Thursday, Jan. 6


Winter heating safety     Send a link to a friend

Furnace and fireplace safety, space heaters, fire safety

[JAN. 6, 2005] 

Furnace and fireplace safety

Prepare the furnace and fireplace before you use them each year. Many people rely on their furnaces and fireplaces to function properly year after year without cleaning or maintenance. This is a dangerous practice. Every year, more than 8,000 Americans require emergency treatment for injuries associated with furnaces.

Take the following precautions each year before you use your furnace or fireplace for the first time:

  • Move away from the furnace all materials that burn easily, including old rags, sawdust, wood scraps and flammable liquids such as gasoline and kerosene. (Because vapors from flammable liquids ignite easily, store these liquids in tightly capped containers.)
  • Have a professional inspect your chimney and flue at least once a year and clean them if necessary. Carbon monoxide levels can become dangerous if smoke cannot escape from blocked flues or chimneys. Also, soot in flues and chimneys is highly combustible and can easily ignite, sending a ball of fire from the furnace or fireplace into the house.
  • Change or clean your furnace filter.
  • Have a professional check your furnace to be sure it is in good repair. Some furnace services can check to see if the furnace gets enough fresh air. Many homes are over-insulated and lack intake-air piping. This causes the furnace to burn improperly and can reduce the oxygen in your home to a dangerously low level.
  • If you have a fireplace, be sure it was made to be used and is not just for decoration.
  • Burn only materials designed for a fireplace: Paper can fly out the chimney, coal and charcoal release carbon monoxide, and Styrofoam emits a deadly gas. If using artificial logs, burn just one at a time. They may produce more heat than the fireplace can withstand.
  • Do not burn wrapping paper in a fireplace. Because wrapping paper ignites suddenly and burns intensely, a flash fire could occur.
  • Always use a fireplace screen to prevent hot embers from popping out into the room.
  • Do not go to bed or leave the house until you are sure the fire is completely out. Securely shut the fireplace screen or doors.
  • Put ashes in a metal container and empty it after each time you clean the fireplace.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of the home. Test the alarms periodically and change the batteries at least once a year.

[to top of second column in this article]

Space heaters

To decrease heating bills, many people use space, or room, heaters. Keep in mind that any heater that uses wood, coal, natural gas or kerosene produces carbon monoxide gas, so adequate ventilation is essential. This is especially true in small spaces, such as recreational vehicles or mobile homes.

Here are some additional tips when using space heaters:

  • Place space heaters at least three feet from any surfaces or materials that burn easily.
  • Never use gasoline or diesel fuel in a kerosene fuel space heater. These space heaters are illegal in some areas, so check local ordinances.
  • Use only heaters that shut off automatically if they tip over and when the room is warmed.
  • If the heater is not vented, turn it off when you go to bed.
  • Check electric heaters for frayed cords or broken filaments.
  • Kerosene heaters can use up the oxygen in a room or small house, so use a heater with a sensor that detects the oxygen level.
  • All heating units should carry the label of a recognized testing laboratory.

Fire safety

Because more and more people have smoke alarms and take other fire prevention steps, the number of deaths and injuries from fires has greatly decreased. Take the following steps to fireproof your home and to prepare your family in the event of a fire:

  • Install smoke alarms on each level of your home, at each staircase, and near the kitchen and bedrooms. Clean and test them regularly -- as often as every two or three months -- to ensure that the batteries are in good condition.
  • Plan two escape routes out of each room. Designate a meeting place outside to account for all family members.
  • Teach family members to feel the bottoms of doors and not to open any that are hot.
  • Keep a collapsible ladder on the upper floors of the house.
  • Keep a whistle in each bedroom so family members can alert others in the house of fire.
  • Learn your area's emergency response number -- 911 -- or the phone number for local police and fire departments. Post these numbers near all phones.

[Illinois Department of Public Health]

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