Special Feature

Staying Warm and Safe: Tips for Safely Using Supplemental Heating

Brick fireplace with a fire lit inside

With colder weather approaching, homeowners may be considering using supplementary heating sources, such as space heaters, woodstoves, and fireplaces, to offset heating bills. These alternative heating sources, if not used properly, can contribute to an increased risk of fire, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). Here are some tips for safely using supplemental heating.

Portable Space Heaters

  • The biggest mistake people make with space heaters is placing them too close to flammable materials such as bedspreads, draperies, upholstery or clothing. Space heaters need at least three feet of clearance from anything that can burn.

  • Make sure any new space heater carries the mark of an independent testing laboratory.

  • Always turn space heaters off when you leave a room or go to bed.

  • If you use an electric heater, do not overload the circuit. If you must use an extension cord (and it is better not to), choose one that is the same size or larger than the appliance cord. Do not use electric heaters in bathrooms or other areas where they may come in contact with water; the danger of electrocution is too great.

  • If you use a kerosene heater, burn only kerosene. Gasoline, camp stove fuel, or any other fuel except kerosene can be extremely dangerous if used in a kerosene heater. Make sure your kerosene is water-clear, not yellow. Refuel the heater outdoors.

  • When turning a portable heating device on or off, follow the manufacturer's instructions. If possible, buy devices with automatic shutoff features.

Fireplaces and Woodstoves

  • Woodstoves, fireplaces, chimneys, chimney connectors, and all solid-fueled heating equipment should be inspected and cleaned professionally each year, especially if they have not been used for some time. Fireplaces regularly build up creosote that needs to be cleaned out.

  • Woodstoves should be UL listed and of solid quality and design. Install them with three feet of clearance from combustible surfaces and with adequate floor support and protection.

  • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire in a fireplace or woodstove. Do not use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires. Never burn charcoal indoors; it can generate lethal amounts of carbon dioxide.

  • Keep flammable material away from the hearth and mantel. Use a sturdy screen to keep sparks from flying into a room.

  • Before you go to sleep, be sure your fireplace fire is cold. Never close the damper with hot ashes in the fireplace; the fire will heat up again and toxic carbon monoxide can spread into the house.

  • Synthetic logs are increasingly popular because they are so easy to use. Follow the directions on the package. Never break a synthetic log apart to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time. This could release dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

Source: Insurance Information Institute