According to Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the leading independent safety testing organization, alternative heating sources like space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves can present hazards if not used correctly. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that heating equipment is involved in an estimated 64,100 home fires each year.

“Even though the economy still has families in a budget-conscious state of mind, they shouldn’t disregard safety when using alternative heating sources, or let a few dollars keep them from paying attention to necessary maintenance on a furnace or chimney,” says John Drengenberg, director of Consumer Safety for UL. “If used correctly, space heaters, electric blankets, fireplaces and wood stoves make great alternatives that can help keep you warm.”

UL wants your family to prevent potential home heating mishaps by following its safety tips for home heating hot spots:


Think it’s safe and easy to gently warm the home by starting a small fire in the fireplace? Think again. Unfortunately, failure to clean a chimney or flue is the leading cause of allhome heating equipment fires combined.

  • Maintain the chimney and flue by having them cleaned and inspected annually by a trained professional.
  • Use a sturdy fireplace screen to prevent sparks from flying into the home.
  • Be alert to the danger signs that signal a carbon monoxide (CO) problem such as the absence of a draft in your chimney, soot falling into the fireplace, or small amounts of water leaking from the base of the chimney, vent or flue.

Wood Stoves

It is important to exercise care while using wood-burning stoves. Recent reports show they account for nearly 4,900 injuries reported to hospital emergency rooms each season.

  • Keep wood stove doors closed unless loading or stoking the fire.
  • Install wood stove chimney connectorsfollowing manufacturer’s instructions or have a professional handle the job, as many injuries are the result of improper installation.


Use of properly seasoned wood is your best safeguard against an accumulation of creosote, an oily substance which derives from incomplete combustion, on the lining of the chimney flue.

Use of hard wood (seasoned six months to a year) will give you the most efficient fire and minimize the chance of creosote formation. Wood split the previous season dries in less time and burns more evenly. Apple, red oak, sugar maple, beech and ironwood have the best heat values, according to the University of Maine Extension Service.

Green wood has too high a moisture content which can cause the formation of so much creosote that it may even run down inside the stove pipe and drip onto the stove or floor. A spark can ignite creosote and cause what can be an extremely hot and dangerous fire.

Space Heaters

If using space heaters, UL suggests consumers do so with extreme caution: 73 percent of all fires and 43 percent of all injuries related to home heating result from improper use of these products.

  • All heaters need space. Keep items that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least three feet away from heating equipment.
  • Always turn space heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed, and never place them in an area where a child is sleeping.
  • Look for the UL  Mark when purchasing a space heater, which means it has been tested for safety and includes protective features to lessen the risk of burn or fire hazards.

Staying Safe and Warm…

In addition to the above home heating equipment tips, follow these additional tips to keep your family out of the “hot zones”:

  • Only use heating equipment that has been tested for safety. Products that bear the UL Mark have been tested to UL’s stringent safety standards and found to be free of foreseeable hazards.
  • Never use cooking stoves, grills or ovens to heat the home. They could potentially be a fire hazard or cause CO poisoning.

Finally, Drengenberg has one final, practical way to stay warm and be safe. “Help keep warm air moving through your home by putting your ceiling fan on reverse. Fans are set for summer weather so when reversed, will push warm air downward. It’s ready for winter when you look up and the blades are turning clockwise.”

All information above has been obtained from the following websites. Please visit for more tips and further information about alternative use of home heating safety tips:

Underwriters Laboratories

Wood Stove Safety

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