It’s Wintertime!!!

 

Now that Christmas is over and the unusually warm weather sweeping the country is gone, it is time to take some precautions against the effects of cold weather.  Actually, it’s past time.  As silly as it sounds, having your furnace or chimney checked and prepared for winter is something that should have been done in the fall, while the weather was comfortable.  If you’ve procrastinated and put off doing what should have been done months ago, then you might have somewhat of an uphill struggle depending on your part of the country.  In any case, gas and oil furnaces and chimneys should be checked to make sure that carbon monoxide won’t be a problem.  Electric furnaces should also be checked to make sure that all high voltage wiring is in good condition and won’t be a problem later on.  All heating equipment should be cleaned and the air filters replaced at least on a yearly basis.  In addition, gas piping should be inspected for leaks.  Fires and explosions from leaking gas lines seem to be making headlines more often these days.  If you smell gas and know where to turn the main gas valve off – DO IT; then call the gas utility company and report the problem.  Otherwise get out of your building, get a safe distance away, such as across the street or further if need be; call the gas utility and report a problem.  Lastly, don’t hesitate to call 911 and request fire department assistance.  Remember, it’s better to have the fire department on the scene and prepared for an emergency if nothing happens rather than not have emergency assistance if a fire or explosion occurs.  At this time of year, many people will also use portable kerosene and oil filled electric heaters.  These types of heaters must be used with an abundance of caution.  These heaters are typically used inside homes and small spaces.  These heaters also have strict distance requirements and must be kept away from combustible material.  Moreover, small children must be kept away from these heaters while in operation because of the potential burn hazard.  Furthermore, if heat tapes are in use, be sure they are in good condition and are heating water lines as intended.  Be sure that the tapes or wraps are not in contact with combustible material.  If using pipe insulation, be sure that the insulation covers all exposed piping that is subjected to subfreezing temperatures.  Moreover, if your house is on a crawlspace, don’t forget to close the vents on the exterior sides as leaving them open will cause the interior to lose heat and the HVAC unit to run longer than necessary.

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Christmas and Safety

Christmas is fast approaching and so is winter. Although it is cold in many parts of the country not everyone has begun using their heating appliances on a regular basis. Instead, every year people resort to using small free-standing heaters to warm a room. From a fire investigation standpoint, I’ve already encountered two instances where small space heaters have been suspected as being the cause of a fire. Small space heaters are not necessarily defective and inherently dangerous if used properly. If the instructions say to keep the unit a certain distance away from combustible material, then, it is imperative that the minimum distance be maintained. The trouble is that consumers have a tendency to forget about that distance. Even more troubling is the fact that consumers will operate a small heater all night and unattended when that is clearly not the manufacturer’s intention. Remember that warm spot on the corner of the sofa that was created when the heater was turned on? After several hours, that warm spot can turn into a hot spot and then a point of ignition; all because the heater should not have been left on. That scenario prompts a question: can the heater be left on all night if the heater is sufficiently far away from all combustible material? The short answer is no. Anything that could knock the heater over might cause a fire. Most small heaters are equipped with a tip switch that turns the heater off in the event that the unit is tipped over. However, even though the power is off, that doesn’t mean that whatever the heater is resting on won’t ignite because of the residual heat emitted by the heater until it cools. The same rules apply to the use of kerosene heaters. In the case of kerosene heaters however, there is a steady production of carbon monoxide as the kerosene is burned. People with breathing difficulties can be severely affected. If a unit is allowed to burn all night, the risk that occurs is that there will come a point where the kerosene level will be low enough to produce soot instead of heat. So, in either case, whether using an electric or kerosene heater, it is best not leave them on and unattended during the night.

Hopefully, this reminder will help someone avoid a disastrous holiday season.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

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