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In this age of high energy costs, the price of heating the house will increase. People will be searching for alternate sources to heat their houses. Some of the many ways people will stay warm this winter include wood-burning stoves, electric space heaters, kerosene heaters, fireplaces, and furnaces.

Although acceptable, these methods are a major contributor to residential fires each year, many of which could have been prevented with proper fire safety measures. Following the links below, you will find fire safety tips that can help you maintain a fire-safe house this winter.

Adding insulation to your house can save energy, but you should have a qualified electrician check your house's electrical system for deficiencies. When installing insulation, always make sure insulation is kept away from ceiling light fixtures and other heat sources.

Wood-burning appliances - stoves and fireplaces

Experts do not recommend the purchase or installation of any wood-burning stove unless it is air-tight and has controlled airflow. If you are burning a lot of wood, your stovepipe and chimney may have a heavy buildup of creosote, which can lead to a fire in your chimney and spread to the roof of your house. Fireplace chimneys should be inspected and cleaned at least once a year, and stovepipe chimneys should be checked once a month and cleaned as needed. Ensure proper installation.

Adequate clearance for wood stoves is at least 36 inches from combustible surfaces. Ensure you have adequate floor support and protection. Wood stoves should be of good quality, solid construction and design, and should be UL listed. Have a chimney inspected by a professional annually and cleaned if necessary, especially if it has not been used in some time.

Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate a fire in a fireplace or wood stove. Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening to prevent embers or sparks from escaping.

A wood-burning stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15 to 30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup. Don't use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires in fireplaces or wood stoves. Overbuilding the fire could ignite creosote in the chimney.

Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.

Keep flammable materials away from your fireplace or wood stove mantel. A spark from the fireplace could easily ignite these materials.

Before you go to sleep, be sure your fire is out. Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace or wood stove. A closed damper can help rekindle the fire, forcing toxic carbon monoxide into the house.

If synthetic logs are used, follow the directions on the package. Never break a synthetic log apart to quicken the fire, and never use more than one log at a time. They often burn unevenly, releasing higher levels of carbon monoxide.


Your furnace should be inspected on a regular basis by a qualified professional to ensure it is good working condition. A malfunctioning furnace can produce carbon monoxide, a "silent killer" that can spread throughout your house. A furnace with an undetected gas leak can create a highly flammable and explosive environment. Change the unit's filter once a month and have a qualified professional check the unit once a year. Install carbon monoxide detectors, following manufacturers' guidelines.

Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition. Leave all furnace repairs to qualified specialists. Do not attempt repairs yourself unless you are qualified.

Inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line. If the wall is hot or discolored, additional pipe insulation or clearance may be required.

Check the flue pipe and pipe seams. Ensure they are well supported and free of holes or cracks. Look for soot along or around seams, as this can indicate a leak.

Check the chimney to make sure it is solid; are there cracks or loose bricks? All unused flue openings should be sealed with solid masonry.

Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system.

Kerosene heaters

Be sure your heater is in good working condition. Inspect exhaust parts for carbon buildup. Be sure the heater has an emergency shutoff in case it is tipped over.

Never use fuel-burning appliances without proper room venting. Burning fuel (e.g., coal, kerosene, or propane) can produce deadly fumes.

Use only the fuel recommended by the heater manufacturer. Never substitute gas or any other fuel into a unit not designed for that fuel.

Keep kerosene and other flammable liquids stored in approved metal containers in well-ventilated areas outside the house.

Never fill the heater while it is operating or hot. When refueling an oil or kerosene unit, avoid overfilling. Do not use cold fuel because it may expand in the tank as it warms up, causing overflow.

Refueling should be done outside, never inside the house or garage.

Keep young children away from space heaters, especially when they are wearing nightgowns or other loose-fitting clothing that can be easily ignited.

When using a fuel-burning appliance in the bedroom, be sure there is proper ventilation to prevent a buildup of carbon monoxide.

Never use space heaters to dry clothing.

Keep all flammable objects at least 3 feet from space heaters.

Electric Space Heaters

The number of residential fires always goes up during colder months, peaking between December and February. Portable space heaters substantially contribute to this increase. Before plugging in your space heater, make sure you know how to use it safely:

  • Carefully read the directions for its use.
  • Never place a space heater where a child or pet could accidentally knock it over.
  • Never place a space heater too close to a bed, especially a child's bed.
  • Keep newspapers, magazines, and fabrics from curtains, clothes, or bedding away from space heaters.
  • Heaters should be at least 3 feet from anything flammable.

If you use an electric heater, be sure not to overload the circuit. Use only extension cords that have the necessary rating to carry the amperage load. Choose an extension cord the same size or larger than the appliance's electrical cord.

Avoid using electrical space heaters in bathrooms or other areas where they may come in contact with water.

Never allow anything to cover the cord such as a rug; this can produce a fire from the radiated heat.

Holiday Fire Hazards

If you use a real Christmas tree in your house, make sure to water it daily.

Electric lights should never be hung on a dried-out tree. The potential for fire is drastically increased if the tree is dead and dry.

All lights and lighted window ornaments should be inspected every year to ensure cords are not worn or frayed.

All candles should be used with care. According to the NFPA, the number of fires started by candles nearly doubles during the month of December.

Smoke Alarms

Having working smoke alarms in the house reduces the risk of dying in a fire by 50 percent.

Check all smoke alarms in your house to ensure they are in working order.

Vacuum dust from existing smoke alarms.

Have an alarm on every level of your house, as well as one in each bedroom.

If your smoke alarm uses regular 9-volt batteries, remember to replace them two times a year. (It is a good idea to change the batteries when you change your clock in the spring and fall) Test your smoke alarms monthly, and be sure your children are familiar with the sound of the alarm.

Almost 60 percent of all fatal residential fires occur in houses that don't have smoke alarms, so this may be the single most important thing you can do to keep your family safe from fires.

Because smoke rises, smoke alarms should always be placed on ceilings or high on walls.

If a smoke alarm near the kitchen goes off while you're cooking, do not take the battery out of it - you may forget to replace it. Open the doors and windows instead.

If you're having a new house built or remodeling an older house, you may also want to consider adding a house sprinkler system. These are already found in many apartment buildings and dormitories.

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DONAN, a family owned company founded in 1947, provides full-service Forensic Engineering and Fire Investigation Services. For over 60 years, Donan Engineering has been providing unbiased answers to their client's complicated questions. Their team of licensed and experienced forensic experts provides investigative services in the fields of engineering investigations, fire and explosion origin & cause, roofing investigations, and component testing. The diversity of their multidisciplinary staff allows them to provide not only a complete service, but a complete service whose conclusions can be successfully and completely supported.

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