NORTHBROOK, IL — Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) want to remind everyone that holiday festivities can pose certain safety risks. And they are passing along tips for safer home heating.

For the seventh consecutive year, the NFPA is helping UL in working for greater home safety by cosponsoring UL's Operation Decoration holiday safety campaign. The program is aimed at helping the public prevent home fires, as well as electric shock and other injuries, which are far too common during the holiday season and winter months.

According to the NFPA, a home fire occurs every 82 seconds in this country. In 2000 alone, approximately 368,000 fires occurred in residences, killing 3,420 people and injuring 16,975. While home heating is normally a necessity during the colder months, home fires should not be a consequence. The safety professionals at UL and NFPA offer the following tips and cautions regarding home heating that HVAC contractors can pass along to customers:

  • Select heating equipment that bears the UL Mark. The UL Mark on a product means that UL engineers have tested representative samples of the product for foreseeable safety hazards.

  • Install and maintain heating equipment correctly, and be sure it complies with local fire and building codes. Have a professional technician check and clean your heating system once a year.

  • Keep all portable heaters and space heaters at least 36 inches (1 yard) from combustible materials, including furniture, bedding, clothing, and pets.

  • Turn off space heaters when you are not in the room or when you go to sleep. Supervise children at all times when space heaters are in use.

  • If you have an electric space heater, check for frayed or split wires or overheating. Have all problems repaired by a professional technician before operating.

  • If you have a liquid-fueled space heater, use only the fuel recommended by the manufacturer. Never use gasoline or any other substitute fuel. The wrong fuel could burn hotter than the equipment's design limits and cause a serious fire.

  • When refueling, always turn off the heater and let it cool down completely before adding fuel. Wipe up any spills promptly. If you are considering buying a kerosene heater, be sure to check with your local fire department first to find out if it is legal in your community.

  • Store the kerosene away from heat or open flame in a container approved by the local fire department, and be sure it is clearly marked with the correct name of the fuel (i.e., kerosene).

  • Have your chimney inspected by a professional heating technician prior to the start of every heating season and have it cleaned if necessary. Creosote, a chemical substance that forms when wood burns, builds up in chimneys and can cause a chimney fire if not removed through cleaning.

  • Always protect your home and family by using a sturdy fireplace screen when using your fireplace.

  • Remember to burn only wood — never burn paper or pine boughs, which can float out the chimney and ignite your roof or a neighboring home. Do not use flammable liquids in a fireplace.

  • If you are purchasing a factory-built fireplace, select one that is UL Listed and have it properly installed according to local codes.

  • Do not start fires in your fireplace if the area around the fireplace and mantle are decorated with stockings or other combustible decorations.

    Publication date: 11/25/2002