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Your Home Environment Resource - University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County

Household Hints & HELP!

Hazards from Heaters and Fireplaces

submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator
This article appeared in the February 1, 2004 Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper.

With temperatures dipping into the lower teens, keeping warm is a top priority. Many families turn to extra heat by using space heaters. Safety is very important when selecting and using additional heating methods. During this season there have been at least 51 deaths from fires started by heaters and fireplaces. In a recent year, there were about 10,900 residential fires and about 190 deaths associated with portable or fixed local heaters. There were 15,500 fires and 40 deaths associated with fireplaces and chimneys. And there were about 100 deaths from carbon monoxide from heating systems, ranges/ovens and water heaters. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) offers the following safety tips for space heaters and fireplaces.

  • Choose a heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up-to-date safety features, while older space heaters may not meet the newer safety standards. CPSC worked to upgrade industry standards for electric, kerosene, and vented and unvented gas space heaters. An automatic cut-off device is now required to turn off electric or kerosene heaters if they tip over. More guarding around the heating coils of electric heaters and the burner of kerosene heaters also is required to prevent fires.
  • Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture, or other flammable materials.
  • Keep doors open to the rest of the house if you are using an unvented fuel-burning space heater. This helps prevent pollutant build-up and promotes proper combustion. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to provide sufficient combustion air to prevent carbon monoxide production.
  • Never leave a space heater on when you go to sleep. Never place a space heater close to any sleeping person.
  • Turn the space heater off if you leave the area. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  • Do not use a kitchen range or oven to heat your house because it could overheat or generate carbon monoxide.
  • Have a smoke alarm with fresh batteries on each level of the house and inside every bedroom. In addition, have a carbon monoxide alarm outside the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area.
  • Be aware that mobile homes require specially designed heating equipment. Only electric or vented fuel-fired equipment should be used.
  • Have gas and kerosene space heaters inspected annually to ensure proper operation.

Fireplace safety tips:

  • Have flues and chimneys inspected before each heating season for leakage and blockage by creosote or debris.
  • Open the fireplace damper before lighting the fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool. This will avert the building up of poisonous gases, especially while the family is sleeping.
  • Never use gasoline, charcoal lighter or other fuel to light or relight a fire because the vapors can explode. Never keep flammable fuels or materials near a fire.
  • Keep a screen or glass enclosure around a fireplace to prevent sparks or embers from igniting flammable materials. Make sure your family is safe this winter. Every home needs working smoke alarms and a carbon monoxide alarm. If you already have these alarms be sure to check them each month to see that they are in working order.

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