Inspect Your Fireplace, Furnace, and Heater


Plan | Stay Safe • Winter Storms

Why does this matter?

As the nights get colder, it is important to look for ways to keep warm like lighting the fireplace, cranking up the furnace, and turning on the space heaters. But keep in mind that fires and carbon monoxide poisoning are real risks when heating your home. These tips will help you keep your family safe and warm this winter season.

What do I need to know?

Fireplace Safety

Before you light your first fire of the season:

  • Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
  • Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations, and flammable materials.
  • Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment. Make sure all vent pipes extend at least three feet above the roof.
  • If you have a gas fireplace, have a professional service the fireplace before your first fire of the season to ensure it is operating safely.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside and outside of sleeping areas. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year.
  • Also, install carbon monoxide detectors to ensure levels are safe within your home.

While enjoying your fire:

  • If you have glass fireplace doors, leave them open while burning a fire to ensure complete combustion and keep creosote from building up in the chimney.
  • Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door.
  • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire and use only seasoned hardwood. Never burn cardboard boxes, trash, charcoal, or debris in your fireplace or woodstove.
  • Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
  • When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
  • Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise, you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.

Once you finish your fire:

  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house. Close the glass doors, if you have them, to keep the chimney air out of the room.
  • Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside of your home.

Furnace Safety

  • Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition. If something needs repair, call a licensed professional. Do not attempt repairs on your own, unless you are qualified.
  • Inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line. If the wall is hot or discolored, additional pipe insulation or clearance may be required.
  • Check the flue pipe and pipe seams to make sure they are well supported and free of holes and cracks. Soot along or around seams may be an indicator of a leak.
  • Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system.

Portable Space Heater Safety

Read the Labels

  • When buying a heater, look for one that has been tested and labeled by a nationally recognized testing company, such as Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL).
  • Purchase a space heater with more modern safety features like those that shut off if it is tipped or turned over.

Location, Location, Location

  • Keep the heater three feet away from drapes, furniture, bedding, or other flammable materials.
  • Place the heater on a level surface away from areas where someone might bump into it and knock it over. Be careful to keep children and pets away from the heater.
  • Try to locate electric space heaters where they can be plugged directly into the wall outlet. If you must use an extension cord, make sure it is a heavy-duty cord marked with a power rating at least as high as that on the heater label.
  • Keep electric heaters away from water. Never use them near a sink or in the bathroom. Never leave a space heater unattended or running while you sleep.
  • Ensure the room has enough ventilation to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Liquid Fueled Heater Tips

  • For liquid-fueled heaters, follow the manufacturer’s fueling instructions using only the approved fuel. Never use gasoline! Never fill a heater that is still hot. Do not overfill the heater; you must allow for the expansion of the liquid. Only use approved containers clearly marked for the particular fuel available, and store them outdoors.
  • Maintain ventilation when using kerosene heaters. Refuel kerosene heaters outside. Ensure the heater is at least three feet away from flammable objects.
  • Have vented space heaters professionally inspected every year. If the heater is not vented properly, not vented at all, or if the vent is blocked, separated, rusted, or corroded, dangerous carbon monoxide levels can enter the home, causing sickness and death. Carbon monoxide also can be produced if the heater is not properly set up and adjusted for the type of gas used and the altitude at which it is installed.

Where do I start?

  • Get your fireplace ready for the season, including reducing the ability for fire to enter your home.
  • FEMA recommends installing spark arrestors on all chimneys, stovepipes, and vents for fuel-burning heaters. Use spark arrestors made of 12-gauge welded or woven wire mesh screen with openings 1/2 inch across.
  • Every year have heating equipment and chimneys professionally cleaned and inspected.
  • Keep any outdoor firewood at least 30 feet away from your home.
  • Ensure your roof is free of potential fire fuel (ex: leaves, pine needles), and remove branches above the chimney, flues, or vents.
  • Ensure roof-covering assemblies do not have openings that allow firebrands in.
  • Make sure eaves that extend beyond exterior walls are built with fire-resistive materials.
  • Cover all vent openings with a corrosion-resistant, non-combustible, 1/4 inch or smaller wire mesh or screen that prevents entry of firebrands.
  • Check up your furnace.
  • Follow portable heater safety tips.
  • Never heat the house with an oven or oven range.

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