Well another holiday season has come and gone and I hope it went well for everyone. Now we get down to the real nitty gritty part of winter. Living in Florida as I do we don't really have to worry about cold weather as much as a large percentage of the world does. This is good and bad. Good because we don't get many really cold days and bad because many of us are woefully unprepared for the ones we do get. Every year I hear about fires in homes and people losing everything sometimes even their lives in a bid to stay warm.
This leads me to my topic today which is heater safety. I'm not talking about Newer homes where the heat source is a part of a well equipped central A/C system. I'm talking about the folks in homes without central heat who primarily rely on space heaters whether electric, kerosene, or wood burning stoves or fireplaces. Each one has it's benefits and dangers and I won't discuss the benefits here in detail because I wish to focus on the dangers.
First I will discuss kerosene heaters. Depending on the age and model of your heater it should have built in safety features but the features are no substitute for proper operation and maintenance. First of all you must observe the safety precautions dictated by common sense. Keep any and all flammables well clear of the heater and also since kerosene heaters operate as a combustion heater meaning they burn a fuel in order to produce heat they also consume oxygen as part of the combustion process and produce Carbon monoxide as a by-product. Adequate ventilation is an absolute must for safe operation of a kerosene heater and a functional CO2 alarm can help make sure you wake up in the morning. Kerosene heaters need to be refueled and it is imperative that this takes place outdoors after the heater has cooled and any fuel spilled in the process should be thoroughly cleaned up before any attempt is made to relight the heater. I recommend just shutting it off at night and adding blankets to the bed. If that isn't an option then make sure it is fueled and a safety check has been done before bed time because trying to refuel a heater half asleep in the middle of a cold night leads to dangerous shortcuts being taken.
Woodstoves and fireplaces have their own set of safety requirements and really should be addressed separately because they are two very different animals. A fireplace is normally built into a wall and can be either a manufactured or site built masonry unit. For practical purposes a fireplace is more an aesthetic fixture than a realistic way to heat a space unless specific upgrades have been installed to make more efficient use of the heat generated by the burning of the wood such as air circulation units that force air through tubes heated by the fire and out into the room. A huge percentage of the heat generated by a fireplace is lost up and out of the chimney. I won't discuss gas fireplaces here because quite frankly I don't know enough about them good or bad but I am sure they come with their own set of safety precautions. Woodstoves by contrast are more efficient than a fireplace since they are commonly of cast iron that absorbs heat energy from the burning wood and radiates it out in a 360 degree radius and as such requires substantial clearance on all sides from any combustibles and the building structure itself. This means they take up a large amount of space and if your room is small it just may not be practical. Woodstoves and fireplaces have one thing in common you should never go to sleep with an open flame in either one and the safety measures should secured (screens and/or doors on a fireplace) and the doors tightly shut on a woodstove.
This brings us to electric heaters. The #1 thing I can say about electric heaters is just keep them up to date. I have seen some real dinosaurs in the flea markets and garage sales and it just isn't worth cheaping out this way. Newer electric heaters have become cheaper and also safer with internal breakers, tip over sensors, better thermostats and selective power levels. Don't chance it with some flea market relic that is a disaster waiting to happen. Get a newer, smaller, safer and more efficient heater and throw away those fire starters you drag out of the attic every year and make the whole house smell like burning dust.