Heating is a major cause of home fires in the United States, second only to cooking fires. In addition, fires started by portable space heaters account for the most deaths and injuries.
As temperatures fall over the coming days, many residents will be firing up their home’s heating appliances for the first time this year. Home heating fires often occur at the worst possible time, breaking out in the middle of the night while our families are asleep. The number one safety recommendation is to first and foremost have working smoke detectors throughout the home, especially in all sleeping areas. Having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire.
In 2010, the National Fire Protection Association reported that heating equipment was involved in an estimated 57,100 reported U.S. home structure fires, with associated losses of 490 civilian deaths, 1,540 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage. Portable space heaters account for 1/3 of all home heating fires and 4 out of every 5 home heating fire deaths.
The high cost of home heating fuels and utilities has caused many Americans to search for alternative home heating sources such as wood burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces. Heating is one of the leading causes of residential fires. Over one-quarter of these fires result from improper maintenance of equipment, specifically the failure to clean the equipment.
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is another danger when using heating equipment fueled by fossil fuel. It occurs most often when equipment is not vented properly. CO deaths have been on the rise since 1999, and estimates range as high as 700 deaths annually. Carbon monoxide poisoning is most fatal to adults age 65 or older. Homes with gas appliances must also have a Carbon Monoxide Detector on each floor.
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Preventing Home Heating Fires
The leading factor contributing to home heating fires and deaths was heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding (Source: NFPA). Many heating fires can be prevented by following basic safety tips when dealing with any heating equipment:
- Keep or maintain a 3 foot clearance between all heating equipment and anything that can burn.
- Inspect and maintain heating equipment regularly for safety.
- Be sure to have fixed space heaters installed by a qualified technician, according to manufacturer’s instructions or applicable codes. Or, make sure a qualified technician checks to see the unit has been properly installed.
- When buying a new, portable space heater, make sure it has the label showing it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
- Space heaters should be turned off every time you leave the room and before going to bed.
- Choose space heaters that turn off automatically if they tip over.
- Never use a space heater to dry clothing.
- Do not use your oven to heat your home.
- Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home. For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
- Test smoke alarms monthly.
- Install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms to avoid risk of carbon monoxide poisoning