Heating Safety

Fireplace, Wood Stove, and Space Heater Safety

It is COLD outside, perfect time to build a cozy fire in the fireplace or wood stove.

If you are going to use your fireplace or wood stove, first make sure it’s not a “Spare the Air” day by going to our homepage  or www.sparetheair.org.  If you want to receive email notifications of Spare the Air days, you can register at www.sparetheair.org or by calling (800) 435-7247.  There are also free apps for iPhone and Android.

Fire Places/Wood Burning Stoves

When was the last time you had your chimney cleaned? Chimney fires generally occur because creosote, a sticky black byproduct of wood smoke, accumulates on the inside walls of a chimney flue and catches on fire. Chimney fires can be extremely hot (up to 2,000 degrees) and can quickly destroy a chimney or—worse—your roof and/or your home.

  • It is estimated there are 14,830 creosote fires (26% of all home heating fires) per year, resulting in three civilian deaths, 13 civilian injuries, and $33 million in direct property damage per year.

  • The leading factor contributing to home heating fires (26%) was failure to clean, principally creosote, from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys.

The good news is avoiding chimney fires is easy. It just takes regular inspection and cleaning to ensure that dangerous levels of creosote never build up in your flue. Have a professional inspect your chimney annually (do an internet search for “chimney cleaning’ or “chimney inspection”).  In addition to spotting a dirty flue, an inspector will detect any structural problems that require attention

If you burn wood regularly, you should also do a quick visual check of your flue periodically throughout the winter (if you burn daily, this could be as often as twice a month). The easiest way to check is to reach into the flue with, using a powerful flashlight and small mirror, from the cleanout door at the bottom of your chimney. If you see as little as 1/8 inch of creosote on the sides of your flue, it’s time to clean. Don’t forget to clean the wood-stove stove pipe too.

If you experience a chimney fire (your first clue will likely be a loud roaring sound), immediately get everyone out of the house and call 911.  If you have a wood stove, shut down the air intake and close the damper if safe to do so; then evacuate and call 911.

Space Heater Safety

Many of us use space heaters, especially to heat the room we’re in rather than heating the whole house.  Space heaters, whether portable or stationary, account for one-third of home heating fires and four out of five of home heating-fire deaths.

Placing the heater too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, draperies, clothing, mattress, or bedding, is the leading factor contributing to ignition in fatal home-heating fires and accounts for more than half of home heating fire deaths.

If you use portable space heaters in your home, be extremely careful. Follow these safety rules:

  • Remember that space heaters require SPACE—nothing that can burn should be within three feet of any part of the heater

  • Only use a space heater that is equipped with the safety feature that turns it off immediately if it tips over

  • Establish a three-foot “kid free” zone around any heat source: space heaters, wood stove, etc.

  • Never leave a portable heater unattended

  • Make sure the cord and plug aren’t damaged in any way

  • Make sure the cord is placed such that it doesn’t pose a tripping hazard

  • NEVER use an extension cord or power strip with a space heater:  In most cases the current indicated on the heater is greater than the extension cord can safely handle.

Senior Citizen Heater Safety

Changes to our bodies as we age result in seniors being especially affected by cold, so heat is especially important.  Heating safety is essential because seniors frequently have mobility problems that impair their ability to escape a fire.  If you have seniors in your life, consider these simple safety actions:

  • Provide warm lounging wear: fleece is especially warm; wool is also.

  • Make bed warm without electric blanket, if possible: Use fleece or flannel sheets, fleece or wool blankets, a down comforter.  Suggest wearing a knit cap.

  • If a space heater is necessary, make sure the senior knows how to do it safely and be sure it has the turns-off-when-it-tips-over safety feature.