Heat your home safely

This winter, heat your home safely

If you’re one of the legions working from home, as the weather grows cooler you may be confronting an uncomfortable reality: the cozy nook you fitted out as your home office is no longer so cozy. In fact, it’s downright drafty. 
Give space heaters some space

If you’re one of the legions working from home, as the weather grows cooler you may be confronting an uncomfortable reality: the cozy nook you outfitted for your home office is no longer so cozy. In fact, it’s downright drafty. 

Give space heaters some space

You may think an electric heater from your local big-box store will do the trick. Just stow it under your desk, turn up the dial, and get back to work. Problem solved, right?

Well, not so much. In fact, buying a cheap electric heater might start your problems rather than ending them. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), between 2015–2019, home heating equipment was the second most common cause of home structure fires (after cooking). The equipment caused an average of 45,800 fires per year. That’s 13 percent of all reported home fires during this time. Those fires caused 480 deaths, 1,350 injuries, and $1 billion in direct property damage.

So, how do you use one but also stay off the NFPA’s casualty list? Here are a few tips:

  • Keep clothing, bedding, drapes, papers, and anything else flammable at least three 3 feet away from the unit. 
  • Maintain a 3-foot kid-free zone around the heater.
  • Turn the heater off anytime you’re going to be away from it.
  • Never plug space heaters into a power strip or surge protector. Only plug them into a wall socket.

Would wood be better?

There’s something primally satisfying about gazing into a fire on a cold winter night. As with space heaters, though,  fireplaces or stoves that burn wood or other combustibles have a downside. 

Using wood or multi-fuel stoves or fireplaces produces ash. You’ll need to clean this out regularly, and it can be a very dirty job. Also, be sure the ashes are cold before you try to empty them.

No matter how good it smells, you shouldn’t burn Christmas tree branches after the holidays. Also avoid burning wrapping paper or treated wood, which can release toxins into the air. 

If you want to avoid chimney fires, you’ll need to ensure that creosote — the residue deposited inside the flue by burning fuel — doesn’t accumulate. Creosote can combust at temperatures as low as 451 degrees — no hotter than the oven in your kitchen. Even an 1/8-inch buildup can lead to a chimney fire, which can damage your chimney or even spread into the surrounding structure.

  • Have your flue cleaned regularly, and have your fire box and chimney inspected every year. This will set you back around $150-–450, but it could save you thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in repairs.
  • Your inspector should also check your flue for birds, raccoons, and various rodents who may build highly flammable nests there in the off-season. A solid chimney cap should help you avoid this; have your fireplace pro install one if it’s not already in place. 
  • Use your fire screen! Nothing spoils a peaceful evening like an ember popping out of the fireplace and landing on that expensive carpet or your dog.

Maybe I should just stick to my furnace ...

While furnaces can malfunction, modern furnaces are designed with safety in mind and having a well-maintained central heating unit will help you avoid dangerous situations. That said, there are a few rules you ought to follow before setting your thermostat to your happy temperature: 

  • Have your furnace inspected annually. 
  • Replace your filters at least every 90 days to keep your system running at its best.
  • Clean the furnace and vents. Clean furnaces burn better and clean vents mean better air flow.
  • State-of-the-art furnaces can operate at over 98 percent efficiency. Having one could cut your heating bill in half.

And when all else fails …

Remember that Irish sweater in your cedar chest. You’ll stay warm, you’ll have a lower bill, and you’ll look snazzy, too. 

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Sources: National Fire Protection Association; Missouri Department of Public Safety; Chimney Safety Institute of America; DTE Energy.com