Accidental Household Heating Fires — and How to Prevent Them

When the winter chill sets in, some residents choose to supplement home furnaces and radiators with additional heating devices, such as space heaters, or create a cozy ambiance with candles or wood-burning fires. Heaters are the second biggest cause of home fires in the United States after cooking fires. Home heaters are often placed too close to bedding, are located under curtains, or have clothing hung over them to dry. These sheets are heated by the heating devices to the point that they combust.

Space heaters (44%) are the biggest culprit for home heater fires followed by fireplaces (32%). Space heaters cause a disproportionate amount of deaths in this category: a whopping 86% of all deaths from heating equipment started with space heaters.

But safety should be top of mind when using these devices, since they pose a risk as potential fire hazards. Keep your family and home safe this winter season by practicing the utmost caution when using home heating equipment. Below are three high-risk heating sources and ways to prevent fires in your home.


Common Sources of Heating Fires

Even in Southern California where sunshine and warm weather is a top attraction, homeowners and renters still need to utilize a variety of heating sources to warm their homes. While most heating systems are relatively safe, there are certain precautions that should be taken to safeguard against home heating fires.

Below is a list of heating sources and common sources of fires. Take some time to read through and consider if you are doing enough to safeguard your home against heating fires.


  • Fireplaces

A functional fireplace is a nostalgic and comforting home feature, but it can also be quite dangerous if not used properly. This traditional method of heating homes presents some immediate fire danger. Flying embers, high temperatures, and an unclean chimney are all aspects that should be address. Use a fire screen and have your chimney cleaned annually.

Take precautions annually and during each use to ensure your fireplace remains a positive focal point of your home and not a fire hazard.

  • Before you head into the cooler months and start up a cozy fire, have your chimney professionally cleaned.
  • Keep combustibles, including draperies and upholstered furniture, at least three feet from the heat source.
  • Invest in a fireplace screen to prevent embers from escaping.
  • Never leave the fire unattended, and make sure it’s completely out before leaving the house.
  • Use the recommended fuel for your heat source.
  • Teach kids to keep at least three feet away from the heat source so they don’t get burned or, worse, ignite something.


  • Space Heaters

Space heaters are great for quickly warming up a small area of your home, but they should be used responsibly. Keep them a safe distance from any flammable materials and avoid circuit overload. Space heaters cause 70% of all winter fires.

Below are critical tips on how to safely use a space heater:

  • Keep space heaters away from flammable items, such as clothing, decorations and furniture. As with all heat sources, they should have a three-foot perimeter around them.
  • Turn heaters off when you leave a room or go to bed.
  • Use spaces heater with an automatic shut-off option if it overheats, runs for an extended period of time or tips over.
  • Never use an extension cord with a space heater. Always plug the cord directly into an outlet.


  • Furnaces

Furnaces burn natural gas to heat homes and buildings. The leaking of gas is the most common fire hazard for furnaces, as it is extremely combustible. Getting regular maintenance and ensuring there is no flammable material nearby are good habits to get in to also.

Here are a few safety tips you can follow to prevent fires due to gas furnace heating:

  • Have your furnace inspected by a professional before the heating season begins. Fall is the perfect time to schedule a professional furnace tune-up.
  • Leave furnace repairs to the professionals. When your HVAC technician inspects your furnace, they will check: the flue, vent connections, physical condition of heating components, gas pressure, flame color, burner combustion, dirt and cracks, fuel input, airflow, thermostat, electrical connections, and more.
  • Make sure you know how to turn off the gas at the main valve, near your gas meter.


  • Kerosene Heaters

These heaters can be explosive and extremely dangerous with the wrong fuel. Additionally, they can cause dangerous indoor air pollution. Regular maintenance is the best course of action.

Some tips to safely using your kerosene heater:

  • Kerosene heaters require 1-K grade kerosene. Never use a substitute, such as gasoline or camp stove fuel. In kerosene heaters, such fuels will start a fire or explode.
  • Check the wick every week during the heating season. If it’s dirty, clean it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Never attempt to move a lighted kerosene heater. Extinguish the flame and allow the heater to cool before moving.
  • Never refuel a kerosene heater inside or when the heater is still hot. Wait for it to cool.
  • Kerosene heaters have a constant open flame and should not be used in a room where there are flammable solvents, aerosol sprays, lacquers, gasoline, kerosene containers or any type of oil.
  • Keep kerosene heaters at least three feet away from all furniture, curtains, papers, clothes, bedding, and other combustible materials.
  • Keep children and pets away from kerosene heaters. Touching any part of an operating heater above the open flame could result in a serious burn.
  • Always turn off your kerosene heater when unattended and at night.
  • Never smoke when refueling a kerosene heater.
  • Clean up any kerosene spills immediately. Spills are a fire hazard.
  • Never store kerosene in a container previously used to store other liquids. Be sure the container is suitable for kerosene storage and properly marked.


Prepare Homes for Cold Weather by Taking Fire-Safe Precautions

  • Test your home’s smoke alarms, before using a space heater or fireplace. All smoke alarms should additionally be tested once a month.
  • Never put a space heater within three feet of anything combustible, including furniture, bedding or aerosol cans.
  • Make sure your space heater bears the mark of an independent testing lab such as UL or FM. Look for models with automatic shutoff features, when purchasing space heaters.
  • Never use extension cords with space heaters.
  • Before you use your fireplace, make sure the chimney has been professionally cleaned to remove the buildup of combustible materials that accumulate inside the flue.
  • Be sure any kerosene-fueled heating device is installed with proper ventilation. A portable kerosene heater must be filled only in a well-ventilated area, free of flame and other heat sources, and only when the device has cooled completely.
  • Never leave a fire, space heater or flame unattended (this includes candles).
  • Make sure furniture, clothing and other combustible materials are not placed in front of permanently mounted heaters like those in walls or on baseboards. That way, if the vents blow warm air, there will be little worry of the items catching fire.


Final Thoughts

As cold weather approaches, it is important to take a few preventative measures to protect your home while staying warm. You can always count on the Aire-Tech to keep your home warm. Perhaps you need repairs, new thermostat installation, or preventative maintenance—whatever the HVAC issue is, Aire-Tech is ready to help.

If your system needs repair or inspection before winter, call us at 951-926-1002. You can also visit our Contact page and complete the contact form.