Almost Autumn: Home Heating Safety Tips

Summer is coming to an end, which means you can power off the air conditioner and start warming up the heater for those cool autumn and winter days. However, heating equipment comes with a whole host of dangers. In 2010 alone, heating equipment was responsible for about 57,100 home structure fires in the United States.

Heating fires are responsible for billions of dollars of damage each year. The fact is, nearly all fires related to the home heating system are preventable. Here are some home heating safety tips to keep your family safe and comfortable at the same time.

Inspect Your Sources of Heat

The main contribution to home heating fires is a failure to clean or perform proper maintenance on heating equipment. Perform a thorough safety inspection of all the heating sources in your home. Any equipment that is damaged, misused, outdated, or just plain poorly maintained could spell disaster.

1. Fireplace

  • Clean and inspect your fireplace and chimney at least once a year. Check primarily for cracks and obstructions that could lead to roof and chimney fires.
  • Always open the damper before starting your fire.
  • Place a metal screen or glass doors in front of and around the fireplace to keep sparks and burning logs inside the confines of the fireplace.
  • Avoid burning trash, paper, and green wood. These are hard to control and lead to heavy buildup of creosote, which is a dark, highly flammable tar that comes from wood smoke and often builds up in the walls of your chimney.
  • Make sure the fire’s out before you head to bed.

2. Space heaters

  • Only purchase a space heater with the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) safety listing.
  • More recent heaters are designed to shut off automatically when they’re knocked over. However, even with that feature, always unplug your heater when you’re not using it.
  • Space heaters don’t operate on an open flame but many are hot enough to ignite nearby combustibles. Keep your space heater at least three feet away from draperies, paper, furniture, and flammable liquids. It goes without saying that space heaters are not intended for drying clothes.

3. Furnaces

  • Clean or replace your furnace filters three to four times a year. A clean filter helps the furnace burn fuel efficiently and prevents dust from circulating throughout your home.
  • Newer gas furnaces feature an automatic shut-off function if it detects any problems. Older furnaces don’t have the same device. If you have an older furnace, make sure it gets serviced frequently.

The Silent Killer

About 200 people in the United States die from carbon monoxide poisoning every year. The scary part about this toxic gas is that it’s completely odorless and invisible to the naked eye. Lower levels of carbon monoxide poisoning cause headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and even depression.

Every furnace produces some small amount of carbon monoxide that is usually carried away from the home via the ventilation system. Excess carbon monoxide is usually caused by a mechanical failure, damage, or a clogged or dirty burner. Regular maintenance and inspection are the best ways to prevent any problems. Yellow flames and the accumulation of soot usually indicate the need for maintenance.

For fireplaces, make sure to crack your windows open and open the flue even after you’ve extinguished the fire: those tiny remaining embers produce a high concentration of carbon monoxide. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, only burn seasoned firewood. Never burn treated woods, painted woods, scrap lumber, or charcoal in your fireplace.

Installing a carbon monoxide alarm can provide some added protection to warn you of possible danger.  However this is not a substitute for proper care and maintenance of appliances, such as your heating system, that produce carbon monoxide.

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