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Keep Warm and Safe This Winter: Fireplace and Space Heater Safety Tips

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It’s February in Hampton Roads and your thoughts are turning towards spring. However, if the groundhog sees his shadow there may be six more weeks of winter ahead of us. This means plenty of cold days and nights before the suns warmth brings sunny weather and oceanfront fun.

In the meantime we must keep warm, and put our fireplaces and space heaters to work. Whether you have a fireplace or space heater it is important to remember the risks associated with trying to stay warm during these cold wither days and nights. Here are a few tips to help you keep both safe and warm:

Fireplaces – Fireplaces and chimneys are involved in approximately 42% of all home heating related fires. Make sure the chimney is cleaned and/or inspected yearly for safe usage to eliminate the risk of a soot or debris buildup, and to repair cracks or damage. By burning only seasoned hardwood you eliminate the creosote buildup associated with green woods that can lead to chimney fires.  Also, install a spark guard in front of the open flame and keep flammable materials away from the front of the fireplace.

Vented Space Heaters – Vented space heaters must be located near an outside wall and vented with outside air for combustion. The vents should be inspected yearly to ensure safe working order and to reduce risk from carbon monoxide (CO) buildup. Follow the instructions for fueling these units, and only use approved fuels stored well away from the heater.

Unvented Space Heaters  – Unvented space heaters should never be used in a confined space.  These units are usually cheaper than the vented units, but with that savings comes the serious risk not only of fire but also of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and oxygen depletion in a space. Unvented space heaters should never be used inside the home, and some types have been banned from many states.

Electric Space Heaters – Electric space heaters are often cheaper to buy, but are more costly to operate. Electric space heaters eliminate the concerns associated with burning fuels (open flames and air quality), but still carry a risk.  If the units fall over they could ignite flammable material, burn if touched, or overload electrical circuits. Look for heaters that have thermostat control and an automatic shutoff switch if knocked over.  It is best to avoid using an with these heaters, however, If you must use an extension cord make sure it is a heavier gauge than the unit’s cord (typically a 14 gauge or heavier), and is as short as possible.

In addition to following these tips you should also make sure you are prepared in case one of the potential risks becomes a reality.  Always have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed in the house.  Also, make sure you have an A-B-C Class fire extinguisher nearby that you know how to use. Remember to PASS with the extinguisher: P – Pull the pin, A – Aim low, S – Squeeze the lever slowly, S – Sweep from side to side. An added bonus to taking these preventative measures is that you may qualify for certain discounts with your homeowners insurance rates.

If you are a property owner  or a renter  you will have additional considerations that will be should be outlined in your rental agreements. Your property management company  will be able to guide you on requirements, and answer any questions you may have concerning fire safety, fireplace inspections and repairs, and the allowance of space heaters in a rented property.

Enjoy the final weeks of winter by safely staying warm!

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