As the nights gets darker and colder, we start to rely on our heating systems more and more. It’s no surprise then that nearly all home fires from heating equipment take place in the winter months (December, January, and February).
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), between 2009 and 2013, “heating equipment was involved in an estimated 56,000 reported U.S. home structure fires, with associated losses of 470 civilian deaths, 1,490 civilian injuries, and $1 billion in direct property damage.”
But it’s not just home fires that you have to worry about. In addition to home fire injuries and deaths, heating systems can also cause gas leaks, carbon monoxide poisoning, water leaks, electrical shocks, and more.
Dangers Associated with Heating Systems
Your heating system and portable space heater can cause a fire if you’re not careful. Luckily, heating-related fires can be prevented if action is taken on time.
Professional heating maintenance should be conducted every year. Additionally, it’s important to keep anything flammable far away from all heating equipment, which includes electric stove heaters, candles, lamps, kerosene, gasoline, generators, petrol, barbecues, furnaces, and portable space heaters. There should always be a minimum 3-foot clearance around all of your heating equipment.
Winter fire safety tips:
- Test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors every 30 days.
- Replace all smoke and CO detectors at least every 10 years or as instructed by the manufacturer.
- Interconnected, hardwired smoke and CO detectors are best.
- Use both types of smoke alarms (ionization and photoelectric) or “combination” smoke alarms. Learn more about smoke alarm safety.
- Have your fireplace and chimney inspected once a year. Use a mesh screen or glass cover for fires. Wait until ashes are cool before removing them. Discard in a metal container and place the container outside, far away from the home and garage.
- Never leave candles or space heaters unattended. Turn off space heaters before going to bed.
- Always plug space heaters directly into an outlet, never an extension cord.
- Inspect all electrical devices for damage before using. Make sure electrical devices have been tested by an independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriter Laboratory (UL).
- Water your Christmas tree frequently and dispose of dried out trees on time.
Watch this video for more home heating safety tips:
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), over 150 people in the U.S. die from carbon monoxide poisoning every year. An additional 5,000 or so suffer injuries. Known as the silent killer, CO poisoning is a very serious problem that can result from any fuel-burning process.
Generators, furnaces, wood stoves, and any other combustion-related process is capable of producing harmful gases like carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide can cause health problems like breathing difficulties—problems associated with the nervous system and even death in severe cases.
Generator, fireplace, and heating system maintenance should be conducted in the fall of every year for preventing buildup of this colorless and odorless gas. Even wood stoves, barbecues, and space heaters can be dangerous. In one striking case, a former homeowner who knew of a heating system problem was convicted of involuntary manslaughter when a Burlington, VT couple and their older daughter died from a CO leak (New York Times).
Learn more about carbon monoxide dangers by watching the video below:
Water Leaks and Burns
Furnaces, hot water and steam (hydronic systems) are the most common heating systems in the United States. The heating system should be kept running and in good condition in the winter months. If the heating system is not used for a long time the water pipes can break and the water can escape from the pipes.
Water leaks are more common in air conditioning systems than furnaces, but furnaces can still leak water and cause damage to your home. If you notice any water around your furnace, woodwork, or ceilings, contact an HVAC professional right way to assess the situation.
Water leaks in hydronic heating systems are more common and a lot more dangerous. While water leaks are rare, they can happen; and when they do, expect extensive damage.
Radiators can also cause permanent burns and in extreme cases, death. For instance, if the radiator valve is damaged or missing, hot water and steam can burst into a room and cause severe injuries. Consider covering your radiators with insulation to prevent burns when someone touches it.
Also, don’t forget to periodically drain your boiler. Water impurities and acidity can damage your boiler system, leading to water leaks, “steam hammers,” and hydronic system failure.
Shocks and Electrical Hazards
Your furnace is hooked up to electrical wiring and control systems that connect to your thermostat and other parts. Other than flipping a switch or breaker, leave your furnace’s electrical work to a professional. Unless you are a certified electrician, always contact a professional HVAC technician for electrical repairs to your heating system.
If you do try to conduct any kind of furnace or heating maintenance, make sure you always turn off power to the system from the breaker box first.
Natural gas is still the most common heating fuel in the United States. A gas-powered furnace that is not maintained can cause efficiency and safety problems.
If you smell rotten eggs or sulfur, don’t automatically assume someone farted. Although natural gas is naturally colorless and odorless, gas manufacturers are required to add a chemical called mercaptan to help alert people to the presence of gas. If you smell rotten eggs and/or suspect a gas leak, evacuate the home as soon as possible and call your gas company or 911.
Keep in mind that gas can leak from other places besides your gas furnace, such as your oven. When gas leaks are ignored, it can easily lead to an explosion or fire. Even the simple flip of a light switch can cause ignition. Again, if you smell gas, leave the home immediately and don’t operate any electrical equipment. Call the gas company or 911 when you are a safe distance away.
In addition to leaks in your gas lines, problems can also develop when there is not enough air for safe combustion. Make sure you have a professional should check the system before you start using your furnace or any other heating system. The furnace should get a proper amount of space and air. And don’t forget to regularly check and change your furnace filters.
Natural gas and carbon monoxide are harmful gases which can cause severe health problems to the user. Be aware of gas leak smells and check your carbon monoxide detectors every 30 days to make sure they are working properly.
Watch this video to learn how to check for gas leaks:
Learn more furnace maintenance tips.
Heating System Prevention & Maintenance
Heating systems are an important part of our lives in the fall and winter months when weather can be unpredictable. It would be difficult to imagine life without them. Maintenance of the heating system is important to keep it working and in good condition all through the winter months.
Improper installation and use of heating systems can cause various problems to the user. The key is early detection of the faults. In case of an accident the user should ask for help. With proper maintenance and care problems can be prevented. Having the heating system inspected by trained personnel can prevent any accidents.
Your technician will make sure your heating and duct system is safe and efficient. Fall is the best time to schedule furnace and heating maintenance.
In addition to scheduling professional heating system maintenance, remember to:
- Clean or replace furnace filter
- Open up all vents and registers and make sure they are unobstructed
- Calibrate and program thermostat
- Be mindful of furnace sights and sounds
- Sign up for an HVAC maintenance plan
Schedule your heating system appointment online or give us a call at (925) 444-4444.