If projections hold true, home heating costs this winter will on average cost consumers 25.7 percent more than last year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Natural gas and heating oil customers are expected to be hit the hardest. And as Americans begin to receive their winter heating bills and begin to explore alternative ways to heat their homes, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is warning consumers about alternative heat sources and reminding them to follow safety precautions while keeping their home warm this winter.
"With the cost of heating fuel high, consumers might be looking to use space heaters more as a supplemental way of heating their homes," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton. "By following CPSC's recommendations for all types of heating systems, and by installing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, you can help keep your family safe this winter."
The two hazards of most concern to the CPSC are fires and carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CPSC recommends consumers have a professional inspection of all fuel-burning heating systems, including furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, wood stoves, water heaters, chimneys, flues and vents.
For the years 1999-2002, there were about 9,900 residential fires per year and about 190 deaths per year associated with portable and stationary space heaters.
In addition to the fires and deaths associated with space heaters, there were 20,600 fires and about 40 deaths per year associated with fireplaces and chimneys. For central heating, there were about 5,800 fires per year and about 20 deaths per year. In addition, an average of about 85 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by heating systems, ranges/ovens and water heaters.
Space heaters can cause fires if they are placed too close to flammable materials such as drapes, furniture or bedding. Fireplaces can cause fires if the chimney is cracked, blocked or coated with creosote, or if sparks and embers reach flammable materials. Fuel-burning appliances can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if they are improperly installed, poorly maintained, have defective or blocked venting systems, or are misused.
Space heater tips:
- Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture and other flammable materials. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
- To prevent the risk of fire, NEVER leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or place a space heater close to any sleeping person. Turn the space heater off if you leave the area.
- Use a space heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up-to-date safety features; older space heaters may not meet the newer safety standards. An unvented gas space heater that meets current safety standards will shut off if oxygen levels fall too low.
- Make sure your heater is correctly rated for your home. An oversized heater could deplete the available oxygen, causing excess carbon monoxide to be produced. Keep a window in the room open at least one inch and keep doors open to the rest of the house to ensure proper ventilation. This helps prevent pollutant build-up and promotes proper combustion.
- Follow the manufacturer's instructions to provide sufficient combustion air to prevent carbon monoxide production.
- Have gas and kerosene space heaters inspected annually to ensure proper operation.
- Do not use a kitchen range or oven to heat your house because it could overheat or generate excessive carbon monoxide.
- Be aware that manufactured homes require specially-designed heating equipment.
- Do not use unvented gas space heaters where prohibited by local codes.
- Have a smoke alarm with fresh batteries on each level of the house, inside every bedroom, and outside the bedrooms in each sleeping area. In addition, have a carbon monoxide alarm outside the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area.
Fireplace safety tips:
- Have flues and chimneys inspected before each heating season for leakage and blockage by creosote or debris.
- Open the fireplace damper before lighting the fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool. Never close the damper or go to bed if the ashes are still warm. An open damper may help prevent build-up of poisonous gases inside the home.
- Never use gasoline, charcoal lighter or other fuel to light or relight a fire because the vapors can explode. Never keep flammable fuels or materials near a fire. Never store flammable liquids in your home.
- Never use charcoal in a fireplace because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Keep a screen or glass enclosure around a fireplace to prevent sparks or embers from igniting flammable materials.