During the cold winter months, it is important to pay careful attention to the proper use and maintenance of heating equipment. Home heating equipment is often the cause of home fires here in our community.
The primary culprits in home heating fires are open-flame space heaters, portable electric heaters, and wood-burning fireplaces and stoves. Improperly installed or maintained central heating equipment can also be a cause of fire in the home, although not as often.
The Spokane Valley Fire Department suggests a few simple precautions to help reduce the risk of a home heating tragedy, either by fire or deadly carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning:
- Open-flame space heaters: Maintain at least three feet of clearance from the front and sides of the heater to any combustible materials, such as curtains, drapes, furniture, and bedding. Make certain the heater burns with a clean blue flame across the entire burner. If it does not, a plumber or heating expert should clean the burner and adjust the flame. Avoid the use of any type of unvented fuel burning heating device, and if absolutely necessary use only if the space is equipped with both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
- Portable electric heaters: Should always to be placed on the floor, not in a chair or on other objects. The portable electric heater should have an automatic shut-off device to turn it off if tipped over. Its electrical cord should not be in an area where it will get walked on repeatedly, without being protected by a cord protector, mat, or rug.
- Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves: Maintain at least three feet of clearance from the front and sides of the fireplace or wood-burning stove to any combustible materials (see open-flame space heaters above). The flue or chimney should be checked periodically (optimally once a year) for creosote buildup, cracked, or broken flue tiles, loose mortar joints, and corroded or leaking flue pipes. The flue or chimney should be checked before use to be certain it isn’t blocked. These are attractive locations for birds and squirrels to build nests.
Be sure to allow some fresh air into the area where the stove or fireplace is in use. A lack of fresh air can cause incomplete combustion and/or interfere with the unit’s ability to draft properly, either of which can cause carbon monoxide to accumulate in the home. Carbon Monoxide is called the “invisible killer,” as it is an odorless and colorless gas produced by the incomplete combustion of any fossil fuel; wood, oil, gas or coal.
The type of wood burned in a fireplace or free standing woodstove is important. Your best bet is to use hardwood, such as oak, maple, beech, or ash. It should be properly dried or seasoned for about one year. We also advise removing ashes regularly for maximum air flow. Disposal of ashes should be a non-combustible container such as a metal bucket. Hot ashes or coals can smolder for days, and if placed in a cardboard box, or plastic garbage container the results can be disastrous.
Homeowners should avoid burning items such as trash or gift wrapping paper. Also, when leaving a room while a fire is burning, a fireplace screen or glass door should be closed to protect the room from sudden sprays of sparks. By heeding these precautions, it will be a warm, safe season for everyone.
We also recommend following these home heating safety tips, especially during the winter months:
- Install and maintain Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms inside your home to provide early warning of CO.
- Install CO alarms in a central location outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of your home.
- Use portable generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas away from all doors, windows and vents.
- Make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow and other debris.
- Remove vehicles from the garage immediately after starting.