As the winter weather sets in, homeowners across the country are starting to insulate their homes and get their heating systems ready to go. But many people aren’t aware that without the right preparation and safety precautions, heating and cooling systems that have dormant for a few months can be pretty dangerous and can cause residential fires.
In fact, statistics from 2011 show that more than 53,000 house fires in the U.S. were caused by malfunctioning heating equipment, there were at least 400 civilian deaths because of these fires, and there was an estimated $893 million worth of property damage.
However, many of these fires could have been prevented with the proper care and maintenance checks. Experts are urging homeowners to take some preventative measures before turning their heating systems on full blast, regardless of where they live or how they heat their homes.
Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces are particularly risky for homeowners, and even though many people find it more affordable to heat their homes with wood-burning furnaces, it’s important to realize that extra safety precautions must be taken. Items that are prone to catch fire and burn easily, such as wooden furniture or potted house plants, should be kept at least three feet away from heat sources, and (clean) protective screens should always be put in place before turning on a stove or furnace.
For heating systems that run on oil, it’s important to make sure that the HVAC system filter is regularly replaced and/or cleaned. Not only will a dirty filter cause your energy bill to go up (because the heating system has to work in overdrive just to get warm air pushed through the filter), but a dirty filter is also more likely to cause an HVAC system to malfunction.
“The most efficient way to be safe when it comes to your central heating system is to have it professionally maintained and tested to ensure everything is operating safely and at peak efficiency,” says Tom Casey, Owner of Climate Partners in Milford, CT.
Many homeowners have also begun turning to space heaters as alternative heating sources, but health officials warn that some space heaters — specifically those that run on fuel — will emit carbon dioxide and should never be used indoors.
Space heaters that run on electricity are much safer, but homeowners should still exercise caution when it comes to running these appliances as well. Like other heating sources, flammable items should be kept at a safe distance from any space heaters, and these heaters should never be left running unattended.