Winter Handbook: Heater Safety

Weather

(WOWK) – The arrival of colder months means people turn to various types of heating sources to stay comfortable in their homes.

The Electrical Safety Foundation says there are as many as 65,000 house fires a year in the United States that can be attributed to heater safety issues.

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Tens of thousands of dwelling fires are caused by heating sources

For those using gas furnaces, the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute issues the following safety hints.

  • Have your furnace cleaned and checked every year This should be done prior to the onset of the heating season. Your contractor should check your furnace for small cracks in the combustion chamber. These cracks may not be visible to the naked eye. It is through these cracks that Carbon monoxide can leak into your home. Your contractor also will lubricate the motors and bearings. 
  • Install a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm in your home. 
  • Change your furnace filter regularly. 
  • Keep the area around your furnace clean and unobstructed. 
  • Keep the burner area of your furnace clean. 
  • Never operate the furnace without the front-panel door properly in place. Doing so may create the risk of CO poisoning. Most forced-air furnaces have a safety switch that prevents furnace operation when the door or panel to the blower compartment is not in place. Some older forced-air furnaces do not have a safety switch and can be operated with the filter compartment door/panel off or not properly in place. 
  • Do not have anything combustible such as paint thinners and gasoline near your furnace. 
  • Do not close off more than 20 percent of the registers in your house. This can cause high resistance and unnecessary heat build-up in the furnace. In addition, vacuum dust, lint and animal hair from all registers.
Space heater. Photo from: MIT Environment, Health and Safety

Space heaters can be helpful but they can cause multiple risks. Advice directly from the Electrical Safety Foundation regarding space heaters:

  • Make sure your space heater has the label showing that it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Before using any space heater, read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels carefully.
  • Inspect heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If frayed, worn or damaged, do not use the heater.
  • Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you’re leaving a room or going to sleep, and don’t let pets or children play too close to a space heater.
  • Space heaters are only meant to provide supplemental heat and should never be used to warm bedding, cook food, dry clothing or thaw pipes.
  • Install smoke alarms on every floor of your home and outside all sleeping areas and test them once a month.
  • Proper placement of space heaters is critical. Heaters must be kept at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including papers, clothing and rugs.
  • Locate space heaters out of high traffic areas and doorways where they may pose a tripping hazard.
  • Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Do not use an extension cord or power strip, which could overheat and result in a fire. Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater.
  • Place space heaters on level, flat surfaces. Never place heaters on cabinets, tables, furniture, or carpet, which can overheat and start a fire.
  • Always unplug and safely store the heater when it is not in use.
Heat Pump maintenance. Photo: Surry.edu

While heat pumps are not using combustible methods to produce heat you should also have a technician look over the system for proper upkeep. Such tasks include cleaning the outside, making sure the ducts are free of obstructions and the filter is replaced with regularity for proper airflow. All electrical supply lines should also be checked for any cracks or loose connections and the fuse box should be checked for proper working condition.

A home fireplace for cold days. Photo: University of Nebraska Extension Service

Chimneys and fireplaces can add ambiance and heat to a home but of course with an open flame in the house, it’s imperative that the entire system of fireplace and chimney be inspected and kept clean. Experts say cleaning will help remove creosote or any other material such as a bird nest, which could ignite and cause a chimney fire. The flue must be working properly, the lining must be free of cracks and airflow needs to be proper so smoke or carbon monoxide won’t flow back into the house. The fireplace must also be properly built to handle any possible sparks.

Wood burning stove unit. Photo: Cornell Cooperative Extension

Wood Burning units also require special attention to safety. Tips from GuideOne Insurance company regarding wood burning stoves include:

  • Prepare the chosen area properly to ensure there is adequate clearance from combustible materials. This includes floors, furniture, drapes, newspapers, books, and walls of plaster, drywall or paneling. Check with your local building inspector to determine clearance standards in your area.
  • Install and maintain fire alarms on each level of your home.
  • Install and maintain a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Inspect stovepipes and chimneys regularly for creosote accumulation.
  • Keep small children away from the stove. A touch to the stove’s surface can result in severe burns.
  • Develop and practice an escape route from all rooms in the house, especially bedrooms.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Conduct proper and regular maintenance of the stove. This can reduce the risk of fire.

Be sure to stay ahead of winter the WOWK StormTracker 13 App free from the App Store or Google Play.

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