Heating Your Home Safely

As the nights…and days…grow colder across the country, people begin to fire up their furnaces and space heaters.

However, an unfortunate side effect to heating our homes is the increase in house fires.

According to the National Fire Prevention Agency (NFPA), December, January and February are the most hazardous months of the year; with most house fires taking place during this time.

In addition, some methods used to heat homes can expose individuals to toxic levels of carbon monoxide; an invisible, odorless, and deadly gas that kills hundreds of people every heating season.

To heat your home safely, follow these expert recommendations.:

1. Furnace

Have your furnace inspected by a heating and cooling specialist. He or she will look for potential issues, including possible carbon monoxide leaks and they may vacuum the vents on your furnace and of course check to see if the filter needs replacing.

Once your furnace has been inspected that doesn’t mean you don’t need to keep on top of it. Inspect and, if necessary, replace your filters on a regular basis to ensure optimum performance.

This will not only reduce the risk of fire, but a well-maintained furnace will last longer and cost less to run than one that has been poorly maintained.

2. Fireplace

Granted, you’re probably not heating your home with your fireplace, but if you plan to use it at all, it’s important to be sure that it is in good repair.

Have it inspected and cleaned each year, especially if you burn wood such as pine which has a lot of pitch that can accumulate on the interior of your chimney, which is a definite fire hazard.

If you haven’t used it much and feel that it’s in good repair, you can double check it yourself by using a mirror to get a good look at the inside of the chimney.

Choose a sunny day so that the interior of the chimney will be well lit (or have someone hold a bright flashlight pointed upward along the walls of the chimney) and hold a mirror face up. 

Look for pitch build-up as well as bricks that look out of alignment. This could be a sign that the mortar between the bricks is eroding away and is something a that professional will need to address.

3. Space heaters

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that 43 percent of home fires are caused by space heaters. To heat your home safely using these appliances it’s vital to be smart when using them.

Purchase a space heater with an Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) label. Look for one with an emergency shut-off that will turn the unit off in the event the heater is tipped over or it overheats.

To prevent your home from being among the statistics do the following:

  • ⬥ Set the unit on a non-flammable, level location
  • ⬥ Keep it at least 3 feet from anything flammable
  • ⬥ Plug it into the outlet; don’t use an extension cord
  • ⬥ Turn it off when you leave the room and/or go to bed

4. Baseboard heaters

Not as common, some homes use baseboard heaters as a primary heating source.

These units can be both safe and effective at heating a home when used properly.:

Don’t block the flow of air, keeping furniture, throw carpets, etc. at least 6 inches from the front of the heater to avoid obstructing the proper functioning of the unit.

Keep anything flammable far from the heater. If you have draperies make sure they’re secured away from the unit(s).

As it takes longer for baseboard heaters to warm the room just pick a temperature and leave the thermostat set; turning it up higher won’t heat the room any faster.

Keep children away from the heaters as touching them directly could cause burns. Make sure that no small objects find their way inside the units (e.g. toy block) as this could cause a fire and release noxious fumes.

Vacuum the baseboard heaters on a routine basis. While this isn’t necessarily a problem with safety, it will reduce that “dirty” smell when you turn on the unit(s) the first time of the season.

5. Oil-filled radiator heaters

Shaped like old-fashioned water filled radiators, oil filled radiator heaters are not made to replace a regular heating appliance such as a furnace.

However, they can be used to supplement the existing heat in smaller homes or individual rooms.

A radiant type of heater, these units are filled with an oil that is circulated through the different heating elements of the heater which heats the air around the unit.

Some safety and use tips include:

  • ⬥ Place the unit(s) as close to the center of the room as possible to aid in delivering more uniform heat. Avoid placing it near a door as heat can quickly escape the room before it has a chance to build up.
  • ⬥ Use them in areas where you will be spending a lot of time (e.g. in the living room) and/or in small spaces such as bathrooms
  • ⬥ If you put your main heating system on 67 degrees, these units can fill in the difference, reducing the load on your furnace
  • ⬥ If you have a ceiling fan, set it to reverse and push the air back down that has radiated to the ceiling
  • ⬥ If your old unit appears to be leaking discard it immediately as the oil is flammable and will ruin surfaces
  • ⬥ Like all heaters, keep oil-filled radiators away from anything flammable
  • ⬥ Note that these kind of heaters will not remove moisture from the air, so run a dehumidifier if needed and to avoid any build-up of mold that can develop on nearby surfaces

More tips on heating:

7 Simple Ways to Save on Your Heating Bills

Four Simple Ways To Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

Lessons on Home Safety with Kids