Winter Fire Safety
Heating experts predict a rise in the costs of heating our homes and businesses this coming cold season; fuel will be available however it will be costly. As Americans we will search for cost-effective means to heat our homes. Alternative sources and fuels will be available, however they must be used as directed and as the manufactures recommend. Before spending any money, research the product(s) you choose to use. Has it been tested and listed by a nationally recognized testing organizations as Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL), Factory Mutual and other credible testing organizations?
Consult with the code enforcement officials in your locale and or the fire department to verify what you intend to do is allowed. Most municipalities require a permit to be lifted and an inspection to be performed when the work is complete to insure accuracy and safety of the installation. Do not “go-it-alone”, your homeowners insurance underwriter may require a copy of the permit and proof of the final inspection.
Installations will, in all likelihood, have to conform to NFPA codes or other standards set-forth for your safety as well as the protection of your property. Any deviation from this process could cancel the policy. When in doubt, contact your homeowner’s insurance company before you begin.
I toured several “box” retail stores to read labels on heat producing as well as various electrical appliances. The results, many are imported from Vietnam, People’s Republic of China and several other distant lands. The labels state that these appliances are “reconditioned” and conform to UL Standards (1082, 1278, etc), do research, it’s your life and property.
If you rent, be sure to have a Renter’s Insurance Policy the owner/landlord is NOT responsible for your personal property. The cost is about $150.00 a year. I recommend that you insure your property for actual replacement value.
Have your heating system serviced by a reputable (& insured) service company and request them to inspect the venting (chimney) inside and outside. CCTV cameras are utilized to inspect the chimney’s internal structure and records are memorialized with the finding on a disk. This is especially important if you use a solid fuel appliance for heat (or cooking). Chimneys must be capped with a spark arrester and be free from any blockage (trees) that could prevent proper air flow and venting; they should also have a lining, terracotta or metal (NFPA 211 & 96).
Always dispose of fireplace or wood stove ashes by placing them in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. This container must be placed on a noncombustible surface OUTSIDE the house.
The use of “portable” heating devices can be hazardous. Electric space heaters must not be connected to an extension-cord, the load is too great at the connector and will create heat. If you plan on using a kerosene heater, consult with your building codes department; many municipalities do not permit the use of these liquid fueled appliances in occupied dwellings. Remember, only K-1 clear kerosene must be used in these heaters and they must be filled outside after they cool-down..
The best and safest methods for conservation of energy is to insulate your building, turn down the thermostat and wear heavier clothes in layers.
Most important, make sure every level of your home has at least one WORKING smoke alarm and that you clean and test it monthly. It is recommended that a dual purpose unit is used, ionization & photoelectric, learn the differences. If you heat with fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, LP gas), have a working CO (carbon monoxide) detector installed as per the manufacturer’s instruction.
Develop an escape plan with your family and practice it with them. If you are relying on windows for escape, be sure they open. Remember in a “real fire” situation, you have approximately THREE MINUTES to decide what to do and do it. There are NO replays.
Ed Knight is a Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator (CFEI/CFII) and a fire instructor; a retired municipal assistant fire marshal, forensic investigator having investigated several thousand fires and testified over 60 times throughout the United States and several foreign countries. He is Chairman of the Live Burn Facility, Pequea Lane, Lancaster, PA.