7 Helpful Tips to Prevent Fires from Alternative Heating Sources
A warm blast of direct heat does wonders to take the chill off an apartment. But that flow of warm air from a space heater or other heating device can be damaging – and deadly – if left unattended or misused.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and other fire prevention advocates warn that heating a living space by any means can be dangerous if precautions aren’t taken. In 2011 heating equipment was involved in nearly 54,000 reported U.S. home structure fires, causing $893 million in direct property damage and taking 400 lives while injuring 1,520 others. These are fires started from heating devices – central heating units, portable or fixed heaters, heating stoves, chimneys and water heaters – and are the second-leading cause of home blazes.
Hidden in these statistics are fires started by using kitchen stovetops or ovens to stay warm. It’s unclear how many people use their cooking devices for home heating, but this is big no-no. And it’s certainly something that apartment managers and owners should discourage residents from doing in the coming winter months when home fires are more prevalent.
“Residents should never use their stove or oven for anything other than cooking,” says Ed Wolff, President of LeasingDesk Insurance. “This not only endangers the resident but puts others and the property at high risk.”
Another risk is carbon monoxide poisoning from lighting a gas stove without proper ventilation. Moderate levels of invisible and odorless CO cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and fainting, and high doses can be fatal. A St. Louis woman a couple of years ago was fortunate enough to survive carbon monoxide poisoning after using her gas stove for heat.
Alternate heating devices involved in 74 percent of fire-related deaths
The risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning from using kitchen devices is just one when alternate heating sources are used for home heating. NFPA statistics show that more than half of home heating fire deaths three years ago were attributed to placing heating equipment too close to flammable objects.
It’s doubtful, however, that these heating sources will go away anytime soon. Alternate heating devices have been used in homes for years, and gained momentum in the late 1970s and early 80s during the energy crisis. Wood burning stoves and space heaters were in high demand as consumers tried to stay warm and keep home heating costs down.
Today, such devices are commonly used in homes and apartments. Nearly half of American families use alternative heating sources like fixed or portable space heaters, fireplaces and wood/coal stoves. While they can warm a room quickly, space heaters are high-wattage appliances that have the potential to ignite nearby combustible materials, says the Consumer Products Safety Commission. CPSC notes that 74 percent of fire-related deaths are attributed to these devices.
Wolff says apartment managers should educate residents about how to use alternate heating devices safely, especially now. NFPA reports that half of all home heating fires happen between November and January.
Preventing fires by other heat sources is manageable
The American Red Cross offers these tips to help prevent a home fire from alternate heating sources:
- Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
- Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
- If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
- When buying a space heater, look for models that shut off automatically if the heater falls over as another safety measure.
- Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
- Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
- Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, and furnaces professionally inspected and cleaned once a year.
And, says Wolff, don’t forget to routinely inspect and test smoke alarms.
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