At the end of a cold winter’s day, nothing compares to a warm and cozy house to come home to. We heat our homes in many forms – gas, electric, portable space heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves – and all can pose a safety threat to not only your Northern Virginia home, but to your family as well. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fires from heating units are the second leading cause of all residential fires, and about half of all heating equipment fires are reported during the months of December, January and February.
The good news is that it’s possible to stay warm and safe this winter by following a few simple suggestions. From carbon monoxide leaks to chimney fires, learn how to safely heat your home by watching out for these potential hazards.
- To ensure that your home remains free of dangerous smoke, have your chimney professionally cleaned before lighting the season’s first fire.
- Employ glass doors or fireplace screens to keep embers from flying onto rugs and carpets.
- Use only seasoned hardwood, such as oak, maple or ash, and do not burn cardboard boxes or trash.
- Make sure ashes are cool before scooping them into a metal container, and keep the container a safe distance from your home.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors. Carbon monoxide, also known as the silent killer, is the cause of approximately 300 residential deaths per year. Keep at least one near every sleeping area in your home.
- Have a professional annually examine and clean your heating unit, repairing any potentially deadly leaks.
- If you notice the smell of gas, immediately put out all flames in your home. Electrical appliances may create sparks, so refrain from using until the problem is solved. Immediately turn off all gas appliances and make sure the pilot lights are out. Immediately call the gas company and evacuate your home.
- A pilot light flame should be blue; if it is red or yellow, call for service.
- Never leave electric space heaters unattended. Position them far away from flammable objects, people, pets, curtains and furniture, and be sure to unplug them when not in use.
- Only purchase electric heaters with the UL safety listing, and get one that automatically shuts off if tipped over.
- Check electrical cords for wear and tear and check plugs for loose or exposed parts. Keep cords away from the heat source and never drape them over a hot surface.
- Put space heaters on tile or another hard surface, not on a rug or carpet.
- For fuel burning space heaters, always use the fuel specified by the unit’s manufacturer.
- High humidity can pose a shock hazard, so do not use an electric space heater in the bathroom unless the manufacturer’s manual clearly state it’s safe to do so.
- Never use a stovetop, oven or gas or charcoal grill to heat your home.
- Regardless of the heat source, practice the 3-foot rule: anything that puts out heat needs three clear feet in all directions – above, below, left and right.
- Clean air vents by removing their covers and vacuuming out any debris and dust.
- Make sure all smoke alarms are functioning and test them monthly.
From equipment that offers higher efficiency ratings, to safe and more diverse designs, manufacturers are constantly working to improve your home heating options. Be sure to follow these fire-safety tips and suggestions to ensure a safe winter season. And, as a fire can occur in any part of your home, use this handy checklist to make a regular safety check of your home.