The Risk of Heating Equipment in Your Home
Whether you use a portable space heater to add extra warmth to a room, curl up in front of a fireplace, wood or pellet stove on a snowy afternoon, or come home to a warm, climate controlled house on a cold day, many responsibilities come with using modern household heating equipment. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating equipment is a top cause of home fires and home fire deaths, particularly in the winter months when people use heating equipment more frequently. Understanding the dangers can help keep your home safe from fires caused by heating equipment.
How Dangerous are Heating Equipment Fires?
The NFPA says that roughly 50,000 home heating fires are reported every year in the United States. That’s approximately 16 percent of all annual home fires. The resulting financial and emotional costs are devastating and account for $1 billion in property damage, nearly 500 deaths and 1,500 injuries annually.
Understanding the Causes of Heating Fires
Most heating fires can be prevented if you know the risks and causes. The most common causes for heating related home fires include:
- Failure to clean wood burning devices
- Inadequate clearance around space heaters
- Flaws in the construction, design, or installation of wood-burning heating equipment
Improper heater refueling
Using and Maintaining a Fireplace
For many, a fireplace provides more than a source of warmth; it’s the epicenter of their home during winter months. Whether wood-burning, gas or electric, knowing how to safely use and maintain your fireplace will help you stay safe while enjoying it:
- Always check to confirm your flue is open before starting a fire and close the flue only after the fire is completely extinguished and all embers are cool.
- Install a wire mesh screen at the opening of your fireplace and keep it closed to prevent embers or sparks from escaping.
- Use only dry seasoned wood; never use freshly cut or green wood.
- Have your chimney inspected and cleaned once a year, even if you have a gas fireplace.
- Clean ash and soot out of your chimney regularly so there is never more than 1 inch of buildup.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home - especially when using a gas fireplace.
- Have a professional install a “safety pilot” on gas fireplaces. The safety pilot detects when a gas line becomes too cold or carbon monoxide has built up and will automatically shut the heating unit off.
Using Supplemental Heating Equipment Properly
Improper placement, misuse or malfunction of portable or fixed space heaters, including wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances, is a top cause of heater related home fires. You can help prevent a home heating related fire by following these safety tips when using a portable heater in your home:
- Allow at least 3 feet of unobstructed open space on all sides of heating units.
- Refuel a gas or kerosene heater only when the unit is cool.
- Refuel heaters away from open flames including pilot lights, candles or lit cigarettes.
- Choose a space heater with a "tip switch" that automatically shuts the unit off if it tips over.
Have your wood, pellet or coal stove properly installed and regularly maintained to ensure it remains up to code.
Staying Warm and Safe for Years to Come
Home heating equipment is an essential part of our everyday lives. While enjoying the warmth they provide during the colder temperatures, take proper routine maintenance and safety precautions to help prevent a devastating fire.