The Dos and Don’ts of Home Heating Safety
No matter how you stay warm during the winter, you want to make sure you do it safely. Here are several dos and don’ts to make sure your home heating doesn’t put your household at risk.
DO: GET YOUR EQUIPMENT CLEANED AND INSPECTED.
There’s one thing all home heating systems have in common: They should be inspected and cleaned each year to ensure they are functioning properly. If you have a wood stove or fireplace, get your chimney cleaned and inspected. If you heat your home with a furnace, have it serviced annually by a licensed technician. If you use heat pumps, have them cleaned and inspected, and remember to clean filters regularly throughout the winter.
The best time to have this done is before cold weather sets off the heating season. That way you can make sure everything is ready to use, with a cushion to repair (or, worst case, replace) your source of heat for the winter. If your home heating system is nearing the end of its useful life, now’s the time to research new options and technologies to see if there’s a good fit for your home and budget. You can even get on the contractor’s schedule now so you can have your system installed in the spring or summer and ready to go for the next heating season.
DON’T: DIY YOUR REPAIRS.
Leave it to the professionals. If you happen to be one, go for it! Otherwise, the rest of us should call in the experts to make sure the heating equipment is in good condition and working the way it’s supposed to. You can learn how to change and clean filters, which does help keep your equipment running efficiently.
As with many items that require contracting know-how in Vermont these days, there could be a wait for a technician to come out to your house. Get in line early so you’re not in a bind when the weather gets cold next year.
DO: HAVE SMOKE AND CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS ON EVERY FLOOR.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: One of our smoke alarms starts incessantly beeping out of the blue, it takes forever to find it, and we take even longer (longer than we care to admit) before finally replacing that smoke alarm. Or, we pull the battery out and leave it disabled.
Make sure you install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors on every level and in the vicinity of any bedrooms, and test them regularly to make sure they’re in working order. New homes must have alarms directly wired to the building electrical service and have a battery backup. Carbon monoxide detectors are especially important because it’s an odorless gas that you may not notice otherwise. Again, these are to be installed in the vicinity of any bedrooms for new homes and should be directly wired to the electrical service and have a battery backup. Many systems function as an interconnected network, so when one goes off, they all do. That way there’s a better chance that everyone will know it’s time to get to safety.
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DO: KEEP A THREE-FOOT PERIMETER.
Did you know flammable and inflammable mean the same thing? That always annoyed me, but when it comes to home heating, it’s helpful: assume everything can catch fire. Keep drying clothes, curtains, bedding, kindling, newspaper, lighter fluid, and other (in)flammable items at least three feet away from your heating source.
This is also a good rule of thumb for children and pets (though not because they can catch fire). Safety gates can make it simple for everyone in your house to stay out of harm’s way.
DON’T: LEAVE SPACE HEATERS ON.
Space heaters are one of the leading causes of house fires each year—about 1,700, according to the most recent press release from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. As tempting as it is to keep a room nice and toasty, you should turn off a space heater when you go into another room or while you are asleep.
For additional safety and peace of mind, look for portable heaters that turn off automatically when they tip over, overheat, or get covered with a blanket or cloth.
DON’T: USE YOUR OVEN FOR HEAT.
I’ve turned down my thermostat a couple of degrees when I’m using the oven to cook dinner. But you should never use your stovetop or oven to heat your home. They weren’t built with the proper ventilation system to serve as a true heat source.
DON’T: PLUG EVERYTHING INTO ONE POWER STRIP.
Consider this space heater safety, part two. Always plug portable heaters directly into the wall, and don’t overload the other electrical socket with a power strip. This is sound advice for all electrical appliances, in fact. Take it from Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation.
DO: BE PREPARED.
There are a few ways you can prepare yourself and your family to stay safe:
- Know what to do in the event of a fire or carbon monoxide. Identify more than one way for everyone in your household to get to safety, including pets.
- Have a back-up plan in case you lose heat. Do you have a generator or home battery backup? Do you have a neighbor’s house or community center you can go to? Do you have an alternate heat source you can use in case you lose power or your primary heat source gives out unexpectedly? Or, as my mother would always say, do you have enough layers?
- Make sure you have enough fuel or wood to get you through the winter. Get wood delivered a year in advance, which allows for it to dry before burning it. You may want to set up automatic fuel deliveries, so you don’t have to think about running low and maybe paying higher prices.
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