Home Heating 101

As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, it’s time to get your home heating system going. Whether you use oil, natural gas, propane, electricity or wood, we expect our heating systems to operate safely and efficiently — without the threat of accidents or injury. There is something about the winter months, and coming into a nice, warm home after being out in the cold. But did you know that heating equipment is a leading cause of home fire injuries and fatalities? With a few simple safety tips and precautions you can prevent most heating accidents from happening.

Here are few home heating basics to pay attention to:

Furnaces (oil & gas)

Have your heating system serviced by a qualified contractor at least once per year.

Examine your heating system occasionally for signs of deterioration, such as water stains, corrosion or leakage. In forced-air systems, clean the furnace air filters regularly – at least twice per heating season.

Make sure warm-air outlets and cold-air returns are not covered by furniture, carpets or blocked by other debris.

Keep the area around your furnace free from dust, lint, rags, newspapers, paint, and other materials or chemicals that could catch fire or explode if they become too hot.

Fireplaces & Stoves

Have your chimney checked for damage and cleaned each year by a qualified professional.

Ensure that your fire is always supervised. Make sure that it is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.

Use only small amounts of dry, well-seasoned wood. Don’t burn scrap paper, cardboard or other waste in the fireplace.

Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room.

As with your furnace, keep potentially combustible materials away from this heat source.

Ensure that areas underneath wood stoves meet local codes with either masonry or approved stove board surfaces.

Regularly check for signs of problems throughout the heating season. Watch for loose or stained stovepipe connections, excessive soot or creosote build-up, excessive heat in the walls around a chimney or obvious structural damage such as loose mortar or bricks.

Space Heaters

Only use space heaters that have been safety tested and UL approved.

Make sure the unit is equipped with an emergency tip-over shut-off feature, is in good repair and includes heating element guards.

Place heaters out of high-traffic areas (away from kids and pets) and keep them on a level, hard, non-flammable floor surface.

Never attempt to repair a faulty heater yourself and be sure to use them for their intended purpose only (as a supplemental room heating source).

Again, as with any source of heat, keep heaters away from potentially flammable materials.

Do not overload circuits. Never use extension cords or multiple plugs with a space heater, and make sure the unit is not plugged into the same circuit as other electric appliances.

Never leave space heaters unattended. Turn off your space heater and unplug it before leaving the room or going to bed.

Carbon Monoxide Risks

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas and is often referred to as the “silent killer”. It is highly toxic, and when inhaled, it inhibits the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen throughout the body. It can poison the body quickly in high concentrations, or slowly over long periods of time.

All fuel-burning devices need a supply of fresh air to burn properly. Without proper ventilation, fuel burning heating equipment can potentially produce carbon monoxide. Be sure to check that all appliances have vents to the outside.

When properly installed, maintained and vented, any CO produced by your heating system will safely be disbursed outside of the home.


In a house fire, it’s the flames that do the structural damage, but it’s the smoke and toxic fumes that are the real danger to humans. And with carbon monoxide, you usually never see it coming. Alarms are a must, not only for overall safety, but for legal and insurance regulatory compliance as well.

Most Provincial and State fire codes require that smoke alarms be installed on each storey of a residence, including the basement and outside of all sleeping areas. Carbon monoxide monitors should be in reasonable proximity to any fuel-burning appliances in order to accurately detect any danger and should include back-ups outside of sleeping areas as well.

When purchasing alarms for your home, look for products that have been manufactured and tested to an acceptable UL standard. Be sure to change batteries (if not hard-wired) at least twice per year and to replace any units which appear damaged or in poor repair. Don’t take chances with your safety.

A lot of people will tend to procrastinate when it comes to home heating safety. When was the last time you actually made a checklist and followed through on all the dos and don’ts? The bottom line is, that you can help safeguard yourself and your family by taking some simple maintenance steps and applying a healthy dose of common sense before and during heating season.

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