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Home Heating Safety

During the winter months, many households depend upon supplemental heating sources. The Baltimore County Fire Department strongly urges caution when using these devices. Space heaters, wood stoves and other supplemental heating sources are the leading cause of home fires during the winter months; year-round, only cooking equipment causes more home fires.

Leading Cause of Home Fires

The National Fire Protection Association reports that heating equipment fires accounted for 16 percent of all home fires from 2009 to 2013 (second behind cooking) and 19 percent of home fire deaths (second behind smoking materials).

Space heaters were involved in two out of five of these fires and 84 percent of the related civilian deaths. The leading factor contributing to ignition was placing heating equipment too close to combustible items such as furniture, bedding or curtains.

Failure to clean solid-fueled equipment, primarily chimneys, is another leading factor contributing to home heating fires. (By comparison, central home heating systems account for only a small percentage of heating-related fires and fatalities.)

Supplemental heating devices provide many opportunities for error:

  • Lack of regular cleaning, leading to creosote buildup in wood-burning devices, chimneys and connectors. (Creosote is a flammable tar byproduct of wood smoke that builds up on the walls of a chimney or wood stove.)
  • Failing to give space heaters enough space.
  • Flaws in the construction or design of wood-burning equipment.
  • Fueling errors involving liquid- or gas-fueled heating equipment.
  • Improper installation.

Safety Tips

Space Heaters

Space heaters need space! The biggest mistake people make is placing them too close to flammable materials - draperies, upholstery, clothing. You need at least three feet of clearance from anything that can burn.

  • Make sure any new space heater carries the mark of an independent testing laboratory.
  • Always turn space heaters off when you leave a room or go to bed. 
  • If you use an electric heater, do not overload the circuit. If you must use an extension cord (and it's better not to), choose one that is the same size or larger than the appliance cord. Do not use electric heaters in bathrooms or other areas where they may come in contact with water.
  • If you're considering a kerosene heater, check with the BCoFD's Fire Marshal's Office by calling 410-887-4880. Kerosene heaters are not permitted in some types of residences.
  • If you use a kerosene heater, burn only kerosene. Gasoline, camp stove fuel or any other fuel except kerosene can be extremely dangerous if used in kerosene heaters. Make sure your kerosene is clear, not yellow. Refuel outdoors.
  • Never use fuel-burning appliances such as kerosene heaters without proper ventilation. They generate deadly carbon monoxide fumes. Store flammable liquids in approved metal containers in a well-ventilated storage area outside the home.
  • Keep children away from space heaters, especially when they are wearing nightgowns or other loose clothing that could ignite.
  • When turning a portable heating device on or off, follow the manufacturer's instructions. If possible, buy devices with automatic shutoff features.

Fireplaces and Wood Stoves

Proper maintenance and installation are essential for safety.

  • Wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, chimney connectors and all solid-fueled heating equipment should be inspected and cleaned professionally each year.
  • Wood stoves should be UL listed and of solid quality and design. Install with three feet of clearance from combustible surfaces and with adequate floor support and protection.
  • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire in a fireplace or wood stove. Do not use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires. Never burn charcoal indoors; it can generate lethal amounts of carbon dioxide.
  • Keep flammable materials away from the hearth and mantle. Use a sturdy screen to keep sparks from flying into a room.
  • Before you go to sleep, be sure your fireplace fire is cold. Never close the damper with hot ashes in the fireplace; the fire will heat up and toxic carbon monoxide can spread into the house.
  • When using synthetic logs, follow the directions on the package. Never break apart a synthetic log to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time. This could release dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

Central Home Heating Systems

Have your furnace inspected regularly, and leave repairs to professionals.

Revised November 1, 2017         


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