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Home winter preparations make for a safer, energy efficient place to live

POSTED November 27, 2012 4:40 p.m.
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This November has arguably been one of the milder ones we have experienced in a while. There has been very little rain and at the same time, day and nighttime temperatures have been unseasonably warm. As a result, people are not struggling to stay warm, and only a few fireplaces have been put into use - so far. But we can expect much cooler temperatures, and along with that we will become much more reliant on furnaces, fireplaces and space heaters. It is not too late to winterize your homes in order to keep fire hazards from becoming a problem, to protect homes from dangerous gases and to keep energy usage and costs as low as possible.

Fireplace safety is among our top concerns. Chimneys should be cleaned every season before use because leaves, dirt, rodents, bird nests, twigs and the like can accumulate over the months. Cleaning also addresses the build-up of the previous winter season's carbon and creosote. And be sure not to forget to open the flue when using the fireplace for the first time this season. Also, keep in mind that wood burning is strictly regulated throughout the winter season. Foggy days, when there is an inversion layer in the atmosphere or when the air is otherwise very still, are times when wood burning is likely not permitted. The burning of trash, magazines, plastics and similar discards is prohibited by law for pollution-related reasons. Be sure to only burn seasoned, dry wood that is free of contaminants. In any event, always check www.valleyair.org to find out if burning is permitted on a particular day.

Central heating furnaces are also a potential fire hazard. All vents should be cleaned before using the heating system. Changing the filter(s) is important and vacuuming in and around the furnace is a must owing to the possibility of fires within the unit. It is also a health consideration; dust, mites, dirt, viruses and bacteria can accumulate in the system, which, when the system is first activated, can put all the aforementioned into the air that occupants breathe.

Gas (propane and natural gas) fueled heaters are another issue, and while they do not have the same problems with creosote and carbon, their vents can get clogged quite easily. These kinds of heaters must have clean, unobstructed vents to function properly and safely. They also suffer from other problems, typically with the heat exchangers which, over time, will develop cracks and cause deadly carbon monoxide gas emissions into the home. I know of several situations where families have come close to death or actually died owing to a faulty gas heater. By taking care of your gas-fired heater, you can protect yours and your family's lives. A cared-for and tuned heater will also save money by operating efficiently. Heaters should be serviced by professionals, unless you have the requisite skills to do so yourself.

Electric heaters require a bit less maintenance, but they, too, can set a house on fire. Frayed or loose wires leading to the heater, damaged or worn heating elements can lead to serious problems. Another common problem is that of curtains, furniture or other items being allowed to come into contact with the heaters. It is also recommended that heaters be vacuumed and cleaned prior to turning them on for the first time of the season.

Most local fire departments are more than willing to stop by if you suspect a problem with your heater. The firefighters are not authorized to actually perform heater repairs, but they can let you know if your home has too much carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide in it, or if there are other gas emissions present that should not be there.

Fireplaces and heaters are a good thing, but they can also kill you if the maintenance and repairs on them slip owing to oversight, carelessness or simply not knowing better. I urge everyone to take a few minutes to prevent the possibility of catastrophes associated with any and all heaters in the home. The safety of you and your family is of paramount importance to me and the rest of our public safety personnel. Please let us know if we can help. I wish you a warm and pleasant winter!

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