When winter weather hits the Valley, so do fire dangers in the home with space heaters, chimneys and home heating systems, safety officials say.
It’s a good time now to get a professional out to examine your home’s heating system – before it’s needed, said Warren Sprecher, fire and life safety education specialist for the Mesa Fire and Medical Department.
“The first thing is when people start their system, the smoke alarm goes off,” he said. “Then there’s that smell of ‘something doesn’t smell right.’”
In most cases, the off scent is because of dust buildup burning. But Sprecher said his department does receive calls from homeowners when that happens.
“We’d rather go out and err on the side of caution rather than just say, ‘Oh, you just started your system,’” he said.
People should also be aware of any natural gas appliances or heating systems in the home, he said.
“If the system isn’t installed properly, you can get incomplete combustion,” he said. When that happens – because a vent is not at the right angle or there’s not enough space around a gas water heater – the concern isn’t fire, but carbon monoxide development. And carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless.
“The biggest issue we have with carbon monoxide poisoning is you’re not going to know. You’re going to die in your sleep,” he said.
Sprecher reminds people not to use a stove to heat the house – or a barbecue. Just a few years ago, the department was called to a home where several occupants had suddenly become ill. The family was using a barbecue too close to the home with a door propped open. The airflow brought the carbon monoxide into the home at high levels.
He also recommends families purchase carbon monoxide monitors.
Families with wood-burning fire places should make sure the chimney has been cleaned out in the last few years before using it, he said. Creosote can build up in a chimney and if embers fly up from flames, they can light the creosote on fire.
A chimney fire, “is hard to find and can move up into the attic” quickly, he said.
Anyone using a space heater in a home should follow the manufacturer’s directions on where to place it. At a minimum, it should be three feet away from anything that can light on fire, including walls, rugs or towels. But in some cases, more space is required.
“When you’re buying a space heater, the first thing it should have is an automatic shut off,” Sprecher recommends. The shutoff should be triggered by a timer, as well as temperature or if the device is ever knocked over, he said.
“Stay away from buying a second-hand heater or one from the flea market unless it’s relatively new,” he said.
The department does offer home safety inspection for Mesa residents. During the free visit, the department will look at the cooktop and over, clearance of the water heater and furnace. It does not include looking at a heating system in the attic, he said.
For information, call (480) 644-2508.
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