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January 2013

Home Heating Safety Tips for Winter

With winter here and the cost of heating a home steadily rising, many are searching for alternate home heating sources.

Home Heating Safety Tips for Winter

Wood burning stoves, fireplaces and space heaters are being utilized to help lower heating costs. Unfortunately, as the use of these items has increased they have become major contributing factors in residential fires.

In 2010, the American Red Cross responded to more than 63,000 home fires. A fire can become life-threatening in about two minutes, and a residence can be immersed in flames in five. The loss of life and property resulting from heating fires can be prevented by identifying potential hazards and following both the manufacturers' operating guidelines along with the following safety tips.

Heating sources and home fire safety

Electric Space Heaters- Before using a space heater check that the heater has a thermostat control mechanism, and that it will switch off automatically should the heater tip over. Always plug space heaters directly into wall outlets and never into an extension cord or power strip, and always unplug an electric space heater when not in use. Do not leave heaters on if you leave or go to sleep, and keep children and pets away from them. Only purchase heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Wood Stoves- If you use a wood stove to heat your residence make sure to carefully follow the manufacturer's installation and maintenance instructions. Before using the stove, inspect the unit to make sure there are not any cracks, make sure the legs are secure and that hinges and door operate smoothly and seal correctly. Inspect and clean pipes and chimneys annually and check monthly for possible damage or obstructions.

Kerosene Heaters- Before using a kerosene heater in your residence check with your local fire department for regulations pertaining to their use. When refueling, allow the appliance to cool first and always refuel outside. Only use a kerosene heater in a well-ventilated room, and never fill your heater with gasoline or camp stove fuel, as both can flare-up easily. As with space heaters, purchase heaters that have been evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Fireplaces- While seemingly simple to operate, fireplaces are more complex than they seem. Fireplaces can build up creosote in their chimneys, need to be cleaned frequently and should be inspected for obstructions and cracks to prevent chimney and roof fires. Before starting any fire check to make sure the damper is open. Never burn trash, paper or green wood in your fireplace, as these materials can cause creosote to build up in the chimney. Make sure the fireplace has a screen large enough to cover the entire opening of the fireplace and heavy enough to stop a rolling log.

The final step in safely using a fireplace to heat your home involves extinguishing the fire. Before leaving your residence or going to bed make sure the fire is completely out. Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them in a tightly covered metal container. Keep this container at least 10 feet away from your home and any other nearby buildings. Never empty the ash directly into a trash can, and to be safe, saturate the ashes with water.

Keep your house safe

There are numerous ways to help lessen the risk of a home fire: have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist, clear the area around the fireplace of debris, decorations or flammable materials and always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass door. Remember that heating equipment needs open space around it, and to keep anything flammable at least three feet away. To help you and your family prepare, the American Red Cross offers a fire safety checklist. For additional fire prevention tips read these home fire prevention tips from Farmers Insurance.

Finally, having working smoke alarms throughout your residence dramatically increases the chances of surviving a fire. Develop a home escape plan for your family and practice it regularly. With some planning and diligence you can keep your family warm and safe, and perhaps even save a few dollars in the process.

Note: This information only serves as an educational guideline and is not to be taken as advice. 21st Century Insurance is not responsible for any injury or loss that may occur due to use of this information.

Sources: nfpa.org; usfa.fema.gov; ready.gov; redcross.org; hpba.org;

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