Home Heating Safety
Replace or clean your furnace filter. You should replace or clean
your furnace filter(s) three or four times yearly. This is a quick,
easy job every homeowner or tenant can do. A new filter makes your
furnace more energy-efficient and saves money, too.
A furnace that is not running at peak performance can be deadly.
Carbon Monoxide is a natural product of incomplete combustion. Virtually
every gas furnace produces some Carbon Monoxide, which is usually
carried away from your home through the furnace's venting. A clean,
efficiently burning gas furnace produces very small amounts of carbon
monoxide, while a dirty, inefficiently burning one can produce deadly
amounts. Carbon Monoxide is odorless and colorless. It causes flu-like
symptoms, disorientation, confusion, and even death.
It is highly recommended that you have your furnace cleaned and
checked every year. The older the furnace, the more important this
service is. Newer gas furnaces are equipped with many features that
shut the furnace off when a problem is detected. Older furnaces
have no such devices. Over time, furnaces can develop small cracks
in the combustion chamber. These cracks may not be visible to the
naked eye. It is through these cracks that Carbon Monoxide can leak
into your home.
It is also important to change your furnace filter regularly. The
filter usually is found just inside the front cover of the furnace.
It may have its own access door on the front of the furnace. A clean
filter will help your furnace burn more efficiently, and will help
keep dust from being circulated through your home.
- Keep the area around your furnace clean and unobstructed.
- Keep the burner area of your furnace clean.
- Furnaces that require lubrication on the motors and bearings
should be attended to by a qualified heating technician once a
- Do not have anything combustible within six inches of your
- Do not close off more than 20% of the registers in your house.
This can cause high resistance and unnecessary heat build up in
- Do not store combustible material such as paint thinners, gasoline,
etc. near your furnace.
How to Tell When Your Furnace Is Not Feeling Well
Scale: Flakes of rust, produced by the by-products
of burning gas (carbon dioxide and water vapor). Scale may fall
on the burners and impede gas flow. Over time, it can damage your
furnace by harboring moisture, thereby fostering rust on a large
The solution: Your service technician can take out
the burners and clean them. You can clean out excess rust flakes
that fall to the bottom of the furnace housing.
Grinding, chattering sounds from relays: (signifying
electrical problems), a burner that huffs and puffs, banging (delayed
ignition), or clunking and bumping (cracked belt passing over
The solution: A good rule of thumb: if it's an unusual
noise, it's a problem. Call your service technician.
Carbon Monoxide: It's colorless, odorless and tasteless,
and it can kill you if it's concentrated enough. It is caused
by a lack of oxygen or a disruption of the fuel-burning process.
The solutions: Your furnace breathes, just like
you. Provide adequate ventilation to the unit and consider installing
a fresh-air (combustion) intake. Use carbon monoxide detectors,
combined with routine maintenance checks by qualified service
technicians (mark them on your calendar).
Yellow Flame: That flame should be sharp and blue,
clean and stable, burning as purely as possible. A yellow flame
indicates dirt in the burner, which prevents it from mixing the
gas and air properly.
The solution: Call your technician to thoroughly
test the system and clean it.
Dusty Smell: You turn up the thermostat and within
minutes, your home is filled with a dry, dusty smell.
- Don't worry; it's just burning the dust out of the combustion
chamber. Change your filter .
- If it's a constant odor, call your technician.
- If it smells like gas, call your utility company or the fire
department and stay outside until no danger has been confirmed.
Backdrafting/Negative Pressure: Negative pressure
results when you take air out of the house by using oxygen faster
than air can enter the house. Backdrafting is a natural consequence
of negative pressure; air rushes into the house through the chimney,
effectively choking off the natural process of venting.
The solution: Run a combustible air duct to the
unit from the outside.
Beware of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
A clean, efficiently running gas furnace provides safe, economical
heat. A gas furnace that is not running at peak performance can
be deadly. Carbon Monoxide is a natural product of incomplete combustion.
That includes wood, kerosene, gasoline, oil, propane, or natural
gas. Virtually every gas furnace produces some Carbon Monoxide,
which is usually carried away from your home through the furnace's
venting. A clean, efficiently burning gas furnace produces very
small amounts of carbon monoxide, while a dirty, inefficiently burning
one can produce deadly amounts.
CO is a toxic, tasteless, colorless, and odorless gas. Even small
amounts can cause severe illness and even death. Symptoms include
headaches, dizziness, faintness, drowsiness, pain in the ears, or
seeing spots. Many people often mistake CO symptoms for the flu.
If you or any of your family members are experiencing flu-like symptoms
that seem to disappear when you leave your home, have your furnace
checked immediately. If you suspect a carbon monoxide problem, open
the windows, leave the home at once, and call the fire department
by dialing 9-1-1.
- Have your chimney inspected annually for damage and obstructions.
- Clean the chimney regularly to avoid buildup, also known as
creosote, that could ignite your roof.
- Be sure to use a screen in front of your fireplace large enough
to catch rolling logs or sparks.
- Don't use flammable liquids to start the fire.
- Don't use excessive amounts of paper to build a fire. It's possible
to ignite soot in the chimney by over-building the fire.
- Never burn charcoal in your fireplace. Burning charcoal gives
off deadly amounts of carbon monoxide.
- Be sure no flammable materials hang down from or decorate your
mantel. A spark from your fireplace could ignite these materials
and cause a fire.
- Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed
damper can help hot ashes build up heat, causing the fire to flare
up and ignite your room.
- Store cool ashes in a tightly sealed metal container.
Electric Space Heaters
- The heater should be listed by UL (Underwriter's Laboratory).
It should be equipped with a safety light, loud alarm, a switch
that automatically shuts the heater off if it tips and a cut-off
device in case of overheating.
- Space heaters must have space. Keep all objects, pets and people
at least three feet away from the heater at all times.
- Don't use space heaters in your bathrooms. Do not touch a space
heater if you are wet.
- Never try to repair the heater yourself.
HOW TO SURVIVE WITHOUT HEAT
Fireplace or Wood Burning Stove
Remove all obstructions from the fireplace and flue before you start
a fire. Burn only well seasoned wood. Do not start a fire with highly
combustible fuels such as lighter fluid or gasoline. Charcoal and
other coal products can give off toxic fumes and should not be used.
Remember to also have proper ventilation because the fire is using
up oxygen. Always use a fireplace screen to keep sparks from flying
into the room. And keep the damper open when a fire is burning,
as well as when a fire is dying out.
If your heating equipment will be out of service for an extended
period of time, you might want to consider staying with family or
friends or in a hotel/motel, particularly if there are infants or
elderly people in your household. Find a friend to take your pets
in and care for them.
Never Use Your Gas Oven for Heating
Prolonged use of the open oven in a closed house burns oxygen, thereby
causing improper combustion of gas, which creates a lethal carbon