Safety is crucial when using alternate heating resources. As the cold temperatures set in and people find themselves in the winter months, it is good to think of safety in addition to keeping warm.
During the winter it is common for homeowners to use some sort of portable space heater or wood burning stove or fireplace for one use or another. What people need to keep in mind are the dangers of improper use of these heating devices.
One of a few leading causes for fires this time of year is not properly using a space heater. One of the biggest things with space heaters is that they shouldn’t be run on an extension cord and they should be unplugged when leaving the house.
Big River Fire Chief David Pratte asks that anyone who has and uses space heaters, not to put any clothing, curtains, table clothes or bedding by them. The leading cause of a space heater fire is because flammable materials were too close to it or they get knocked over.
“A lot of people put them close to their bed and get the side of their bed on fire,” said Pratte. “Keep them clear of anything that could fall on them, such as clothing. Most new space heaters today are designed to turn off if they fall over, it’s not a bad idea to test them by laying them on their side to see if they do shut off. Older space heaters don’t have this feature and if there are pets in the household, cats or dogs, they tend to knock them over and that is what starts a lot of fires.”
When purchasing space heaters, check to be sure they have been safety tested and UL approved. Also, make sure the unit is equipped with an emergency tip-over shut-off feature and don’t overload a circuit, make sure it’s plugged directly into the wall. Some other helpful tips to remember is that all heaters that run on fuel need to be vented. Keep anything combustible at least three feet away, never refill a space heater while in operation or hot and only refuel outdoors.
Another thing people use space heaters for is frozen pipes. Bonne Terre Fire Chief Matt Barton wants to remind everyone that another important thing to remember is that if the pipes freeze under the house be patient when thawing them out.
“Winter time is big deal for everybody, we have had our equipment freeze before,” said Barton. “A lot of people will put heaters under there to thaw the pipes. Don’t ever leave it unattended, make sure it is a good distance from any of the floor joists, pipes or anything else that can catch on fire. We have seen fires start that way before.”
A few ways to keep pipes from freezing is to let all the water taps run with a slow but continuous drip, protect pipes on exterior walls by keeping cabinet doors below the sink open, and wrap them with insulation, cloth, newspaper or electrical heat tape. Never thaw pipes with a torch, the risk of fire is too great.
Pratte said another thing to remember is when using wood stoves, fire places or any type of wood burning devices the chimney and pipes need to be checked to make sure they are the right size for the flue and are in good condition.
“I know it is an expensive item for those who are trying to save money but it is essential for that to vent out of the house,” said Pratte. “Especially where it goes through the wall and through the roof. It also needs to be insulated properly so it doesn’t get to hot in the wall and in the roof. That is what will catch the house on fire a lot of times. We have seen several fires where people have put in the wrong size pipes and flues because they were needing heat. They may be struggling with their electric or gas bills and the pipes have gotten real expensive at the hardware stores so they struggle with getting the right equipment onto their flues.”
Pratte also suggests that anyone who is burning green wood needs to be sure they clean the flue out pretty regularly. If they are burning a fire that is not real hot it will cause it to buildup and when they do build a bigger fire that is really hot, it can catch fire in the flue because of that buildup.”
It is really important to pay attention to the buildup in the pipes and in their flues. Preventative maintenance and cleaning the flue will make a huge difference as well.
“If you are going to install a wood stove in your home and don’t know what you’re doing, find someone who does,” said Barton. “It can cause a lot of damage to your home because it won’t just burn in the flue, it will spread into the walls and ceiling. Make sure it is done correctly, that is the big thing.”
Another preventative is to have glass doors or a metal screen placed in front of the fireplace to prevent sparks or hot ash from igniting carpets, furniture or other items. Disposing of ashes properly will also help prevent a fire. Don’t dump ashes near firewood, the house or any dry field.
Another issue that firefighters run into is carbon monoxide. Pratte said be sure to check smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and to also check the flues outside where the furnace goes out at.
“They are piped with PVC now and they tend to get dirt dobbers and wasp nests in them,” said Pratte. “They won’t vent correctly and the carbon monoxide will build up in the house causing carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s real simple, most will put a screen across the pipe to help prevent any blockage in it.”
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