Although the first day of winter is more than three weeks away, overnight temperatures are dipping into the 30s and 40s, you’ve likely pulled out the winter comforters and turned up the thermostat.
The high cost of home heating and utilities, however, cause economically stressed families to explore alternative heating options such as space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves. While these alternative methods of heating can be safe, they’re also a major contributing factor in residential fires, according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
“Working smoke alarms provide early notification to the presence of smoke. They can alert you and your family to danger,” says State Fire Marshal Charles Duffy. “By frequently practicing a home escape plan, household members will be more familiar with exit strategies.”
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is another danger, especially when using fuel-burning heating equipment. CO is known as the “silent killer” because the gas has no odor, color or taste. At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects often mistaken for flu symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, and fatigue.
Preventing Home Heating Fires:
Fireplaces and Wood Stoves –
- Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (3 feet) from combustible surfaces as well as proper floor support and protection. Have your chimney inspected annually and cleaned, if necessary.
- Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out and unwanted material from going in. Keep flammable or combustible materials away from your fireplace mantel.
- Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. Allow ashes to cool and dispose of them in a metal container.
Space Heaters –
- Be sure your heater is in good working condition. Inspect for cracked, frayed or broken plugs or loose connections and exhaust parts for carbon buildup. Be sure the heater has an emergency shut off in case it is tipped over.
- Space heaters need space. Keep all things that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least 3 feet away from heating equipment.
- Never use fuel burning appliances without proper room venting, burning fuel can produce deadly fumes. Use ONLY the fuel recommended by the heater manufacturer.
- Plug power cords only into outlets with sufficient capacity and never into an extension cord.
Carbon Monoxide Safety:
- Have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune-up your home’s central heating system and repair leaks or other problems. Fireplaces and woodstoves should also be inspected each year and cleaned or repaired as needed.
- Never use an oven or range to heat your home and never use a gas or charcoal grill inside your home or in a closed garage.
- Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of CO.
Protect Your Home:
- Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home - when one sounds, they all sound. Test smoke alarms at least once a month.
- Install a carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside each sleeping area. CO alarms measure levels of the gas over time and are designed to sound an alarm before an average, healthy adult would experience symptoms.
*Editor's Note: Fire safety tips provided by the Office of the State Fire Marshal.