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Are There Hidden Heating Hazards in Your Home?

By Gay Falkowski

When chilly temps arrive it’s time to close the windows and warm up your home. If you’re thrifty, you may rely on space heaters, fireplaces, wood burning stoves, and electric blankets to help lower utility costs. No matter which heating method you use, beware of common fire/fume hazards and always follow recommended safety measures. People with multiple sclerosis must also be careful about getting too warm, which can cause symptoms to flare. Stay safe as you stay comfortably warm this winter with these fire/fume prevention tips:

1) Keep anything that can burn such as upholstered furniture, mattresses, and clothing (as well as kids and pets) at least three feet away from heating equipment.

2) Install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms to avoid the risk of CO poisoning. If you smell gas in a gas heater don’t light the appliance. Leave the home immediately and call 911 or your gas company. 

3) Test smoke alarms at least once a month. 

4) Never use your oven or range to heat your home. They can release toxic fumes.

5) A qualified professional should clean and inspect heating equipment and chimneys every year. 

6) Cover fireplaces with a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Put cooled ashes in a metal container placed safely away from your home. 

7) Keep tree branches and leaves at least 15 feet away from the top of the chimney.

8) For burning firewood in wood stoves or fireplaces, choose well-seasoned wood that has been split for a minimum of six months to one year and stored in a covered and elevated location. Never burn Christmas trees or treated wood in your fireplace or wood stove.

9) Don't use excessive amounts of paper to build a roaring fire in fireplaces. An overbuilt fire can ignite creosote (a chemical by-product of wood-burning fires) in the chimney.

10) Never burn charcoal indoors because it can give off lethal amounts of carbon dioxide.

11) Make sure your fireplace fire is out before you go to sleep. Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace because it can heat a fire again and force carbon monoxide into the home.

12) Never break apart a synthetic log to quicken the fire. Do not use more than one log at a time. These logs burn unevenly, increasing CO levels.

13) Turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed. Consider running the heater on a timer. Use a plug-in timer if the heater doesn't have one built in. 

14) Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel burning space heaters. 

15) When selecting a new space heater, look for one listed with a nationally recognized testing laboratory. These heaters have been tested to meet specific safety standards, and manufacturers are required to provide important use and care information to the consumer. 

16) A heater with a wire grill around the heating element will prevent accidental burns.

17) Extension cords should be heavy duty and marked with a #14 gauge or larger wire. The wrong sized cord may create a fire hazard. If the heater's plug has a grounding prong, use only a grounding (three-wire) extension cord.

18) Never run the heater's cord (or any cord) under rugs or carpeting.

19) Don’t dry clothing by placing it over an electric heater. 

20) Avoid using space heaters in bathrooms, or other areas where they may come in contact with water.

21) Install wood burning stoves following manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes or have a professional do the installation. All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside to avoid CO poisoning.

22) The stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15 to 30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup.

23) Replace your electric blanket at least every 10 years. Don't buy a second-hand blanket. Make sure the blanket has an overheat protection.

24) If your blanket or any part of the wiring shows any of these danger signs, you should have it checked or replaced:
  • Fraying fabric
  • Scorch marks
  • Exposed elements
  • Soiling
  • Damp patches
  • Damaged or missing tie tapes
  • Loose connections

25) Don't fold electric blankets; it can damage the wiring. Better to roll them or store them by spreading them out on a spare bed.