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Tips for winter heating safety

November 12, 2015
Enjoy some cozy time by the fire this winter, but make sure your chimney is safe first.

Burr! The cheery days of summer and fall are behind us now, and winter has settled in. It's time to enjoy hot chocolate, cozy sweaters and the warmth of a comfortably heated home. But before your reach for the thermostat or start building a toasty fire, you need to be sure your heating systems are functioning properly.

According to the National Fire Protection Association heating equipment is the leading cause of fatal home fires. In addition to installing and testing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, be sure you know the recommended safety precautions for each type of heating system.

Space heaters

Small, easily portable electric heaters can be a convenient way to add some extra heat in a drafty home. However, space heaters can pose safety risks if not used properly.

"Keep space heaters on a level surface away from children or pets.”

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, space heaters are connected to an estimated 21,800 residential fires and 300 deaths each year. If the heater is fuel-burning it may also cause carbon monoxide poisoning if deployed in a poorly ventilated room.

One danger is purchasing a heater that hasn't passed independent safety testing. The U.S. Department of Energy recommended only buying heaters with the Underwriter's Laboratory label. Additionally, the DOE advised keeping the heater on a level surface away from children or pets who may accidentally knock the unit over.

Gas furnaces

The Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute cautioned carbon monoxide poisoning is also a risk with gas furnaces. If your furnace is clean and running as designed, it will produce a small and harmless amount of CO. However, if the furnace has fallen into disrepair the risk of CO poisoning and fire greatly increase.

"If a furnace is in disrepair the risk of CO poisoning and fire increase.

The ACHR recommended having your furnace inspected annually by a certified heating contractor who will check for cracks in the combustion chambers, clean the unit and look for signs of damage. You should also clean your furnace filter regularly, keep combustible items like paint far away from the unit and make sure the furnace's front-panel door properly sealed.

Chimneys

A malfunctioning chimney can result in high home insurance claims or direct danger to your family. The Chimney Safety Institute of America estimated 22,700 residential fires began with chimney or fireplace malfunction between 2010-2012, costing an estimated $111.7 million in damage. To make matters worse, the organization reported all these fires could have been prevented with proper maintenance.

Before building a fire in the your chimney, you should have the chimney and surrounding roof inspected and cleaned by a professional chimney cleaner, the CSIA recommended.