With the winter chill on the way, be aware of space heaters

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Electric space heaters, wood stoves, fireplaces and kerosene heaters can be additional sources of heat during the cold, winter months.  But carelessness, neglect or improper use can cause fires and even death if safety isn’t a priority.

According to The National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment accounted for an estimated 54,030 home structure fires and $1.1 billion in direct property damage between 2011 and 2015. And nearly half of all home heating fires occurred in December, January and February.

The NFPA also reports that the leading factor in fatal home heating fires is placing space heaters and other portable or stationary heating equipment too close to items that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, bedding and clothing.

Another hazard to avoid is carbon monoxide poisoning and indoor air pollution due to improper venting or incomplete combustion that can result from improper use of fuel-burning heaters, such as kerosene heaters.

Most Homeowners Insurance policies cover fire damage or loss caused by wood stoves or space heaters, but each company may have unique features in its policies.  Check with your agent or insurance company to learn more about your coverage.

“Fire is a peril that all homeowners policies cover, and if you’re a renter, coverage is available to help replace the possessions inside your rental unit,” said Kenton Brine, NW Insurance Council President. “But some experts have estimated that many homes are underinsured in the event of the complete loss of their home.

NW Insurance Council also encourages people who use space heaters or who burn wood or kerosene as a source of heat to first follow some helpful tips.

For fuel-burning heat sources (like wood or kerosene):

·        Notify your insurance company or agent before you purchase a wood-burning appliance or begin to install it.  Be sure to ask about any special requirements.

·        Install wood-burning appliances correctly, or have a professional install it.  Obtain a building permit, follow the building code and manufacturer’s recommendations and conform to any special requirements of your insurance company.

·        Use wood-burning appliances safely.  Burn proper fuels – no milk cartons, other trash or Christmas trees.  These materials can lead to dangerous soot buildup that can cause chimney fires.

·        Maintain wood-burning appliances on a regular basis.  Inspect the appliance and chimney for cracks or corrosion.  Sweep the chimney and check your fire extinguisher at least once a year – before the burning season.

·        When using a kerosene heater, maintain a constant source of fresh air.  Make sure rooms are adequately ventilated before using heaters.  Kerosene heaters consume oxygen as they burn.  If they are operated in a small room or in an inadequate ventilated place, oxygen levels could be reduced to dangerous levels.  Keeping doors to other rooms open will help provide more fresh air.

·        Make sure your fireplace fire is cold before you go to bed. Never close the damper with hot ashes in the fireplace, because this can cause the fire to heat up again and spread toxic carbon monoxide throughout the house.

For electric heat sources (like space heaters):

·        Never use your kitchen’s electric or gas oven to heat your home.

·        Place space heaters near the center of rooms away from furniture, drapes and other combustibles. Keep anything flammable at least three feet away from heating equipment.

·        Children and pets should be kept a safe distance from heaters.

·        Be sure to follow the manufacturers’ instructions while using a kerosene heater.

·        Test smoke alarms at least once a month.

For more information about insurance and fuel-burning heaters, contact NW Insurance Council at (800) 664-4942 or visit www.nwinsurance.org. Also, visit the Insurance Information Institute’s website.

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