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Follow these tips to heat your home safely this winter

By Carolyn Sistrand, AccuWeather staff writer

Winter weather conditions are approaching, and heating your home is a top priority for many before the first snowfall. While many turn on the heat without a second thought, people should be aware of the safety concerns that come with staying warm this winter.

“Heating is the second leading cause of home fires in the U.S.,” said Susan McKelvey, communications manager for the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). “December, January and February are the leading months for home fires, nearly half of reported home fires happen in those months.”

While many Americans may have centralized home heating sources, others do look to alternatives to keep warm. These options, however, do pose safety hazards.

winter heating

In-home units, whether portable or stationary, can pose risks for a multitude of reasons. Some include overheating, faulty equipment or not properly being used. All of these possibilities can be virtually avoided with some preparation and monitoring, starting with basic maintenance.

“Have your heating systems inspected and cleaned by a qualified professional each year,” said McKelvey. “That included water heaters, central heating equipment, and you want to make sure they’re following local codes and manufacturer's instructions.”

This should be the first step before the heat source is needed. Inspection of the unit can point out early indicators of malfunctions or long-term safety risks. It will also indicate if a new unit is needed before the coldest months hit.

McKelvey said that the NFPA typically recommends that portable and stationary units be at least 3 feet away from anything flammable. If the unit is too close, a fire can spark.

The NFPA also warns users with fuel-powered units should always double check that the proper fuel source is being used in their unit. Wrong fuel can lead to major safety concerns.

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Units are not the only heat source, but it does not mean that other sources can be left to be not monitored. Chimneys can also cause house fires if not properly cared for.

“If you do use a fireplace, you want to make sure you have a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room and then ashes should be put into a metal container when they are cooled. Then you want to keep the container a safe distance away from your home,” said McKelvey.

Smoke alarms are incredibly important to inspect, especially for those using heating units. They can usually be the first to alert if any fire is happening as a cause of a heating unit, and typically it does so in time to save lives.

“You want to have adequate time to get out safely and smoke alarms give you that warning,” said McKelvey. “Then you want to have an escape plan in place, so that if the smoke alarm sounds, you know how to use that time.”

Smoke alarms can also alert you if something is happening in the case you walk out of the room your unit is in; however, it is highly recommended that no unit is left on unattended for any amount of time.

“You should not leave them overnight while you’re sleeping because you cannot monitor them,” said McKelvey.

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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