With the first snow already falling in New York City, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia, it’s a good time to think about how you will heat your home during the winter. Each year, many homeowners make bad decisions and either cause damage to their home or, worse, injury and even death to their families. Remember, your home insurance policy can help you replace your home after a fire, but it cannot replace lost lives or lost time from dealing with the aftermath of fire. Fortunately, there are some basic guidelines you can follow to have a safe and comfortable home this winter.
One of the greatest dangers to your home in the winter is fire. Fires can result from a number of sources, but many are the result of poor decisions when generating heat. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, many homeowners are finding alternative sources of heat to combat the rising cost of heating fuel. This has led to a rise in the use of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, which can be significant sources of home fires. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t take advantage of using wood for warmth. One of the key steps in avoiding fire is preparation. You should inspect all parts of your stove, fireplace, and chimney before you use them to ensure they are safe to operate when the temperature drops. Many homeowners don’t use their stoves or fireplaces regularly, but then operate them for the first time during a cold snap, not realizing the dangers they are facing. Regular maintenance can help reduce the chance of fire damage.
If you are using a portable electric heater, be sure to follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions for the use of the product. If you are using a heater from a previous winter season, make sure you inspect it carefully before using it for the first time. If any part of it appears to not be in proper working order, do not attempt to use it. Instead, contact the manufacturer regarding any authorized repair centers. If your heater is safe to operate, remember to keep it away from fabric and other materials that may catch fire — portable heaters produce extreme heat, which can easily ignite flammable items.
In the case of both wood fires and electric heaters, neither should be utilized without constant supervision. It’s not a good idea to leave either running all night, while you are sleeping, or when you’re not at home. With the fireplace, you should be certain that the fire is completely out before heading to bed.
In addition to the fire danger, you should be concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning whenever anything is burning in the home. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, so you can be exposed and succumb to it without any warning. To avoid problems, you should never operate the fireplace without the damper being completely open. Otherwise, carbon monoxide, which should escape through the chimney, will be forced into your home. UGI, a utility company in Pennsylvania, provides good information on their website specifically on the dangers of carbon monoxide and how to prevent it from harming your family.
As with most safety issues, a little bit of planning and forethought can help you avoid making last-minute decisions that increase your chances of injury and property damage. If you are properly prepared for that first cold snap, you can safely heat your home and avoid the usual dangers.