There is something about the winter months and curling up with a good book by the fireplace. But did you know that heating equipment is one of the leading causes of home fire deaths? With a few simple safety tips and precautions, you can prevent most heating fires from happening.
FACT: Half of home heating fires are reported during the months of December, January, and February.
To stay warm and safe, let’s review fireplace and space heater safety. Generators are not associated with quite as many fires, and when they are the cause of a fire, often it is due to incorrect fuel use. Generators however when used in incorrect settings are associated with carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide poisoning. It is important to always follow safety recommendations and purchase approved products.
Fireplaces fires are frequently due to poor maintenance. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates about 25,000 chimney fires a year and $125 million in property loss.
Consider the following:
- Chimneys that are not cleaned regularly can be blocked by animals, nests, dirt, and prevent smoke from escaping out of the chimney. This of course means the smoke will fill up in your house, which is both unhealthy and unsafe. Professional chimney sweeps can clear debris and prevent chimney fires.
- Hot ashes that escape the hearth can land anywhere in a living room, causing a fire. It is critical to clean ashes and left-over coals. Professional tools for cleaning fireplaces are readily available in stores and online. Typically, this involves a dustpan, broom, tongs, and poker. The tool kit and rack allow the tools to be available for use in the fireplace rather than your living room. Be attentive while cleaning, to hot coals, ashes, and embers. Allow these hot items to cool before removing.
- Prevent burns with heat resistant gloves. The NFPA recommends gloves with leather exteriors and Kevlar stitching. Remember, the cleaner the hearth, the less chance of buildup in the box. Fireplaces should also have a screen and/or glass doors to provide a barrier for embers flying out into living room.
General Safety Tips for Fireplaces:
- Maintain 3 ft distance between fireplace and any combustible substance such as kindling, matches, paper, magazines, tissues and furniture.
- Use approved fuel from a trusted supplier. Unsafe fuel can produce unsafe vapors which are dangerous if inhaled. Inappropriate fuel can also leave residue in the chimney which can damage the chimney, and in turn be the cause of a chimney fire. Never burn household trash, or glue or plastic or driftwood.
- Wood for a fireplace should be seasoned and sized so that it fits the space. Do not use painted wood. Do not use pressurized wood as it contains arsenic and is extremely toxic, and illegal. Do not use man made woods like particleboard or plywood or chipboard. These materials release dangerous chemicals containing formaldehyde and, in some cases, dioxin or hydrochloric acid. Damp wood does not burn efficiently and will cause creosote accumulation in the chimney.
- Safe fuel suggestions for fireplaces include dried cut firewood usually mixed hard wood and soft woods. The soft wood ignites quickly and helps start the fire; the hard woods burn longer-
- Never use gasoline or an accelerant to start a fireplace fire.
- Never leave fire unattended. We all know this, yet unattended fires are the main cause of house fires due to a fireplace. Embers fly out of fireplace onto furniture, rugs, without warning and can ignite a room in minutes.
- As with all safety recommendations involving fire safety: Make sure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are functional. Make sure fire extinguisher is available and you know how to use it.
A few words on carbon monoxide alarms: Place the alarms about 5 feet off the ground or higher, which can include the ceiling. Do not place the alarm next to a source of flame or a fireplace. Do not place within reach of children or pets. Choose a UL approved alarm. Your smoke alarm is not a Carbon Monoxide alarm and thus both a smoke alarm for early fire detection and a carbon monoxide alarm are needed. Don’t forget to test your regular smoke alarms at least once a month.
Electric and Portable Space Heaters
According to the Consumer Products Safety Organization 1,1000 fires, approximately 50 deaths, dozens of injuries, and millions of dollars in property loss are associated with space heaters. Space Heaters in recent years have added safety features: Coils are insulated, many have automatic shut off valves set at 70 degrees. Additionally, if air passages are blocked, a sensor will alert user. Space heaters are powered by electricity or by burnable fuel such as natural gas, propane, fuel oil, or wood pellets. Portable space heaters are usually electric, because a permanent exhaust is needed for heaters which burn fuel.
- Keep anything that can burn at least three feet (one meter) away from heating equipment, like the furnace, or portable space heater.
- Space heaters should be placed on the floor, as opposed to a shelf, or a rug. Heater should always be on a flat surface, to prevent tipping over. A space heater should never be placed on a flammable surface, or near water.
- Have a three-foot (one meter) “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
- Never use your oven to heat your home.
- Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
- Don’t use extensions cords or power strips to supply electrical power to the heater.
- Have heating equipment inspected every year by a qualified professional.
- Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
- For fuel burning space heaters, use the right type of fuel specified by the manufacturer.
- All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.