HEATING UNIT SAFETY
During cold weather, it is important to consider the safety of your home heating appliance. Whether it is a heat pump, forced air gas heat, electric base board, oil furnace or wood burning appliances, each should be regularly inspected to ensure proper operation and safety standards are being met.
Heat pumps could be considered one of the safest appliances if operated properly. Warm air circulation is dependent upon a compressor that has not become clogged with Autumn leaves or unpruned shrubbery. Overheated compressors may stall and create damage to the motor. Regular changes of air filters will also ensure ease of equipment operation. Regular maintenance of heat pump appliances will provide the optimum economical operation from these sources of heat.
Forced air gas heaters, like heat pumps, require regular filter changes. Constant thermostat settings on forced air furnaces may not be as critical economically as heat pumps but does provide more even temperature climates. When gas furnaces are utilized, special care should be given to keep combustibles away from sources of flame. Brooms and mops should never be stored in furnace closets or on elevated stands in the garage. When allowed to be next to or under a furnace or hot water heater, brooms or mops are easily ignited when a burner comes on. If a gas furnace is difficult to keep lit, shows signs of soot around exhaust vent systems, or discoloration of adjacent walls, the appliance should be checked by a qualified service technician.
Electric base board heaters most commonly create problems when they come in contact with combustible materials. Furniture or storage too close to baseboard heaters can easily be ignited by high temperatures from electric heating coils.
Oil furnaces, while decreasing in numbers, still exist and present unique concerns. Cleaning and regular maintenance are crucial to proper and safe operation. Leaks in supply lines should be repaired quickly.
Wood heating appliances have historically created the largest number of emergency service requests than any other form of heating appliance. Typically, problems with wood heating appliances are related to combustibles too close, sparks escaping to combustible exposures, and flue fires due to improper burning or unseasoned wood fuel. Solid-fuel burning appliances, such as woodstoves and fireplaces, are the leading cause of fires in Oregon. Over half the fires in single-family dwellings are caused by solid-fuel burning equipment, and the problem continues to grow. Improperly installed, maintained, and operated woodstoves and chimneys are the main culprits in this rising loss of life and property. With woodstoves, only approved models may be installed and installation will require a permit. Clearances must be in accordance with code and/or approved manufacturers listing. Venting of appliances through existing masonry flues can be lethal if older, unlined flues are utilized. Even newer lined flues may not have sufficient area to properly accommodate the venting requirements of woodstove appliances.
Creosote is a common problem with wood heating. Creosote is the result of incomplete combustion of unseasoned wood or dampered down flues. Heated air heavy with incomplete burned fuel condenses when it rises to cooler elevations in the flue. When this material builds up, it crystallizes to a semi-hard condition. If unchecked, it can eventually choke off the complete flue area. Two things may then occur. The flue will not properly draw due to restricted area of draft. The other problem is the potential flue fire if the temperature reaches a sufficient degree to re-ignite the creosote lined flue. Temperature designed flues are not capable of handling the 2,000 plus degrees capable from the flue fire. Liners crack, flames can enter attic spaces, sparks drop on roofs and basically you now have an uncontrolled fire that may destroy the flue system, roof, or the entire house.
Preventable measures for avoiding flue fires include regular cleaning and inspection by qualified personnel who understand flue construction. Seasoned fire wood will decrease flue fire potential also but continuous dampering down of flues even with seasoned wood will eventually create build-up.
Finally, solid fuel burning appliances need to be treated with caution regarding combustible clearances. Non-combustible hearths should be at least 18" in front and 12" to the side of openings. Pasteboard boxes with papers or wood set too close to a woodstove can ignite.
Children should be instructed of the dangers of all heating appliances. They should never be allowed to stand too close to heating appliances. Ignition of clothing can happen quickly with devastating results.
Disposal of ashes is potentially dangerous if not contained within a sealed metal container. When removed from the home, ashes should either be spread in a garden area away from ignitable vegetation or set away from any adjacent combustibles. Though ashes may seem cool, they can maintain heat for several days. The Ashland Fire Department has responded to numerous fire calls as a results of improperly disposed ashes. These calls have resulted in the loss of storage buildings, burned wood decks, sides of buildings scorched, etc. One fire from discarded ashes occurred three days after disposal.
Ashland Fire & Rescue wishes all the citizens of our community a safe and warm winter season. Your safety is our biggest concern. Keeping fire extinguishers and smoke detectors operational may be the best insurance from a devastating loss of life or property.
Ashland Fire & Rescue may be contacted at 482-2770, if residents have any questions about their heating appliances or fire safety in general. Printed materials for solid fuel burning appliances is available at Fire Station #1 at 455 Siskiyou Boulevard.