Alternative Heating Tips
Staying toasty warm (and safe) this Winter
“Winter is coming.” Here in Maine, those three words are more than just the motto of House Stark from Game of Thrones . . . rather it is more of a friendly reminder that while it may be nice and sunny right now with temps in the 70s, those cold, snowy days with temps dipping below zero are right around the proverbial corner. Unfortunately, as the temps start to go down, the number of fires start to go up since heating is the second leading cause of fires in the U.S.
Keeping warm in the Winter can sometimes be a challenge. While heating oil prices are cheaper than they have been in years, the truth is many of us still find the cost of filling a near-empty oil tank to be quite expensive.
In this issue I want to discuss a few things to do . . . and a few things not to do (i.e. hauling the propane BBQ grill inside the home and firing it up is a very, very, very bad thing to do . . . it’s that whole carbon monoxide poison deal, not to mention the fact that gas grills are not designed as heating units.) In fact, while I’m on the topic of what not to do, add these to your “Don’t do” list:
- Do not use your electric or gas oven as a heater. Yes, your oven does generate quite a bit of heat when you’re baking brownies, but it is not designed to function as a heater and can start a fire.
- There are some videos on Facebook and the Internet showing folks heating their bedroom with a candle, tuna can, and a soup can (or something similar). Skip the candle experiments . . . save the candles for your birthday cake. There are safer alternatives.
Here in Maine the two most common alternative heating sources tend to be space heaters and woodstoves.
- All space heaters need space (typically 3 feet) . . . keep them away from all combustibles that can catch on fire, such as furniture, waste baskets, etc. Newer space heaters often incorporate safety features, such as an automatic shut off that will engage if the heater is accidentally tipped over by a pet or child.
- Kerosene space heaters should only be fueled with K-1 (kerosene). Do not use white gas, such as Coleman Fuel, in these heaters. Kerosene heaters should be used in an area where they can be ventilated. Inspect the heater before use and change the wick if needed. Do not fill the heater until it has cooled down and best practices call for refueling them outside of the home.
- Woodstoves need to be sized for the home. If you buy too small a stove you may over-fire it, damaging the stove and risking a fire. If you buy too large a stove you may over-heat your house. Be sure the stove can be used in your home (some woodstoves cannot be used in mobile homes) and install it per the manufacturer’s directions (i.e. proper hearth – some stoves require a specific type of hearth, distance to clearances – newer stoves may be quite close to a wall vs. older stoves which may need as much as 3 feet, etc.) If you’re buying an older stove inspect it for cracks by shining a flashlight inside and seeing if any light can be seen outside.
- Learn how to operate your woodstove. While all stoves can benefit from well seasoned, dry firewood, newer woodstoves have to use firewood that is especially well seasoned to burn properly. In addition, operating a newer woodstove is often quite different from running an older stove. Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids to start a fire . . . nearly every year at least one person in Maine is severely injured while attempting to start a fire this way. Finally, be sure to check your chimney monthly and clean it when there is a quarter inch or more of creosote build up.
- Ashes from a woodstove should be treated with care. Dispose of your ashes in a covered metal pail and place them outside, away from combustibles. Every year at least one person makes the mistake of thinking the ashes are cool and unwittingly puts the ashes containing a hot coal in a plastic bucket, cardboard box, trash can, etc. and leaves it on their porch, deck, garage, etc. only to find the hot coal has started a fire several hours later.
Finally, you’ve heard it before and I’m sure you’ll hear it again, but it bears repeating: smoke detectors save lives . . . but only if they’re working. Now is a great time to check your smoke detectors . . . and be sure to replace the batteries when we turn back the clocks on November 1st.
Stay warm, but don’t get burned by using your woodstove this Winter
BANGOR – Recently the Bangor Fire Department responded to a chimney fire in Bangor. Firefighters at that fire later said they had never removed as much ash and creosote from a single chimney. The home owner had reportedly not swept the chimney for seven or eight years. While the chimney fire did not extend to the home, the end result of the fire and extinguishment efforts was a damaged chimney.
If you burn wood with a woodstove the Bangor Fire Department encourages you to take the following safety precautions:
- Inspect and clean your chimney on a regular basis. You can either buy a chimney brush at the hardware store and do it yourself or hire a professional chimney sweep. Most experts recommend sweeping the chimney if there is a quarter inch or more of creosote.
- To lessen the amount of creosote in the chimney, only burn well-seasoned wood. While experts typically recommend the wood be below a set moisture level, generally cutting, splitting, and stacking wood a year prior for most wood species should result in wood with a low enough moisture content.
- Operate your stove at the proper temperature. Thermometers for stove tops and flues will help you operate your stove safely and efficiently – burning the woodstove at too cool a temp will result in excessive creosote build up and burning too hot can ignite any creosote in the chimney.
- Do not attempt to light a fire with gasoline or other flammable fuels.
- Make sure your woodstove is installed correctly. Most woodstoves need a non-combustible hearth on the floor (we have recently seen a woodstove installed on top of vinyl flooring) to protect the flooring underneath from excessive heat and any errant coals that may spill out. Some woodstoves require more stringent hearths. In either case, make sure the stove is installed per the manufacturer’s specifications in terms of distance to combustibles – this should include the distance to the walls, floor and furniture.
- The stove pipe should be connected together with a minimum of three sheet metal screws.
- Dispose of ashes in a covered metal pail and place outside away from combustibles (i.e. do not place the ash in a cardboard box or plastic pail and put it on the porch, deck or in the garage). Treat all ash as if there may be a hot coal inside.
Finally, make sure you have working smoke detectors in the home. For an extra measure of protection consider purchasing an ABC-rated fire extinguisher and carbon monoxide detector.
Fire Chief - Thomas E Higgins
289 Main Street, Bangor, ME 04401
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