OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – The chance of you freezing to death in your home during a severe winter storm is slim. However, the dangers and possible risk of death by fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, or lack of oxygen are more significant.
Firefighters are urging the public to use added caution when heating their homes this winter. These life-saving reminders are critical in a heating emergency.
Don’t DIY your heat!
You should only use approved heating devices designed for such use.
"We have seen fire deaths from people using hair dryers under the covers of their bed to stay warm," Overland Park, Kansas, Fire Department spokesman Jason Rhodes said.
Firefighters say that grills and heat guns are not designed to heat living spaces and can cause injury or death. Outdoor barbecue materials, like charcoal briquettes, should not be burned indoors -- even in a fireplace. They burn off toxic and odorless carbon monoxide fumes.
Firefighting materials like extinguishers, a heavy blanket, sand, salt, baking soda or water should be on-hand in case of an emergency.
Never heat your home with your oven
Using a gas or electric oven for space heating is strongly not recommended. Ovens are designed to heat substances, not rooms.
"Leaving an oven door open is a fire and burn hazard, not to mention the possibility of carbon monoxide generation if you have poorly maintained gas appliances," Rhodes said.
Only use properly rated gas space heaters indoors
Many gas heaters are not rated for indoor use where ventilation is limited. It can put you at tremendous risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.
Be sure your gas space heater is rated for indoor use and properly maintained and never refill a space heater while it is running or hot. You should always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Be careful with electric space heaters
Firefighters say you should make sure you have three feet of space around your space heater free from combustible materials.
Items like paper and drapery can heat up to their ignition point if they’re too close, and then you’ve got a fire.
"Also, only use properly rated extension cords for heaters and never put them under carpets, as they will eventually wear through the shielding or simply overheat and become a fire hazard," Rhodes said.
You should never allow children access to any type of portable heater, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension states.
Never burn wood in a gas-only fireplace
Gas-only burning fireplaces are not equipped for wood-burning fires and must be converted by a qualified professional to burn wood.
Also, bottled gas in natural gas appliances should not be used unless it has been converted for proper usage. Higher-temperature fuel sources could be unsafe to flues and piping made for gas-burning appliances, according to UMaine Extension.
Have your furnace and or fireplace serviced annually
A trained professional needs to make sure they’re in proper working order.
Rhodes said homeowners should always have and maintain working smoke alarms. They must be changed every ten years, too.
"We also recommend installing carbon monoxide alarms. These devices are the cheapest form of life insurance you can buy," Rhodes said.
Is it larger than a candle?
You shouldn’t burn anything larger than candles inside your home without providing good ventilation to the outside. All heaters, except for electric, should be vented.
The UMaine Extension advises connecting the stovepipe to a working chimney flue only. Many older homes have capped pipe thimbles in rooms once heated by stoves.
Catalytic or unvented heaters should be cross-ventilated by opening a window an inch on each side of the room. If not, you can run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
There should always be at least one person awake to watch for fire whenever an alternative heat source is used. Drowsiness or headaches are a sign of poor ventilation.
Most home heating fires happen in January
According to the National Fire Protection Association, home heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires in the United States during December, January and February, when 48% of all U.S. home heating equipment fires occur.
"Clearly, the coldest months of the year is when we see the largest share of home heating fires," said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at the NFPA. "It’s critical that people understand when and where home heating fires tend to happen so that they can take the needed steps to minimize those risks."
According to the association’s latest heating equipment statistics, an average of 48,530 home heating fires occurred each year between 2014 and 2018.
It’s also estimated that 500 people died, another 1,350 were injured, and $1.1 billion was caused in property damage.