Heating Safety

Heating Safety

Research suggests more than one-third of home fires in the United States occur during the winter months of December, January, and February. One of the reasons those months pose a magnified fire threat is due to increased use of heating sources, such as chimneys and wood stoves. It is important to follow these heating safety tips:

  • Inspect and clean your furnace prior to the upcoming heating season. Oil motors and replace belts if worn.
  • If you have a fireplace or wood burning stove, have the chimney cleaned and inspected prior to use to prevent a back-up of deadly fumes. Wood stoves should be installed per manufacturer's instructions.
  • Inspect oil or coal furnaces to be sure they are operating properly.
  • Use only clean dry wood, do not burn trash. Use a metal container for ash removal and store it outside.
  • Use a glass or metal screen in front of your fireplace to prevent sparks from igniting combustible items near the fire.

Alternate Heat Sources

When selecting an alternative heater, look for one that has been tested and labeled by a Nationally recognized testing laboratory.

  • Make sure your alternative heaters have "tip switches." These "tip switches" are designed to automatically turn off the heater in the event of it tips over.
  • Read and follow the manufacturer's operating instructions. A good practice is to read aloud the instructions and warning labels to all members of the household to be certain that everyone understands how the heater is to be operated safely. Keep the owner's manual in a convenient place to refer to when needed.
  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters. Some heaters have very hot surfaces. Some heaters could operate dangerously if children are permitted to either adjust the controls or tip or jar the heater.
  • Keep doors open to the rest of the house if you are using an unvented, fuel-burning space heater. This helps to prevent pollutant build-up and promotes proper combustion. Even vented heaters require ventilation for proper combustion.
  • Never use a space heater overnight in the room where you are sleeping. Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide could accumulate from fuel-fired heaters, or uncontrolled burning could cause a fire.
  • Never use or store flammable liquids (such as gasoline) around a space heater. The flammable vapors can flow from one part of the room to another and be ignited by the open flame or by the electrical circuit of an electric heater.
  • Place heaters at least three feet away from objects such as bedding, furniture and drapes. Never use heaters to dry clothes or shoes. Do not place heaters where towels or other objects could fall on the heater and start a fire.
  • NEVER LEAVE A BURNING HEATER UNATTENDED. Extinguish your heater if you're leaving the room or area for more than a few minutes. Never use an unvented heater while you're sleeping or bedridden.

Choose a Location Carefully

  • Be sure the location you choose can be ventilated according to manufacturer's instructions.
  • Don't place a heater in a doorway, hall, or walkway where it's likely to get bumped.

Kerosene Space Heaters

  • Never use gasoline in a kerosene heater. Even small quantities of gasoline in the heater tank can cause a fire.
  • Use only 1-K kerosene in kerosene heaters. Kerosene should be purchased from a dealer who can certify that it is 1-K grade kerosene. The fact that kerosene is "water clear" does not ensure that it is 1-K, since both 1-K and 2-K can appear clear.
  • Never fill the fuel tank of a kerosene heater beyond the full mark because as the fuel warms, it expands and could spill and cause a fire.
  • Do not attempt to move the heater, remove the fuel tank, or refuel the heater when it is operating or hot.
  • Refuel heater out of doors.
  • In case flare-up or uncontrolled flaming occurs, do not attempt to move the heater. If your heater is equipped with a manual shut-off switch, activate the switch to turn off the heater. If activation of the shut-off switch does not extinguish the flame, leave the area and immediately call the fire department.
  • Keep kerosene stored outside in a seated blue container labeled "Kerosene."

Electric Heaters

  • NEVER USE YOUR HEATER NEAR WATER. Water is a good conductor of electricity and increases the changes of electric shock. Don't touch an electric heater if your hands are wet or you're in contact with water in any way. Never use an electric heater:
    • In a bathroom
    • In a damp basement
    • Near water
    • Touching an electric heating element while it's on can cause a serious burn or shock. Some heaters have electrically "live" elements whenever they're plugged in--even if the switch is turned off! The best way to prevent accidental shock or burns is to unplug your portable electric heater whenever it's not being used. Always unplug it before going to bed.
    • Be sure the grill protects the heating elements from children's fingers and toys.
    • Be sure that the grill, cover or sides don't become hot enough to burn when touched.
    • Make sure there's a tip-over switch or a heat sensor (or both) that turns off the heater if it falls over.
    • Plug your heater directly into an outlet if possible. If you must use an extension cord, be sure its electrical rating is as high as the one listed on the heater. 
    • Some electrical heaters use the full capacity of a normal household circuit. You may not be able to use other appliances at the same time.
    • If a fuse blows or a circuit breaker trips, unplug your heater before replacing the fuse or resetting the breaker. 
    • Call a professional if you have any signs of a wiring problem--frequently blown fuses, dimmed lights, hot cords or outlets.

Cooking Safety

  • In case the power fails, plan to use alternative cooking devices in accordance with manufacturer's instructions.
  • Never use open flames or grills indoors.
  • Do not use the kitchen oven range to heat your home. In addition to being a fire hazard, it can be a source of toxic fumes.

Be Prepared for an Emergency

  • Equip your home with at least one smoke detector on each floor.
  • If your smoke detectors do not have battery back-up, the Fire Department recommends that you also have battery operated smoke detectors in case of a power outage.
  • Provide carbon monoxide detectors.
  • KEEP FIRE EXTINGUISHERS CHARGED AND HANDY--including one near your portable heater. A multi-purpose extinguisher (Class ABC) can be used on all types of fires.
  • Develop a fire escape plan before a fire occurs. Be certain that all members of the household understand the plan and are able to carry out the plan in case of an emergency.
  • Be sure the plan includes a predetermined meeting place outside the house.
  • If your clothing catches fire, don't run! Drop down immediately and roll to smother the flames. Teach your family how to do this.
  • If there is a fire hydrant near your home or business, please keep it free of snow.