Alternative Heating Source Safety Tips

Space Heater equipment is the second leading cause of home fires in the United States. More than 65,000 home fires are attributed to heating equipment each year. These fire result in hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries and millions of dollars in property damage. Portable electric space heaters can be a convenient source of supplemental heat for your home in cold weather. Unfortunately, they can pose significant fire and electric shock hazards if not used properly. Fire and electrical hazards can be caused by space heaters without adequate safety features, space heaters placed near combustibles, or space heaters that are improperly plugged in. Safety should always be a top consideration when using space heaters. Here are some tips for keeping your home safe and warm when it’s cold outside:  Make sure your space heater has the label showing that it is listed by a recognized testing laboratory. Before using any space heater, read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels carefully.

  • Inspect heaters for cracked or broken plugs or loose connections before each use. If frayed, worn or damaged, do not use the heater.
  • Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you’re leaving a room or going to sleep, and don’t let pets or children play too close to a space heater.
  • Space heaters are only meant to provide supplemental heat and should never be used to warm bedding, cook food, dry clothing or thaw pipes.
  • Install smoke alarms on every floor of your home and outside all sleeping areas and test themonce a month.
  • Proper placement of space heaters is critical. Heaters must be kept at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including papers, clothing and rugs.
  • Locate space heaters out of high traffic areas and doorways where they may pose a tripping hazard.
  • Plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet. Do not use an extension cord or power strip, which could overheat and result in a fire. Do not plug any other electrical devices into the same outlet as the heater.
  • Place space heaters on level, flat surfaces. Never place heaters on cabinets, tables, furniture, or carpet, which can overheat and start a fire.
  • Always unplug and safely store the heater when it is not in use.

Wood Stove Safety Tips
The chimney is an essential safety component for a wood stove. Never, under any circumstances, should an unlined, single brick chimney be used for a wood stove. Single brick chimneys are prone to deterioration, which may allow potentially dangerous situations to develop. Many older homes have unlined chimneys constructed of double brick. These may be used for a wood stove after carefully checking for cracked mortar or loose or missing brick. Factory built, metal chimneys must never be used with a coal stove, as the corrosive flue gases produced by a coal fire will cause a rapid deterioration of the chimney. Metal chimneys should be completely disassembled after a chimney fire and checked for damage. Discoloration of the exterior indicates a possible breakdown of the insulating material. Any questionable section should be replaced. A wood burning stove should never be connected to a flue which vents an oil burner. Deadly, unburned vapors from the oil burner could back up into the stove and the room where it is located.


Wood Stove Ventilation
Venting the stove is the most important part of the wood-burning system. 90% of all stove-related fires originate within the venting system. A venting system is not a chimney – it consists of lengths of 24-gauge or heavier stovepipe which connects the stove to an approved chimney. The vent must be as short as possible, with no more than 2 right angle elbows. The sections of stovepipe should be assembled with crimped, male ends of the sections facing down, towards the stove. Stovepipe sections should be fastened with at least 3 sheet-metal screws or other fasteners. Seams must overlap and face up on inclined runs.

Stovepipe clearance is extremely important. It must never pass through an interior wall, floor, or ceiling. Stovepipe should never be used for a chimney because the elements will rust. Where possible, the stovepipe must go directly into a lined masonry or UL-listed, factory-built chimney. If stovepipe must pass through an exterior wall to reach the chimney, maintain an 18-inch minimum clearance to all combustibles. Consult fire codes and use metal thimbles designed for this purpose.

Regular Wood Stove Cleaning
If you haven’t used your wood stove in a while, it is essential to clean it properly before use to avoid a house fire. Use a wire brush to clean your stovepipe and chimney at least once a year. Also, occasionally use controlled high-temperature fires in the stove or furnace. Don’t bother with the saltbased chemical cleaners. And never use heavy items such as chains, bricks or a brush on the end of a rope, because they could seriously damage the interior chimney lining.

Avoid Creosote Buildup
Creosote is a highly combustible fuel that burns intensely. A slow-burning fire such as those found in a modern, airtight stove damped way down, produces a flue temperature in the 100-200 degree Fahrenheit range. These comparatively low temperatures do not sufficiently carry all of the unburned, combustible gases into the atmosphere. Instead, they condense along the walls of the stovepipe and the chimney as creosote. Creosote may take 3 forms:

*A sticky liquid that will run down the chimney and stove pipe where it will be burned
*A flaky, black deposit which is easily removed by brushing
*A hard, glazed tar which is almost impossible to remove, except by a certified professional chimney sweep

Fire Prevention Safety Tips
Fire safety is the top priority when using alternative heating options. Take heed of the following suggestions and stay safe.

 *Never burn anything larger than a candle without proper ventilation.
 *Never run emergency stove piping close to flammable materials such as drapes, curtains, and shades.
 *Never use outdoor barbecue materials to heat your home during a power outage.
 *Never use bottled gas with a natural gas appliance unless you have previously converted your natural gas appliance to bottled gas.
 *Keep firefighting materials such as a fire extinguisher, dry powder, tarps and heavy blankets, salt sand, and water available.
*If burning alternative heat, designate family members to stay awake at night to keep watch for fires.

Install and maintain smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible gas produced whenever any fuel is burned, such as near oil or gas furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces, stoves, and some space heaters. It has no smell, taste, or color. It is a poison and is deadly.

Western U.P. Health Department provides public health services to residents in Houghton, Keweenaw, Baraga, Ontonagon, and Gogebic counties. Western U.P Health Department has offices in Hancock, L’Anse, Ontonagon and Bessemer.