5 Heating Mistakes To Avoid At Home In Winter

Winter is the time when many of us hibernate at home. Although these months are comfortable months, they are also the most dangerous months for fires.

From 2017 to 2019, heating fires in people’s homes are estimated to have accounted for an annual average of 34,200 reported fires. And more than half of home fires occur between December and March, according to data collected between 2017-2019 by the U.S. Fire Administration’s national reporting system.

Too many incidents could have been avoided. Fire and electrical safety experts shared with Talk News the biggest mistakes they want you to avoid this winter.

1. Do not place the space heater close to anything that can catch fire.

Space heaters can provide you with much-needed warmth in the winter, but they are known to pose a fire hazard if left on.

cold blizzard via Getty Images

Space heaters can provide you with much-needed warmth in the winter, but they are known to pose a fire hazard if left on.

In more than a quarter of the largest heating fires that occurred in residential buildings, the fire occurred because the heat source was too close to something that could burn. And space heaters are often the cause.

That’s why you should keep space heaters at least 3 to 5 feet from furniture, curtains or other flammable items, says Susan McKelvey, communications manager for the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit organization that educates the public about fire safety.

2. Don’t go through the winter without checking your carbon monoxide and smoke alarms.

In many of the fires reported by the USFA, the building’s smoke alarms malfunctioned or were dismantled when they were most needed. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, most house fires occur at night between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., when people are sleeping.

That’s why you need an alarm to alert you to danger when there isn’t one. “They are your first line of defense if there is a fire on your home turf,” McKelvey said.

The USFA also recommends replacing your smoke alarms every decade and checking them at least once a month. You can usually run a quick check by pressing the alarm test button.

Ideally, you should not only have one smoke alarm in your home. The USFA and NFPA recommend installing smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement.

McKelvey says part of your winter preparations should also include a plan for what you’ll do if the smoke alarm does go off. Create a buddy system for the most vulnerable people in your home and choose an evacuation site outside the home where you will all meet.

“If there are children in your home or someone who needs extra help, determine who will be responsible for helping each child or anyone who needs that help,” he said. “Because in a fire situation, it’s too late to start figuring it out.”

3. Never leave a heat source unattended.

Before going to bed, make sure you blow out the candles.

Anastasia Stiahailo via Getty Images

Before going to bed, make sure you blow out the candles.

One common mistake is leaving anything that could catch fire unattended – even if only for a few minutes. “If you’re going to use candles, make sure you don’t leave the room while they’re in use,” says McKelvey.

McKelvey says you shouldn’t sleep with a candle still burning or embers still in the fireplace, and you shouldn’t leave a space heater on when you’re not home or sleeping.

Winter can also be a time for long cooking projects on the stove. But you don’t want to set the stew and forget about it. It’s also a common example of how fires can occur, McKelvey said.

“You leave for a moment thinking I’ll be back soon, and then something else distracts you. And before you know it, you’re gone longer than you planned. And that’s when things happen,” he said.

4. Don’t go through the winter without performing maintenance on your heating system.

The main thing people often forget to do is perform maintenance on their heating system, says Duane Enoch, owner of Green Air Concepts Heating and Air Conditioning in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

“Most people think every year you can go out there, hit the thermostat and turn it on and everything is fine,” Enoch said. “You won’t know what will happen in the long term if you don’t get regular check-ups.”

During a maintenance check, your professional will usually check your heating system, clean debris from the bottom of your chimney, clean your flame sensor and make sure you have proper combustion and check that your flue gas is at the right temperature, Enoch says. .

5. Don’t plug in more than the capacity of your outlet or electrical panel.

Check the amperage of your equipment before plugging it in to prevent tripping your circuit.

DonNichols via Getty Images

Check the amperage of your equipment before plugging it in to prevent tripping your circuit.

The USFA only recommends using a power outlet if you are using a portable electric heater and advises against using power strips or extension cords.

In fact, some manufacturers of portable electric heaters only recommend plugging their heaters into an outlet that is not shared by other equipment. This is because these electrical cables are more likely to overheat and cause a fire, at least in the worst case scenario.

“The stuff will catch fire before it actually gets to the outlet and trip the circuit breaker,” says Ayrica Walker, a Baltimore-based electrician and owner of Hers Electric.

Meanwhile, the circuitry in the outlet is designed to turn the power on and off to prevent overheating. “Nine times out of 10, if you see a spark or an arc or a fire, then the circuit connected to the outlet will trip,” Walker said.

Ideally, you should not plug everything into one power strip without looking at the amperage or voltage.

Walker said one of the most common winter calls he receives is from people whose circuits tripped after plugging in a space heater. He gave the example of purchasing a 20 amp heater and connecting it to a 15 amp circuit that was already running four or five other devices.

“You want to check the amperage on every piece of equipment you plug in,” Enoch says. Walker notes that all equipment has a spec sheet where you can look for maximum amperage or voltage.

Or just see how many devices go off with one section of your electrical panel, Walker suggests, before you try to plug in a space heater.

“Go wherever your panel is… If you see something that says ‘living room,’ turn off ‘living room’ and see what it turns off,” he said. “If five things in the room are off, namely the TV, computer, and so on, and the room heater requires 12 amps, then that’s too much.”

In the end, these extra steps for heater maintenance may cost a little time and money, but can be a lifesaver in the long run.

Leave a comment