With the recent temperature drop, city residents have begun using portable heating devices to help keep their homes warm. While many are anxious to get their units up and running quickly, safe measures and precautions should always be taken to ensure a safe, warm home through the upcoming winter. Heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires during the months of December, January and February, and trails only cooking equipment in home fires year-round.
Residents that utilize wall space heaters or other heating device should remember to pull all furniture and other combustible items at least three feet away from any heating devices Space heaters are temporary heating devices and should only be used for a limited time each day and should never be connected to an outlet with an extension cord. When not in use, be sure to unplug the unit and let it cool down if you will be storing the unit. Keep a window ajar or the door open in a room where an unvented heater is in use. Never use heaters to dry clothing or other combustibles. Electric heaters with frayed or damaged cords should never be used. Young children should be kept away from any appliance that has hot surfaces that can cause burns. Kerosene heaters should be cleaned and wicks replaced annually.
A floor furnace when installed properly provides safe warm even heat through the natural convection of circulating warm air. Like all heating appliances it needs maintenance provided by trained and qualified personnel. A floor furnace that has not been used for several months will most likely have a build-up of dust and dirt on the heating element. This can cause a burning smell when first operated for the season. Most floor furnaces are located in a high traffic area and this causes some unique safety hazards.
- Never store anything close to the furnace especially if it can fall into the furnace.
- Never place anything over or on a floor furnace even in time of non use.
- Watch out for children, the grate is a burn hazard.
- Watch to make sure that children don't put things into the furnace.
Gas or Electric Furnaces
Gas and electric furnaces need maintenance provided by trained and qualified personnel. Furnaces that have not been used for several months will most likely have a build-up of dust and dirt on heating elements. This can cause a burning smell when first operated for the season. Replace the filter monthly or as needed. Never store combustibles close to the furnace.
Before using the fireplace for the first time in a season, make sure the flue is open. The flue is a trap door that keeps heat out in the summer and cool air from coming in when the fireplace is not in use. You can check it by looking up the chimney to see if you are able to see daylight. If there are any obstructions, remove them. If not removed, these obstructions will cause carbon monoxide to back up into your home. Carbon monoxide is a deadly, odorless and invisible gas. Artificial logs made from wax and sawdust should be used one at a time. Pressure-treated wood should not be burned in stoves or fireplaces because it contains toxic chemicals that can make you sick. Never leave a fireplace unattended. Chimneys and vents should be inspected and cleaned annually. Have chimneys inspected and cleaned when necessary by a professional chimney sweep. Creosote is an unavoidable product of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. Creosote builds up in connectors and chimney flues and can cause a chimney fire. Don't burn newspapers or other trash in a fireplace because they burn too hot and can ignite a chimney fire.
Coal and Wood Burning Stoves
Use coal only if specifically approved by the stove manufacturer. Gasoline or other flammable liquids should never be used to start a wood fire since it might explode or flare up. Never use gasoline in kerosene heaters. Gasoline or other flammable liquids should never be used to start a wood fire since it might explode or flare up. The directions on artificial logs made from wax and sawdust say they should be used one at a time in fireplaces and never used in wood stoves. This is because the heat can melt the log causing it to flare up or leak burning liquid from the appliance. Pressure-treated wood should not be burned in stoves or fireplaces because it contains toxic chemicals that can make you sick.
Barbecues should never be used indoors or as a heating device. Barbecues produce large amounts of carbon monoxide.
- Space heaters need space. Portable space heaters need a three-foot (one meter) clearance from anything that can burn and should always be turned off when leaving the room or going to sleep.
- When buying a new unit, make sure it carries the mark of an independent testing lab. Be sure that a qualified technician installs the unit or checks that the unit has been installed properly.
- Wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, chimney connectors, and all other solid-fueled heating equipment need to be inspected annually by a professional and cleaned as often as the inspections indicate.
- Portable kerosene heaters must be fueled only in a well-ventilated area, free of flame and other heat sources, and only when the device has cooled completely. Use only the type of kerosene specified by the manufacturer for that device, and never use gasoline instead of kerosene. Also, be sure that portable kerosene heaters are legal for home use in your state.
- When turning a heating device on or off, be careful to follow the manufacturer's instructions. When buying heaters, look for devices with automatic shutoff features.
- Be sure any gas-fueled heating device is installed with proper attention to ventilation, and never put unvented gas space heaters in bedrooms or bathrooms. Also, LP (liquefied petroleum) gas heaters with self-contained fuel supplies are prohibited for home use by NFPA codes.