Staying Warm…And Safe
Many of us use supplemental heaters, or space heaters, to heat an ordinarily unoccupied space such as garage or workshop, to provide additional heat during cold spells or to minimize heating bills. However, incorrect use of these heaters leads to about 120,000 residential fires annually. With colder weather on the way, use the following checklist to ensure safe use of space heaters.
You should be able to respond “yes” to the following safety statements:
- The wood stove or fireplace has been installed according to building codes and manufacturer’s instructions. Yes No
- The chimney and stovepipe are checked frequently during the heating season for creosote buildup and are cleaned when necessary. If you use your wood stove regularly, check it at least twice monthly and have it inspected and cleaned by a professional chimney sweep at least once a year. Yes No
- The stove sits on a non-combustible or code-specified or-listed floor protector.
- Combustibles such as curtains, chairs, firewood, etc., are at least three feet away from the stove. Yes No
- Only proper fuel is used in the stove. Never burn trash, which can overheat the stove. Never use gasoline or flammable liquids to start a fire, as they can explode. Yes No
- A metal container with a tight-fitting lid is used for ash removal. Yes No
- Only 1-K kerosene is used and it is bought from a dealer who can certify that the product is 1-K kerosene. Grades other than l-K will increase sulfur dioxide emissions, posing a possible health problem. If you buy kerosene from a gasoline station, make sure you or the attendant use the kerosene pump, not the gasoline pump. Yes No
- The heater is placed out of traffic areas, such as doorways and hallways. Place heater so it will not be knocked over or trap you in case of fire. Check with your local fire marshal for applicable codes and regulations. Yes No
- Kerosene is stored outdoors, out of the reach of children, in a tightly sealed, preferably blue plastic or metal container, labeled “kerosene.” Yes No
- No attempt is made to move the heater if flare-up (flames outside the heater cabinet) occurs. The fire department is called immediately. Yes No
- The heater is used in well-ventilated rooms. Yes No
- The heater is turned off while sleeping and is never left operating unattended. Yes No
- The heater is placed at least three feet away from anything that might catch fire, such as clothing, furniture, curtains, etc. Yes No
Gas-Fired Space Heaters
- Only vented heaters are installed or used in sleeping quarters. Unvented heaters should not be used in small enclosed areas, especially bedrooms, because of the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning. Yes No
- Vented heaters are properly vented to the outside. Yes No
- The unvented gas-fired room heater has a warning label and instructions that are followed. Yes No
- The unvented gas-fired room heater has a label stating it has a “pilot safety system,” which turns off the gas if not enough fresh air is available. Yes No
- The vented heater has a label stating that it is equipped with a vent safety shutoff system. Yes No
- If the heater uses liquefied petroleum (LP) gas, the container is located outside the house. Yes No
- The manufacturer’s instructions for lighting the pilot are followed. Yes No
- Matches are lighted before turning on the gas if pilot lighting is required. Yes No
- Flammable materials and liquids are kept away from gas heating appliances. Yes No
Portable Electric Heaters
- The heater is operated at least three feet away from upholstered furniture, drapes, bedding and other combustible materials. Yes No
- The extension cord (if used) is marked #14 or #12 American Wire Gauge (AWG). Avoid using extension cords unless absolutely necessary. Keep the cord stretched out. Do not permit it to become buried under carpeting or rugs. Do not place anything on top of the cord. Yes No
- The heater is used on the floor. Yes No
- The heater is turned off when family members leave the house or are sleeping. Yes No
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that half the deaths and one-third of the injuries resulting from electric heater fires occurred at night when family members were asleep and the heater unattended.
Prevention is always the best strategy, but if your home or its contents are damaged in a fire, your homeowners or condominium insurance policy will pay for repair or replacement, up to the policy limits. Renters can cover their personal possessions with a renters policy.