Heating Safety

The latest statistics from the National Fire Protection Association say that heating equipment is involved in most reported U.S. home structure fires. Those fires amounted to deaths, injuries, and billions in direct property damage.

Space heaters are the main culprit.  Whether portable or stationary, space heaters accounted for 82% of home heating fire deaths.  One of the most dangerous things you can do is put a space heater too close to things that can burn (such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses and bedding).

Home Heating Units Can be Dangerous

  • Keep children and pets away from supplementary heating appliances.
  • Never use a space heater overnight in the room where you are sleeping. It should never be left unattended.
  • Place heaters at least three feet away from objects such as bedding, furniture, draperies, and other combustibles.
  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions in installing, operating, and maintaining your heating appliance.
  • Keep a properly maintained smoke detector on all levels of your home and close to sleeping areas.

Electric Space Heaters
Portable electric heaters are not substitutes for central heating. Nor are they designed for extended use.

  • All types must be kept at least 36 inches from anything that can burn, including furniture, bedding, clothing, pets and people.
  • Space heaters must not be left operating when you are not in the room, or when you go to sleep.
  • Children should be supervised at all times when space heaters are in use.
  • Do not put drying clothing or combustibles over heaters.
  • Check for fraying or splitting wires, or overheating. Have problems repaired by a professional before operating the space heater.

Kerosene Heaters
"Flare-up" fires are responsible for the majority of kerosene heater fires. An analysis of kerosene related accidents concluded that flare-up (uncontrolled flaming: occurs as a result of several factors, including the use of improper or contaminated fuels. That investigation concluded that one method for substantially reducing the risk of flare-up is for consumers to make sure they use only 1K kerosene as a fuel, never use gasoline or non-kerosene fuels.

In addition, kerosene heaters can emit air pollutants during operation. In an enclosed room, these pollutants can accumulate and prove harmful. This situation can be aggravated if the heater wick is lowered beyond the manufacturer's recommended setting. Therefore, before using a kerosene heater, people need to set the wick at the recommended height and make sure there is adequate ventilation.

Wood Stoves
Wood and coal burning have also been responsible for many home heating accidents. The dangers associated with this type of heating system are fire and burns resulting from improper installation and creosote buildup.

Due to the number of accidents that have occurred, The CPSC has issued a labeling rule on wood stoves to provide a permanent reference to proper installation, operation maintenance procedures and to raise consumer awareness of these dangers.

  • When installing a wood stove, make certain that it is placed on the surface and at the distance from the wall recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Most wood heating fires have occurred in the chimney. Such fires can result from poorly constructed or damaged masonry chimneys, poor installation of factory built chimneys or the ignition of creosote, a tar-like residue which builds up in chimneys over time and is caused by low temperature fires.
  • To reduce the risk of fire, existing masonry chimneys should be inspected and repaired if necessary. Also, special care must be taken when installing a factory-built chimney to ensure it is kept the required distance from nearby combustible materials. 
  • Have your chimneys checked by a qualified chimney sweep before, as well as during, the heating season to prevent a dangerous creosote buildup and resultant chimney fire.
  • Both the fireplace and chimney should be checked for structural integrity. 
  • Never burn trash, charcoal or plastics in your wood burning appliance. These items can overheat your stove or fireplace causing a fire. They can also cause a buildup of pollutants when burned in a fireplace. Always make sure the area is properly ventilated.

Gas Heaters
Gas heating equipment can also lead to tragedy if not installed or used properly. These products are associated with the twin dangers of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • All new un-vented gas-fired space heaters are equipped with an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS). An ODS detects a reduced level of oxygen in the area where the heater is operating and shuts off the heater before a hazardous level of carbon monoxide accumulates. These heaters also have labels that warn users about the hazards of carbon monoxide.
  • If you have an older un-vented gas fired space heater that does not have an ODS, consider replacing it with a new, ODS- equipped model.
  • If the pilot light of your heater should go out, remember these tips:
    • Allow five minutes or more for the gas to go away before trying again.
    • Do not allow gas to accumulate.
    • Light the match before you turn on the gas to the pilot. This avoids the risk of a flashback, which could occur if you allow gas to accumulate before you are ready to light the pilot.

IF YOU SMELL GAS, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO LIGHT THE APPLIANCE. Turn off all controls and open a window or door. Leave the area, and then call a gas service person. 

  • DO NOT touch any electrical surfaces.
  • If your space heater is meant to be vented, be sure the heater and flue are professionally installed according to local codes. Vent systems require regular maintenance and inspections. Vented heaters  provide a thermal shut-off device if the appliance is not vented properly.
  • With a few precautionary steps, such as checking the furnace to ensure it is properly vented, you can reduce the chances of an accident. Read instruction manuals and take time to get acquainted with the operation of your heating unit before starting it up. Let's make this winter an especially safe heating season.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
About 230 people die each year from CO poisoning related to fuel burning household appliances, such as furnaces, space heaters, water heaters, clothes dryers, kitchen ranges, wood stoves and fireplaces.

Each year, approximately 25 people die and hundreds more suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning when they burn charcoal in enclosed areas such as their homes - in a bedroom or living room for heat or cooking. Some also burn charcoal in campers or vans, or in tents.

When inhaled, carbon monoxide, a tasteless, odorless gas, is easily absorbed into the blood. The gas is lethal when it replaces the amount of oxygen needed to sustain heart and brain function.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and nausea, are often dismissed as a "touch of the flu," even by doctors.

Safety Tips:

  • Never use a vented-type heater without proper venting the flue (chimney).
  • Follow manufacturer's recommendations for the proper size heater and for its installation, maintenance and use. Have it professionally installed, if possible.
  • Have your heater installation checked by the local fire marshal, building inspector, or gas company before lighting.
  • Never use a heater that is in disrepair. Always keep your heater in proper operating condition.
  • Turn off the heater if the burner flame looks strange, i.e., yellow flames, unsteady flames, or smoky flames.
  • Turn off the heater, ventilate the room and get into the fresh air if you feel other than normal, i.e., headache, nausea, fuzzy vision--remember CO does not have a odor and you may become unconscious before you realize there is a problem.
  • Make sure the venting system is open--a blocked vent can cause your space heater to exhaust CO into your living space.
  • Never sleep in a room where a gas heater is burning.
  • Do not operate a gas heater in a completely 'tight' room. The heater needs a source of fresh air to operate safely and efficiently. 'Crack' a window, if needed.