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There's nothing better than cozying up in front of a warm fire in late fall and all throughout the winter. The crackling embers can easily turn a boring evening with friends, family or a significant other into exciting one. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to -- or even wants to -- enjoy the creature comforts of a fireplace. If your fireplace hasn't been touched in years, or you're living in an apartment devoid of a fireplace, you may have to resort to alternative methods to heat your home.

Central heating is an obvious choice. However, those looking to save a little money may instead opt for a space heater. Space heaters have been a go-to device for decades, meaning those of your turning to a space heater may feel perfectly comfortable with using them. But are you sure you're paying attention to the basics of space heater safety?

Winter Fires Statistics

The National Fire Protection Association notes that space heaters are involved in 79% of deadly house fires. This number is high but is also compounded by the fact that space heaters account for around a third of all house fires.

Keep in mind that winter fire safety doesn't start in December. It starts as soon as the first leaf starts to change color and the temperature starts to drop. From the moment you start considering how best to dust off the old space heater, or where you can purchase a new one, you need to consider a few helpful home heating safety tips.

Space Heater Safety Tips

  1. Make sure your space heater that has been professionally and independently tested.

    Ensure that your space heater is professionally rated by an independent, not-for-profit organization. These ratings will typically come from one of three companies: Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL) or the CSA Group. Heaters are rated on a number of factors, including how easily they tip over.

  2. Read the manufacturer's label.

    Most space heaters have specific usage requirements unique to each device. Some can be used on carpets, for example, while others are only rated for hardwood floors or tile.

  3. Give your older space heaters a thorough checkup before using them.

    A broken heater is a danger to you and your home. Remember that these devices are designed to produce a large amount of heat. Failing to check for damage or frayed cords could easily lead to a fire.

  4. Do not leave your space heater unattended.

    This is incredibly important, even if your space heater has an automatic shut-off function. An unattended space heater is dangerous, especially around children or pets, who may place flammable items up against the space heater.

  5. Keep your space heater at least 3 feet away from flammable material.

    In most cases, the manual will explain why such usage is dangerous. Again, this relates to how much heat space heaters produce. The heat source is unmodulated like other artificial heat sources, so it may not automatically get cooler after reaching a certain temperature.

  6. Check that your smoke & heat detectors are working.

    This is a general safety tip but is an especially important one for space heater safety. Considering how many home fires are related to space heaters, it's incredibly important to make sure your smoke alarms are working and strategically located.

  7. Keep your space heaters out of areas with a lot of foot traffic.

    All it takes is a second for an extremely hot space heater to catch a rug or paper on fire once the heating element hits it. All space heaters are rated on how easily they tip over. Keep these away from high traffic areas to avoid any possibility of an accident.

  8. Know how much electricity your space heater needs. Only use a wall outlet unless you have an extension cord rated for the heater.

    Always keep your space heater located in a space where it won't tip over accidentally, or where it might accidentally catch even furniture on fire. Although this is uncommon, particularly powerful space heaters and older space heaters can be a danger to furniture.

  9. Some space heaters can easily tip over on slanted surfaces. Be sure to keep them on a flat surface.

    A broken heater is a danger to you and your home. Remember that these devices are designed to produce a large amount of heat. Failing to check for damage or frayed cords could easily lead to a fire.

  10. Unplug your space heater when not in use, and allow it to cool before storing it again.

    Even when your space heater is not on, it's best to keep it unplugged and stored. This is a simple precaution to help avoid any accidents or power surges. Importantly, space heaters will retain some heat after they are turned off, so be sure to store your heater only after its heating element has fully cooled off.

  11. Additional Home Heating Safety Tips for the Winter

    Everyone wants to stay warm and toasty in the winter. However, make sure that you're using the safest methods to do so, no matter what medium you're using to keep away the cold.

    Fireplace Safety

    If you use your fireplace every winter, you'll want to make sure you get it checked and cleaned before you use it again this winter. The buildup of creosote in the chimney flue can catch on fire, causing a dangerous, and potentially deadly, fire. Make sure you call for a chimney sweep this year as a general, yet important, part of your winter fire safety.

    Additionally, when using your fireplace, make sure you take the proper precautions with the wood you use and how you start the fire. Never use lighter fluid to start an indoor fireplace. Never use "soft" woods (fir, pine, cypress) in your fireplace, as they produce thick, acrid smoke that can stick soot to the insides of your chimney. Also, avoid "green" or freshly cut, wet wood. It is both difficult to light and produces much more smoke that can flow into the house.

    Gas Fireplace Safety

    Gas fireplaces are a good, easier-to-manage alternative to a traditional fireplace. They're also potentially dangerous if not taken care of properly. Before you fire yours up this year, make sure that your fireplace is operating properly. You can get it professionally checked out by the company that fills or refills your gas tank. Be cautious about turning it on without having tested it first. Remember that gas is extremely dangerous, and a gas leak could be deadly.

    Central Heating Unit Safety

    Depending on where you live, winter weather can result in bitterly cold days and nights, including snow and ice storms. One excellent home heating safety tip involves your central heating unit. Have it checked up before winter hits. An HVAC tune-up can cost between $70 to $200, with prices typically going up as the temperature goes down. Get yours in early to help avoid paying more and, importantly, to avoid having to live through a dead heater.

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