Winter heating costs may double: Let’s make sure house fires don’t!

By: Delores Gempel Lekowski


The fear of heating cost increases has generated an interest in alternative heating. We are winterizing our homes as we never have before, and many are seeking other heat sources in an attempt to keep their heating bills manageable. Let’s just make sure that these alternative heating sources don’t increase the potential for house fires!

Furnaces may be the safest method of home heating (and now would be a good time to have your annual maintenance done on your furnace if you haven’t already done so). But you may be looking for a more economical way to heat your home this winter. While turning down the furnace thermostat and firing up kerosene heaters, wood stoves, space heaters or fireplaces, we must be mindful of fire safety practices and follow the manufacturer’s assembly, operating and maintenance procedures at all times.

NEVER use a kitchen range or oven to heat your house, because it could overheat or generate carbon monoxide. And no matter what kind of heating system you use, make sure you have a working smoke alarm on each floor of your home, and install a carbon monoxide alarm outside the bedrooms in each sleeping area!

Also, be aware that mobile homes require specially designed heating equipment. Only electric or vented fuel-fired equipment should be used.

Kerosene Heater:

Kerosene heaters may provide a substantial amount of heat, but they can be the most dangerous item in your home and must be treated as such. With its cozy warmth comes the increased risk for burns and fires. Read, remember, and practice the rules of safe kerosene heating:

   - Use only a modern kerosene heater! Using an old heater or one bought second-hand may be a great deal, but it may not have the latest safety features or the existing safety features may not be functional. Make sure that the heater is UL approved and labeled. Your kerosene heater should also have an automatic safety switch to turn it off in case it is tipped over. Automatic starters have the added benefit of safer starts by eliminating the use of matches.
   - Use only clear 1K type kerosene and store the fuel outside the home in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. Make sure the container is clearly marked and is a different color from any container storing gasoline.
   - Make sure the heater is placed on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, at least three (3) feet from any furnishings, curtains, walls or anything flammable and does not obstruct any doors or exitways.
   - While the heater is in use, keep a window cracked open in the room with the heater, and keep doors open to the rest of the house to prevent pollutant build-up and promote proper combustion.
   - A kerosene heater should ONLY be filled OUTSIDE and only when it is cool to the touch. A fuel gauge will help make sure you don’t overfill the heater. NEVER FILL A KEROSENE HEATER WHILE IT IS HOT!
   - Check the wick and maintain it properly; this is critical to safety.
   - Never use a kerosene heater while you are sleeping or leave home with it operating. Never leave it unattended when children or pets are present.
   - Have the heater inspected annually to ensure proper operation.

Wood Burner:

   - Before buying or using a wood burner, visit with your local fire department or building codes department, and talk with your insurance company to find out what requirements or restrictions they may have for installation and use.
   - Have your wood burner installed by a professional.
   - Burn only seasoned wood.
   - Keep the chimney flue clean and free of creosote.
   - Discard of ashes using a metal container with a tight fitting lid. Place the container on noncombustible surfaces only.
   - Never use flammable liquids to start a wood fire.
   - Never keep trash, papers or dry clothes near your wood burner.
   - Never let your wood burner get too hot. This is called "over fire" and causes the stove pipe to become red hot.
   - Shaking pipes, roaring and sucking sounds also can be dangerous. If you hear these sounds, close any air intake vents, close the damper, evacuate the house, and call your local fire department.
   - While using a wood stove, be extra watchful of children and pets. Special retaining screens can help prevent burns by keeping children and pets safe and away from the stove.
   - Always keep the stove doors closed while burning.


   - Check to make sure your fireplace was built to be used and not just for decoration. Make sure that it has protective linings and smoke ducts, and that the chimney is clear.
   - Inspect your chimney and flue at the beginning of each heating season for leakage and blockage by creosote or debris.
   - Keep flammable materials and liquids away from your fireplace.
   - Open the damper before starting the fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool. This prevents poisonous gases from building up in your home.
   - Never use flammable liquids to start or relight a fire, because the vapors can explode.
   - Do not burn trash or coated materials in your fireplace. This could create deadly fumes or flying embers that could ignite something.
   - Use only wood, artificial or newspaper logs in your fireplace and remember not to overload. Large fires can lead to overheating of the roof and wall materials of your home.
   - Always use a screen around your fireplace to keep children and pets safe from the heat and flames. Using a screen also helps prevent sparks or embers from igniting flammable materials.
   - Make sure the fire burns out completely before going to bed or leaving the house.

Electric Space Heater:

   - Look for a space heater that is listed with a nationally recognized testing laboratory. These heaters are tested to meet specific safety standards and have important use and care instructions from the manufacturer.
   - Make sure that your heater has a guard or grill to prevent fingers or flammable materials from touching the heating element.
   - Always read your heater’s operating and maintenance instructions before using it.
   - 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 (3) feet from bedding, drapes, furniture or other flammable materials.
   - Never run the heater’s cord under rugs or carpeting. The wires can overheat and cause a fire.
   - Do not go to sleep with the heater operating, and do not leave the heater unattended.
   - Keep children and pets a safe distance from the heater and place it on a stable surface where people are not likely to bump or trip over it.
   - Never use portable electric heaters near water and never touch an electric heater when you are wet. This can cause electric shocks or electrocutions!
   - Never use your electric heater as a dryer. Do not place clothing over it and never use it to heat or thaw items.
   - Never operate a broken heater. Always keep the heater in a safe working condition by replacing missing guards or controls immediately.

With increases in heating bills, this winter may seem longer than most. If you choose to use an alternative heat source, please practice good fire safety and exercise caution.