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Safety Tips for Heating Your Home

Rick Johnson Insurance Agency
Heating your home in the winter can account for nearly half of your total utility costs and can be your single largest expenditure for the year.

In the interest of keeping you toasty and safe this winter, here are safety tips for each of the five common ways of heating a home.

Electric space heaters
Electric space heaters are the number-one cause of house fires in the United States. They account for more than 25,000 fires a year, 80% of all winter heating fire deaths, and 70% of all injuries due to house fires. The cause is most often a heater that has been left unattended or left too close to a combustible material such as a blanket or curtain.

Do not leave an electric space heater unattended. If you are using an extension cord make sure it is rated for the wattage the heater draws. This information is normally printed on the cord itself and the information plate on the heater.

Kerosene heaters
The biggest dangers from kerosene heaters lie in two areas. The first is that many accidental fires are started from fuel being spilled while the heater is still hot or burning. To reduce the chance of this happening, be sure the heater is off and has had time to cool before fueling. Clean up any spills immediately.

The second concern is that kerosene heaters consume oxygen and can produce carbon monoxide and other deadly fumes. They should only be used in well-ventilated areas. Drowsiness and lethargy are early signs of asphyxiation. If you feel woozy while using a kerosene heater, get fresh air immediately.

Wood stoves
A wood fire can warm a home in more ways than one, but is not without dangers. Whether you are using a wood stove or fireplace for heat, be sure you know what precautions to take. Don’t leave a fire unattended, do not put combustible materials close to the fire, and discard all ashes outside in a metal container with a lid to avoid the risk of causing fires.

A properly designed and installed fireplace or wood stove should not let smoke into your home. If you smell smoke, it means your unit is not drafting properly and could present a danger of asphyxiation. You should call a certified technician to check it immediately.

Oil and gas furnaces
Furnaces and boilers are not only the most common ways people heat their homes; they are also among the safest. However, if  you smell fuel or see soot, your furnace unit needs servicing.

The primary danger of oil and gas furnaces lies in fumes or carbon monoxide building up and leading to asphyxiation. Ironically, as homeowners have become more astute about winterizing their homes to reduce air leaks and heat loss, this problem has become more prevalent due to a lack of ventilation.

Do not place combustible objects near a furnace, vents or radiators, since heat can present a fire hazard. Don’t restrict airflow to your unit as it can affect the burn efficiency and could heighten the risk of asphyxiation.

Heat pumps
Heat pumps typically are considered the safest way to heat a home. They produce no fumes. And their safety features mean there is almost no chance of their starting a fire. They may not be quite as economical as other forms of heating, but their safety features make them a top choice.

Heat pumps do rarely cause “dirty sock syndrome” due to bacterial or fungal growth. This problem usually is evidenced by a musty or “locker room” smell. To minimize this risk, be sure to keep filters clean and have your coils cleaned at least once a year.

Beyond this, common-sense measures include keeping vents and registers cleared of objects. Restricting airflow can cause the unit to malfunction and could possibly lead to a fire hazard.

No matter how you are heating your home this winter, make sure you put safety first.

Rick Johnson
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