venting to the outdoors to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Fuel includes everything from wood to gas to oil.
* Only use the fuel recommended by the product manufacturer.
* When making a fire in a stove or fireplace, never use flammable liquids to start or accelerate the fire.
* A wood-, pellet- or coal-burning stove should be burned very hot at least twice a day for about 30 minutes to reduce the creosote buildup in the chimney or flue.
* Chimneys should be professionally cleaned at the beginning of each use season to ensure there is nothing lodged within that can catch fire.
* Do not use an oven to heat the home while it is in the “on”position. You can leave the oven door open after cooking is finished so that residual heat can enter the kitchen, provided pets and children are kept away.
* Electric space heaters should be kept away from walls, curtains and furniture. Many now feature tip-over safety features that will turn the unit off should it be tipped over. However, it is always adviseable to use a space heater on a level, sturdy surface that is away from foot traffic in the room.
* All supplemental heating sources should be turned off or extinguished before leaving the house or going to bed.
* Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed in every level of the home. Install the detectors close to all bedrooms. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that cannot be detected easily. It quickly robs the body of oxygen and can be fatal when present in high amounts.
* Any stationery space heating equipment or HVAC system should be installed by professionals and inspected so that it adheres with local building codes. This is to ensure your safety as a homeowner.
* Use safety screens in front of fireplaces to prevent sparks from escaping.
* Make sure the damper is open every time you light a fire.
* Do not move a heater while it is hot or fill it with fuel at this time, except when adding wood to a stove.
* Cinders and ashes should be cleaned routinely from stoves and fireplaces and stored away from the home in a heat–safe container until cool.
* Never position an electric heater next to a water source.
* Extension cords should not be used unless absolutely necessary. The cords should be heavy duty and meet the draw of the heating unit. Also, they should be run so they don’t present a tripping hazard, but also so the cords themselves do not create a combustion hazard.
* Children should not be allowed to touch or play near any heating appliances. Do not leave children or pets unattended in a room with a fire or space heater going.
Before investing in a heating unit, homeowners should consider adding more insulation to homes or caulking drafty windows and doors as a method to warming a home.
Whether out of necessity or just to provide an added measure of warmth to a home, many people use supplemental heating appliances frequently during the winter. Emphasizing safety when using such devices can prevent many of the fire hazards associated with these devices.