SOURCE: Underwriters Laboratories Inc.

November 15, 2005 08:00 ET

Rising Energy Costs Put Home Heating Safety on Front Burner as Consumers Seek Alternatives

Space Heaters, Fireplaces, Chimneys Involved in 85 Percent of Heating Fire Fatalities

NORTHBROOK, IL -- (MARKET WIRE) -- November 15, 2005 -- With experts predicting that heating costs will be higher for most families this winter, the prospect of using alternative heating sources -- wood stoves, space heaters and fireplaces -- is more tempting than ever.

But alternative heating may carry some additional safety risks. Of the 45,500 home heating fires reported to the nation's fire departments in 2002, 68 percent involved fireplaces, space heaters and chimneys, according to the latest figures available from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Alternative heating also was associated with 85 percent of the 220 fatalities associated with home heating fires, including 46 percent for portable space heaters, 28 percent for wood stoves and other fixed space heaters, and 11 percent for fireplaces and chimneys.

"Alternative heating can save money, but be sure the savings don't translate into a fire in your home," warned John Drengenberg, manager of Consumer Affairs for Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the not-for-profit safety testing organization. "Many of us too often focus on cutting expenses while overlooking basic safety steps that could prevent a tragedy and the emotional costs associated."

To help reduce the injuries and property damage that occur every year from alternative heating, a few simple safety precautions should be followed.

"Cooking stoves, gas ovens and grills should never be used for heating a room or home," Drengenberg said. "That's not what they were designed for and there are too many other options out there that are safer."

A popular alternative is space heaters. But be sure to use it the right way. Space heaters were associated with nearly three-quarters of heating fires resulting in deaths, the leading cause being a space heater operating too close to combustibles, such as draperies, clothing and furniture.

For a safer operation of portable space heaters, UL offers these safety tips:

--  Keep all space heaters at least 3 feet away from household
--  Use space heaters only as a supplementary source of heat. These
    devices are not intended to replace the home's heating system;
--  Do not use extension cords with space heaters unless absolutely
    necessary. If you must use an extension cord, be sure that the cord is
    marked "12-gauge" or "14-gauge";
--  Inspect the heater's cord periodically. Do not use a heater with a
    damaged cord;
--  Check periodically for a secure plug/outlet fit. If the plug becomes
    very hot, the outlet may need to be replaced by a qualified technician
--  Heaters should be placed on a flat, level surface. Do not place
    heaters on furniture since they may fall and dislodge or break parts in the
--  Unless the heater is designed for use outdoors or in bathrooms, do not
    use in damp, wet areas;
--  Look for the UL Mark on your electric heater. This means
    representative samples of the appliance have met UL's stringent safety
--  If you have a liquid-fueled space heater, use only the fuel
    recommended by the manufacturer. The wrong fuel could burn hotter than the
    equipment was designed for and cause a serious fire;
--  When refueling, turn off the heater and let it cool down completely
    before adding fuel.  Wipe away any spills promptly;
--  Before you buy a kerosene heater, check with your local fire
    department to ensure that it is legal.
Other heating alternatives have a different set of safety considerations.

Fireplace and chimney fires are mostly caused by a buildup of flammable creosote, the product of wood smoke and moisture. To prevent this, wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys and chimney connectors should be inspected annually by a professional and cleaned as often as inspections suggest. It's just as important to burn properly seasoned wood. Wood that is green has more moisture and is likely to smolder, leading to more creosote buildup. Also, make sure your fireplace has a sturdy screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room, and allow fireplace and wood ashes to cool before disposing in a metal container.

Furnaces also should be inspected and serviced annually. Homeowners, however, can change or clean the furnace filter themselves. Combustible materials, such as paint thinners or gasoline, should never be used nor stored near the furnace.

Finally, the best defense is a good offense. Install smoke alarms to warn of a fire, but also have carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in the home to warn about faulty furnace, fireplace and oven flues or any other venting problems and inadequacies.

Check existing alarms to ensure they are in working order. Replace the batteries once a year.

"Between the cold and the cost of heating, there will be enough discomfort this winter," Drengenberg said. "You needn't add to the suffering with a preventable home fire."

About Underwriters Laboratories

Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) is an independent, not-for-profit product safety certification organization that has been testing products for more than 110 years. UL tests more than 19,000 types of products annually, and more than 19 billion UL Marks appear on products each year. Worldwide, UL's family of companies and its network of service providers inclue 60 laboratories, and testing and certification facilities. More information is available at

Contact Information

  • Press Contacts:
    For additional information on these and other safety tips, or to schedule
    an interview with a safety expert, please contact one of the following UL

    Doug Dusik
    UL/Rhea & Kaiser
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    Joshua Taustein
    UL/Rhea & Kaiser
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