SOURCE: Nationwide Insurance

home safety, fire protection, auto insurance, insurance quotes

January 28, 2010 09:26 ET

Nationwide Insurance Home Safety Survey Reveals U.S. Homeowners Taking Risks to Stay Warm

Fire Claims Caused by Space Heaters, Fireplaces and Wood Burning Stoves Rise as Americans Attempt to Offset Heating Costs

COLUMBUS, OH--(Marketwire - January 28, 2010) - With two-thirds remaining of what may turn out to be one of the coldest winters on record, people are doing everything they can to stay warm. Some of the coldest temperatures in decades have spurred many Americans to take risks that often end in tragic home fires.

A review of Nationwide Insurance claims data found significant increases over the past few winters in home fires caused by alternative heating sources -- such as fireplaces, wood burning stoves and space heaters. To find out why, Nationwide commissioned a survey of more than 1,000 Americans that revealed the risks many homeowners take with home safety to stay warm and to save money on their heating bills.

Among key findings in Nationwide's survey released today, 68 percent of those surveyed said they plan to use their alternative heating source as much or more often compared to last winter.

Among the fire risks revealed:

--  29 percent do not turn off their space heater when going to bed
--  13 percent use their oven to heat their kitchen
--  11 percent use an extension cord with their electric space heater
--  41 percent of Americans do not have their chimneys inspected each
    year and 25 percent do it less than every four years
--  38 percent do not own carbon monoxide detectors
    

"While fireplaces and space heaters help keep home heating costs down, the recent jump in fire claims caused by these devices highlight how costly they can be if installed incorrectly or not used properly," said Bill Windsor, Nationwide's Safety Officer. "Each of these claims represents a significant and often life-changing event that in most cases could have been prevented."

According to Nationwide Insurance fire claims, wood burning fireplaces easily cause the most alternative heating source fires followed by wood burning stoves, overloaded extension cords, space heaters and gas fireplaces. Fire claims from last winter show significant increases from the winter of '07/'08 in fires caused by many of these devices. Including:

--  16 percent jump in fires caused by wood burning fireplaces
--  15 percent jump in fires caused by overloaded extension cords
--  18 percent jump in fires caused by fuel-burning space heaters
    

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are 64,000 home heating fires annually in the United States, resulting in 540 deaths and 1,400 injuries. And the problem may get worse as more Americans sacrifice home protection in an attempt to offset high home heating costs by using alternative heating sources.

The reason people are using the devices is to save money. Americans surveyed by Nationwide say they save an average of $474 each winter by using alternative heating sources and those in the Midwest save an average of $644.

"While Americans are saving a lot of money using these alternative heating sources, they can be extremely dangerous," Windsor added. "But by taking a few simple precautions, your family can stay warm and stay safe."

Fire prevention tips:

--  Never leave a space heater on when you go to sleep. Turn off the space
    heater if you leave the area. Keep children and pets away from space
    heaters.
--  Plug an electric-powered space heater into an outlet with enough
    capacity and resist using an extension cord. If you must, be sure the
    cord is marked "14-gauge wire" or higher.
--  Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface; not on
    rugs or carpets and keep the heater at least three feet from bedding,
    furniture and drapes.
--  Use only a heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards
    and certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
--  Make sure your heater is the right size for your home. An oversized
    heater could deplete the available oxygen, causing excess carbon
    monoxide to be produced.
--  Have heaters inspected annually to ensure proper operation.
--  Have flues and chimneys professionally inspected before each heating
    season for leakage and blockage by creosote or debris.
--  As smoke from fireplaces and wood burning stoves rises, it cools and
    causes creosote buildup that is highly combustible. Conditions that
    contribute to buildup include:
    --  burning wood that has not been seasoned a full year
    --  chimneys or flues too large for the wood burning appliance
    --  metal chimneys that may have cooler-than-normal surface
        temperatures or restricted air supplies
--  Have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors installed on every
    level of your home, test them monthly and keep them clean and equipped
    with fresh batteries at all times.
--  Open the fireplace damper before lighting the fire and keep it open
    until the ashes are cool. An open damper will prevent buildup of
    carbon monoxide inside the home.
--  Never use charcoal in a fireplace because of the risk of carbon
    monoxide poisoning.
--  Do not use a kitchen range or oven to heat your house because it could
    overheat or generate excessive carbon monoxide.
--  Dispose of ashes from fireplaces and wood burning stoves outside away
    from your home in a metal can, wet the ashes and cover with a tight
    fitting metal lid.

    * Sources: Nationwide and the National Fire Protection Association

As a homeowner, you know disasters can occur inside and outside your home, so it pays to be prepared. Protect your family and your belongings with comprehensive home insurance.

About Nationwide

Nationwide, based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the U.S. and is rated A+ by A.M. Best. The company provides a full range of personalized insurance and financial services, including car insurance,motorcycle, boat, homeowners, life insurance, farm, commercial insurance, administrative services, annuities, mortgages, mutual funds, pensions, long-term savings plans and health and productivity services. For more information, visit www.nationwide.com.

Nationwide, the Nationwide Framemark and On Your Side are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.

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