Home Heating Safety

BINGHAMTON, NY - Whether you choose to turn up a thermostat or toss a log on a fire, with a chill in the air, the glow of warmth filling a room is always welcome on a cold day. Stay snug this winter, but also stay safe by thoroughly checking all your heating systems for hazards says the Broome County Health Department.

It is a good practice to have an annual inspection conducted by a reputable expert on all fuel-fired heating systems, gas appliances and fireplaces to ensure proper combustion and ventilation, advised Claudia Edwards, Director of the Broome County Health Department. "To prevent carbon monoxide leaks, your chimney and flue pipes should be free of all obstructions, cracks and ill-fitting seams," she said. All gas flames, either of heating systems or kitchen ranges, should be blue in color. A yellowish flame or an excessively high flame that is noisy or sputters may be due to improper combustion and result in unsafe levels of carbon monoxide gasses.

To reduce the hazard of flammable vapors from gas-fired water heaters, be sure they are installed according to code requirements. It is best to elevate heaters 18 inches from the floor.

Creosote is a substance contained in smoke, which collects on chimney linings and wood-burning stovepipes and may start a fire if allowed to build up. To prevent creosote buildup, avoid smoldering fires, and have chimneys checked and cleaned annually by a reputable firm.

To reduce the risk of fire, keep a screen around the fireplace to prevent sparks from flying into the room. In addition, keep children away from the fireplace, and make sure the fire is out before going to bed.

"Gasoline, charcoal lighter fluid, or other fuels should never be used to light or re-light a fire, since each can cause an explosion. And, never burn trash or home-rolled newspaper logs soaked in gasoline or kerosene," Edwards said.

"Improper use of space heaters is another major fire concern. If you must use a space heater, be sure to follow the manufacturer's installation and operating instructions," she said. All heating devices should be placed on floor surfaces protected by sheet metal, concrete or stone. Protective floor surfaces should extend at least 18 inches beyond the heating source in all directions. Stoves and space heaters should be at least three feet from walls that can burn, and at least 18 inches from protected walls. Curtains, curtain and blind cords, and other flammable items should be well away from the heating source. Other safety measures to follow include:

  • Keep plenty of sand or a fire extinguisher near the heating device.
  • Make sure smoke detectors are installed throughout your home. Periodically test their batteries to make sure they are working.
  • Develop and practice an escape plan from all areas of your home, with your family.
  • Store flammable liquids in a well-ventilated area, away from any flame source and out of reach of children.
  • Light matches, if needed for lighting the pilot, before turning on the gas, to prevent gas buildup.

For more information on home heating safety, call the Broome County Health Department at 607.778.3921.