Home Heating Safety: What You Need to Know

According to the National Fire Protection Association, fires relating to heating equipment made up 16 percent of home fires from 2009 to 2013, and 19 percent of home fire deaths. Improperly used space heaters, poorly maintained furnaces, and other home heating systems can be dangerous, causing everything from fires to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Fortunately, there are many things that you can do to minimize the risk of fires related to heating equipment in your home. Maintaining and using your heating equipment wisely can save your property and prevent tragedy.

How To Inspect Your Furnace or Heating System

It’s important to have your furnace or heating system professionally inspected on a regular basis, preferably before the home heating season begins. If you’re a homeowner, it’s also a good idea for you to perform additional home heating system inspections throughout the heating season. When inspecting your heating system, check for the following:

  • Corrosion, rust, or buildup that could be indicative of a leak.
  • Strange odors, especially the smell of sulfur or rotten eggs.
  • Exposed wires.

If you smell gas, turn off the heating system, leave the house, and call your gas company immediately. If you find evidence of other issues, call an HVAC professional right away.

Check Your Air Filters

The air filter is one part of an HVAC system that is typically maintained by the homeowner. The air filter helps clean the air that passes through the air ducts and prevents dust and grime from building up in the system. Checking and replacing the air filter on a regular basis can help improve your home’s indoor air quality and can protect parts of your HVAC system from excessive wear or damage.

In most HVAC systems, the air filter will be located in a slot between the return air duct and the blower, often near the furnace. To check the air filter, remove it from its slot. If the air filter is dirty, clogged, molding or torn, it needs to be replaced.

The U.S. ENERGY STAR program recommends replacing your home’s air filter every 3 months, but you can check it more frequently and replace it as often as necessary.

How To Maintain Your Home’s Heating System

Maintaining your home’s heating system helps ensure that the system will continue to work properly throughout the winter.

  • Keep flammable items away from your home’s furnace, and ensure good airflow around the unit.
  • Have your home’s furnace inspected annually, before the heating season begins.
  • Turn on your furnace before it’s needed for regular use. If something seems wrong, call for service.

Space Heater Safety

Space heaters are responsible for 79 percent of home heating fire related deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Space heaters must be used with caution to avoid fires, serious injuries and fatalities.

  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters. Put up a safety gate around your space heater to limit access to the unit.
  • Never leave a space heater running while you sleep.
  • Never leave a space heater running unattended in an empty room.
  • Only use space heaters designed to turn off when tipped over.
  • Regularly inspect your space heater for fraying wires and other signs of malfunction, and replace your unit as needed.

Nighttime and Unattended Heater Safety

Even if you leave your space heater turned off while you sleep, you should still take precautions to prevent the space heater from being used by young family members before you wake up.

  • Unplug your space heater before going to bed.
  • Put your space heater in a location where it is unlikely to be touched by children or pets.
  • Teach your children the basics of space heater safety. Very young children should be taught never to touch the space heater for any reason.

Fireplace Safety

Fireplaces are most often used around the holidays, but some households use fireplaces all winter long to keep their living spaces at a comfortable temperature. However you use your fireplace, these basic safety tips can prevent burns, accidental fires and fatalities.

  • Install a child-safe gate around your fireplace if you have young children. Leave the gate closed at all times.
  • Have your chimney inspected at least once annually, even if you very rarely use your fireplace. If you use your fireplace frequently, ask your chimney sweep how often you should have your fireplace cleaned.
  • Never leave fires burning unattended.
  • Never leave a fire burning while you sleep.
  • Close the screen on your fireplace while the fire is burning.
  • Burn only dry, seasoned wood.
  • Give ashes time to cool before collecting them in a bucket.
  • Keep ashes away from the house and douse them with water after collecting them.

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are life-saving pieces of equipment. Every home should be equipped with multiple smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to help ensure the safety of the home’s occupants and guests.

  • If possible, set up smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors on a network, so that when one alarm goes off, all detectors go off.
  • If your detectors are not hardwired into the house, check their batteries every month and replace the batteries once a year, at the same time of year.
  • When installing a detector in your home, follow all the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure proper functioning.
  • Install alarms on every level of the home, in every bedroom and guest bedroom, and outside every sleeping area of the house.

What To Do If You Temporarily Lose Heat

Even a temporary loss of heat can cause damage to your home. And a failed heating system can put you or members of your household at risk of injuries, burns or death through improper use of alternative heating devices. Knowing what to do if your home loses heat can help you stay safe while you’re waiting to have your furnace repaired.

  • Never heat your home with your oven: your furnace vents the carbon monoxide it produces, but most ovens do not.
  • Eat warm foods like soup and casserole.
  • Drink warm beverages like tea or coffee.
  • Wear layers.
  • Turn on incandescent lights.
  • Huddle with other members of your household.
  • Use towels and rugs to block air leaks from doors and windows.
  • Use a heating pad or an electric blanket, following all manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Check into a hotel if necessary.

Educate Yourself

Home heating equipment is life-saving, but knowing how to use it properly is critical. Whenever you acquire a new piece of home heating equipment, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Doing this can help you stay safe.

Your heating system is one of the things that makes your home livable. And while these days an array of safety features make home heating systems much more safe than in the past, there’s still room for error. Taking steps to lower the risk of problems will allow you to enjoy your warm home without concern.