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Stay Warm, But Be Safe About It

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. That song may conjure up images of Rockwell-esque serenity, but reality paints a different picture. In America alone, over 3,400 people die each year due to residential fires. Many others are injured. Most of those fires occur during the winter months.

Fires in the home can be caused by any number of things. During the winter, the most common culprits are fireplaces, wood burning stoves and space heaters. These appliances are meant to keep you warm and comfortable, but if proper precautions aren’t taken, they can cause great damage.

When it comes to fireplaces, there are several things to consider before starting up your next fire. One of the most important is the cleanliness and integrity of your chimney. The simplest precaution is to have a professional chimney sweep inspect your chimney every year. They’ll not only clean out the chimney, they can also locate and repair any cracks, blockages and leaks that could cause a problem.

Once your fireplace is safe to operate, you should practice a few more common sense safety measures. For example, you should never burn anything in your fireplace but seasoned hardwood like oak, ash or maple. Many fires are caused by people who insist on burning charcoal, trash, cardboard or even Christmas trees in their fireplace. That not only increases the risk of an out of control fire, it could release dangerous poisons into the air you breathe.

Of course burning a safe fire in a clean fireplace should go a long way toward keeping you safe, but don’t neglect a proper fireplace cover. Using a sturdy screen or better yet, a glass door, will prevent burning embers from floating out into your living area. Make sure you go one step further by removing any flammable materials on or around your fireplace too.

Wood stoves present some of the same risks as fireplaces, but they also have their own unique safety challenges.

The installation of a wood stove requires a compromise between efficiency and safety. Even the experts disagree on the best way to go. Unfortunately, the most efficient stove is likely the most unsafe, and vice versa. It’s always best to have a professional install your stove and inspect it regularly.

Another major problem is the sizing of your stove. A stove that’s too small for the area it’s heating may cause the user to build a fire that’s too hot. An over-heated firebox could ignite combustible surfaces that are beyond the “safe perimeter” of the stove.

On the other hand, an oversized stove can be just as dangerous. Flammable creosote can build up quickly in a chimney when using a damper to restrict the air supply. Should a fire start in your chimney, call the fire department right away.

Perhaps the most dangerous heating appliance is the portable electric space heater. If you plan on using one, be extra cautious.

Start by looking for a safety label. You’ll probably find one on the bottom of the heater that shows it’s been inspected by the UL, ETL or CSA. If it doesn’t have one, get a new heater!

If you’re using an extension cord, make sure it’s rated for the same capacity as the heater. If it’s undersized, the cord itself could overheat and cause a fire.

Place your space heater at least 3 feet from any combustible materials. Always be sure there’s an adult in the room whenever it’s operating and keep a close eye on children and pets.

Always turn off space heaters before leaving the room or before going to sleep. And never try to dry wet clothing or other materials on or near a portable heater.

If you follow the safety tips in this article, you’ll be much more likely to have a safe, comfortable winter. There are lots of other things you can do as well. This list includes just a few:

Keep fire extinguishers in multiple locations around the house.

Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in every bedroom in the house. Change the batteries once a year.

Extinguish cigarette butts with water.

Keep candles in stable, fire-proof candle holders and never use them in kid’s rooms.

Have your central heating system inspected and tuned each year.

Consider adding a central sprinkler system throughout your home.