It’s the most wonderful time of the year: we’ve had our first snowfall, the city is decorated, and we’re soon to be surrounded by loved ones in the middle of the holiday season. Many of us gather with friends, family, and loved ones to celebrate the holidays.
Many of us also turn to alternative heating sources such as indoor fires and space heaters in these chilly Massachusetts’ winter months when the ice and snow build up outdoors. While these are great options for keeping cozy, some serious risks are involved that we all need to be aware of.
Some of the top home risks during Massachusetts’ winters include heating, holiday decorations, candles, and carbon monoxide.
Because winter heating devices are so common, we may be likely to underestimate their risks. One in seven winter home fires and one in every five home fire deaths involve heating equipment, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Space heaters are an excellent heat source because they’re small and efficient. Once it’s turned on, you can feel the warmth almost immediately. Space heaters are often used at home or in offices. While they’re great at adding extra warmth to small spaces, they do come with a handful of risks.
Space heaters are the No. 1 risky heating device, as they are the most likely to be involved in a home heating equipment fire. Space heaters account for more than 40% of home fires and most deaths and injuries caused by heating equipment.
It’s important not to run a space heater constantly. Running the machine non-stop can create a dangerous fire risk. Make sure to turn off the device and let it cool off from time to time.
Some space heaters can get at hot as 100˚ F. Because of this heat, it’s essential not to have anything touching the space heater. There should be nothing within 3 feet of the space heater on any side. If there is anything too close to the space heater, especially if something is touching the space heater, it can easily catch fire.
Because of the fire risks, it’s recommended you don’t place a space heater directly on the carpet, as that poses a fire risk.
If you have children or pets, it’s also essential to keep an eye on the heater to ensure it stays upright. If a space heater is knocked over, it is also at a higher risk of starting a fire in your home or apartment.
To help prevent an electrical fire risk, the National Fire Protection Association recommends you never use an extension cord with a heat-producing appliance and to only plug one heat-producing appliance into a wall outlet at a time.
In addition to space heaters, electrical fires in general are the most common cause of home fires. They often include fires caused by lighting equipment, which are more common in the darker winter months, especially if you decorate your home with lights.
An indoor fireplace is just perfect during the winter months in Massachusetts. Indoor fireplaces create a lot of heat and foster a great ambiance to encourage family time, socializing, and more. But again, the risks are real.
Before a Fire
When was the last time you had your chimney swept? A clogged chimney is a very dangerous fire hazard. It’s recommended that you get a chimney sweep and inspection at least once a year, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
A chimney sweep is a reliable way to prevent a chimney fire. When you have an indoor fire, your chimney works as a ventilation system which allows the smoke, fumes, and any toxins from the fire to escape from the fireplace to the outside.
When your chimney is clean, all the smoke and dangerous fumes from a fire freely leave your home. If your chimney is dirty, however, there can be a build-up of harmful compounds in your chimney. Over time, something called creosote can build up in your chimney. Creosote is made by the distillation of tar from wood or coal, and it’s a black, sticky residue that can build up in your chimney from burning wood and is especially likely to build up if there isn’t adequate ventilation. Creosote is very flammable and is a leading cause of chimney fires. Soot can also build up in the flue of your chimney, and that can make it harder for the smoke to escape up the chimney and out of your home. This can lead to your furniture or hearth being damaged by soot.
In addition to making sure there is no creosote buildup in your chimney, a clean chimney also means better ventilation for a more effective heating source. Better ventilation means you’ll need to burn less wood to keep your home warm. Having a clean chimney also reduces the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
In fact, a regular chimney sweep at my house last month revealed small cracks in the firebox. If these cracks had gone unnoticed a hot embers could have gone behind our fireplace and caused a structural fire that we would not have noticed until it was too late. The chimney sweep we had done might have saved my family from tragedy.
During a Fire
While the fire is roaring, it’s essential to have a screen set up in front of the fire to prevent any ashes or sparks from jumping out and joining the party. It’s an excellent way to keep the fire contained and a way to protect your home and your guests from any sparks or embers.
After a Fire
One of the most dangerous aspects of an indoor fireplace is the ashes and coals from previous fires. It’s crucial to clean out all the ashes and coals after each fire. It’s recommended that they are placed in a metal container and left outside more than 10 feet away from your home.
While not necessarily a heat source, candles are also more popular during the winter and holiday months. Annually, home fires started by candles average more than 7,000 each year nationwide, according to NFPA.
As candles often have exposed wicks and flames, it’s essential to never place candles near paper, bedding, blankets, or other holiday decorations that could catch fire. They also shouldn’t be in places where people won’t readily notice them or could more easily be knocked over.
Because candles are an open flame, they always pose a fire risk so be sure never to leave a burning candle unattended. If you’re leaving the room, blow out any candles before you exit.
If you like to bake, you’ve surely noticed how a warm oven can heat up your kitchen. Around the winter holidays, many of us enjoy indulging in treats, baked goods, and roasted meats.
Ovens are safe when used as designed to bake and cook with a closed door. Some people, however, like to turn the oven on and leave the door open to help heat the home.
We do not recommend this. An open oven door is a very inefficient way to heat your home, and it’s also very dangerous. An open oven is especially dangerous to children or pets who may not understand that it’s hot. If you have a gas-powered oven, you also are in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning if you leave your oven door open. Carbon monoxide poisoning, depending on the levels, could kill someone in as little as 5 minutes or within a couple of hours. If the carbon monoxide concentration in the air is high, it usually causes someone to develop symptoms such as headache, dizziness, vomiting, or confusion within 1-2 hours.
A carbon monoxide detector is one of the most important safety devices to have in your home year-round, but especially during the winter months in Massachusetts.
Carbon monoxide detectors and alarms are essential for many reasons, but one of them is that you often may not be able to detect any presence of carbon monoxide in your home. Especially if you have a fire roaring in the fireplace or have many candles lit, or even if you have a fragrant kitchen from baking - all the symptoms of a carbon monoxide leak may go unnoticed.
Carbon monoxide is invisible, colorless, can be completely odorless, and can be deadly. It’s often called the invisible killer for these reasons. This is why it is so important to make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector and that it’s in good working order. Like fire alarms, carbon monoxide alarms should be installed in central locations outside bedrooms and on every level of your home.
- When heating or cooking equipment (gas, wood, propane, coal, or oil) doesn’t burn properly
- A malfunction in a heating system
- A malfunctioning oil burner
- A home fireplace
Carbon monoxide incidents are most common in the winter months, warns the National Fire Protection Association.
If you were injured in Massachusetts due to a winter heating issue, a home fire, or carbon monoxide poisoning, Spada Law Group’s injury attorneys andcan work to protect your legal rights. We have offices in Chelsea, Salem, and Worcester, but we proudly serve the entire state and can meet with you remotely from the comfort of your own home. Contact us for a free consultation so we can learn more about your case and see how we can help you get the recovery you deserve after your injury.