The coming colder weather in months ahead will be the peak season for home fires due to the use of heating devices: Fireplaces, chimneys, furnaces, and space heaters. Let’s highlight the prevention of these types of fires by reviewing how to select, use, maintain, and properly locate these devices in your home.
Fireplaces and Chimneys
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) there are approximately 25,000 chimney fires yearly, with resulting property damage of approximately $125 million. Proper cleaning of the fireplace and chimney and structural maintenance is essential to prevent these kinds of fires. If a fireplace is used more than 6 times a year the chimney will need to be cleared of soot and creosote. This needs to be done by a professional chimney sweep.
Chimney sweeping logs can be purchased and are nontoxic. These logs as they burn, chemically secret substances causing creosote to flake off. The flaking is not sufficient to reduce the risk of a chimney fire. In a sense, the flakes that fall off can be viewed as an initial step to allow the chimney sweep to effectively and efficiently, eliminate the bulk of the creosote.
Assessment of structural damage to chimneys is another task for a professional chimney sweep. Chimneys can be blocked by animals, nests, and dirt. If smoke is prevented by blockage from exiting the chimney it will exit into your home.
Chimney cracks create gas leakage and carbon monoxide can fill the home, which as readers of our safety articles, you know can be deadly.
If you only use your fireplace a few times each year, don’t make the mistake of thinking you don’t need to check it each year. When the fire starts, it’s too late to check on it’s safe operation.
Prevention of the fire in the fireplace from becoming a fire outside the fireplace, is accomplished two ways: Glass fireplace doors AND diffusion screens to prevent embers from escaping. Keeping other flammable materials away from the fireplace opening is a must.
Below is a review of additional safety tips.
- Avoid burns by wearing gloves with leather exteriors and Kevlar stitching.
- Do not use the fireplace to burn anything but seasoned wood, sized for your fireplace as other woods release toxins.
- Remember three feet as a distance anything flammable should be kept from a fire source.
- Make sure your smoke alarms are functioning and tested monthly, batteries replaced in recommended time frame.
- Carbon Monoxide alarms installed on each floor of the home.
- Have a functional, accessible fire extinguisher in your home
Every home heating system has a furnace its either electric or gas powered. Home heating is not required in warm weather, but when the weather gets cold, homeowners may turn on their furnaces expecting all is well.
Furnaces are quite complex, and all parts need to function appropriately for a furnace to operate safely. Furnaces should be inspected every fall proactively, by a qualified HVAC professional, prior to the weather becoming cold. Any component of a furnace not functioning smoothly can be the cause of a fire. Specific components include air filters, gas pressure controls, and heat exchangers.
Air Filters: Air filters are the first path of entry for incoming air. The air containing impurities such as dust, dirt, pollen, pet hair etc... can clog the filter. Compromised air flow results in the furnace needing more fresh air, working harder and overheating, which can cause a fire.
Recommendations for filter change is: 1-2 inch filters every 1 to 3 months; 3-4 inch filters every 6 to 9 month; 5-6 inch filters every 9 to 12 months.
This unit transfers heated air into the ducts and vents that carry it into your home. Cracks form in the unit over time and repeated use. They can be difficult to see unless the unit is heated up. Cracks allow carbon monoxide and other toxic gases into the home. The gasses in of themselves, in addition to being toxic are a fire hazard.
Flame Roll Out
Flames in a closed combustion unit escaping out of the unit and igniting flammable materials nearby is called flame roll out. This is a very dangerous occurrence. It is important to provide the inspections noted above. Additionally, it is important to keep flammable materials at least three feet from the furnace.
Space heaters are quite popular for providing warmth for cold rooms. It is not surprising therefore that space heater fires are most common in the months of December, January, and February. Most of these fires involve space heaters placed too close to objects that are combustible, typically bedding, upholstered furniture or curtains.
The following safety tips are from the NFPA:
- Space Heaters should be placed on a hard flat, nonflammable surface. They are intended for use on floors Do not place on a desk or table.
- Maintain 3 ft between space heaters and any flammable The 3 ft distance from space heater applies to children and pets as well.
- The 3 feet rule also applies to anything flammable and especially note furniture, bedding, and curtains.
- Space heaters should not be used around paint, gas cans or
- Unplug the space heater when not in use. Pull the plug out of the outlet. After, pulling the plug check for any cord It is unsafe to use a frayed or worn cord.
- A space heater may not be used with an extension cord, or share an outlet with another device, as this may cause overheating.
Other things to check when buying a space heater are:
- Certification from independent Look for a UL mark, an ETL label or certification from CSA international.
- Automatic shut off for This is a critical must have feature.
- Ground fault circuit interrupter (CFCI) This prevents electric shock. Never use an extension cord or power strip with a space heater.
We hope that with these reminders and a few recommendations applicable to winter heating appliances, this will ensure that you and your family have a cozy, safe, and successful new year.