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Winter Safety + Home Improvement

How to Stay Safe While Heating Your Home This Winter

Tammy Franks

Senior Program Manager, National Safety Council

Tammy Franks, Senior Program Manager, National Safety Council, [email protected]

About 80 percent of all fire deaths are caused by home fires, with heating being one of the leading causes. The good news is there are steps you can take to protect you and your loved ones, especially as we enter the colder months.

Preventing a home heating fire

To help keep your home fire-free, make sure all flammable items like paper, clothing, bedding, drapes, and rugs are at least 3 feet away from space heaters, stoves, and fireplaces.

In addition, you should never leave space heaters or fireplaces unattended, and — if you must use a space heater — place it on a level, nonflammable surface, not a rug or carpet.

When buying a space heater, consider a model that shuts off automatically if the heater falls over, and keep space heaters away from children and pets. Also be sure to check all electrical cords, replacing those that are frayed or have bare wires.

During the holidays, don’t burn trees, wreaths, or wrapping paper in the fireplace, and use a screen on the fireplace at all times when a fire is burning. Check and clean the chimney and fireplace area at least once a year.

Lastly, keep matches and lighters out of children’s reach, in a high area or in a locked cabinet.

Reducing your risk

If a heating fire occurs in your home, you’ll want to make sure you are alerted and prepared to get out safely. Smoke alarms are critical in these scenarios.

All homes should have smoke alarms installed on every level, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas, on the ceiling or high on the wall.

Smoke alarms should be tested monthly and the batteries should be replaced every year. Alarms that are 10 or more years old should be replaced.

Homeowners should also consider purchasing a fire extinguisher. The National Fire Protection Association recommends a multi-purpose device for home use that is large enough to put out a small fire but not so heavy that it will be difficult to handle. 

Review the instructions on your extinguisher each year. If you need to use a fire extinguisher, there won’t be time to learn how to do it. 

It is also important to have — and practice — a home escape plan in the event of a fire. Plans should include two ways to escape from each room. Families who live in multi-story buildings should use the stairs when escaping from a fire — never the elevator.

Also designate an outside meeting place that is part of your home escape plan. The meeting place should be a safe distance from your residence and easy to get to.

By following the above safety tips, you will help protect yourself and those you love from home heating fires. For more fire safety tips, visit nsc.org.

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