January 22, 2013

Editorial: Be careful when using supplemental heat sources

The frigid weather of the last few days is merely a wake-up call that winter — and its accompanying dangers — is here.

As a result of the sub-zero temperatures, more people will turn to supplemental heat sources, like fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters, to keep their homes warm and to conserve their expensive fuel oil and kerosene.

As temperatures plummet and those additional heating appliances fire up, additional caution must be used. Fire departments in the region have already responded to a number of chimney fires in the last several days.

If you haven’t had your chimney cleaned, you should check it immediately. Chimney fires occur because creosote, a sticky, black by-product of wood smoke, accumulates on the inside walls of chimney flues and ignites. The resulting fire can be extremely hot (up to 2,000 degrees) and can quickly destroy a chimney or — worse — your roof or your home.

Avoiding chimney fires is not that difficult; it just takes regular inspection and cleaning. But you should also do a quick visual check of your flue periodically throughout the winter. If you burn daily, this could be as often as twice a month.

The easiest way to check is to reach into the flue with a powerful flashlight and compact mirror from the cleanout door at the bottom of your chimney. If you see as little as 1/8 inch of creosote on the sides of your flue, it’s time to clean. Don’t forget to clean any stovepipe, too.

Although gas-fired furnaces aren’t susceptible to creosote buildup, they can create carbon monoxide, an odorless but deadly gas. Have a professional check your system thoroughly whenever you suspect trouble. Install a carbon-monoxide (CO) detector, and make sure it is working. If it sounds, evacuate everyone to fresh air immediately and call 911 from your neighbor’s home or from your cell.

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