Safety tips for heating your home as the weather turns cold

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By Debbie Shepherd

The cold Kentucky winds are beginning to blow, signaling that it’s time to turn on the furnace.  Safety from fire and carbon monoxide poisoning should be your first priority.
U.S. fire departments responded to thousands of home structure fires in 2009 that involved heating equipment, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Not only are furnaces potential hazards, but many of the fires started from space heaters. Carbon monoxide deaths were another problem. 
Following a few safety rules can lessen the chance of a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning at your house.
-- Keep flammable materials at least three feet away from heating equipment. This includes paint cans, combustible cleaning supplies, paper, curtains, clothing and rugs. Better yet, keep volatile liquids like paint and cleaners in a different room.  Make sure all vents are free of obstructions.
-- Have a furnace professional check your furnace for gas leaks, cracked burners and heat exchangers, and other malfunctions.  Replace the furnace filter frequently.
Use a glass or metal screen in front of your fireplace so embers don’t pop out creating a fire hazard. Keep the hearth clear of decorations and debris.
-- A smoke alarm is still the best tool for early fire detection, and a carbon monoxide detector is the best tool to prevent fatal carbon monoxide build-up. At a bare minimum, there should be a smoke alarm on every level of your house and a carbon monoxide detector located per manufacturer’s recommendations. Replace the batteries in these detectors at least once a year and replace the entire smoke and carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years, since their sensors wear out.
-- Have a three-foot  “child-free zone” around open fires and space heaters and teach your children that fires and heaters are dangerous.
-- If you have a wood stove, it should be surrounded by a non-combustible floor, and in some cases non-combustible wall panels. Check with local authorities about the required radius for non-combustible flooring and the required distance from walls before the non-combustible panels are installed.
-- Have chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.  A sluggish draft or smoke rolling into the room could mean creosote build-up in the flue, which  could lead to a nasty chimney fire.
-- Use only clear, 1-K grade kerosene in kerosene heaters.  Grade 2 kerosene burns dirtier and releases many more pollutants. Other fuels like gasoline will lead to fires or explosions.
-- You must provide outside air ventilation for kerosene heaters or any other unvented heaters.  A general rule of thumb is one square inch of open window or door for each 1,000 BTU of heater rating, but check manufacturer fs instructions.  Carbon monoxide build-up has killed many people, often in their sleep.
-- Turn off portable heaters when leaving the room or going to bed.
-- Never use your oven to heat your home.
-- Rehearse with your family fire safety practices. For example, set a family meeting place outside your house if a fire occurs, so you will know that everyone is safe.
These few precautions will help you keep warm and, most of all, safe.
Source:  Mark Purschwitz, Extension Safety Specialist.