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Fire burning in a fireplace

Clean fireplaces and chimneys annually to prevent fires during winter.

Keep homes, cabins safe during heating season

By Richard Stone

From eNews, Dec. 14, 2006

Furnaces and other heating equipment are the number one cause of home fires in the U.S. According to the United States Fire Administration, fires injure 2,600 individuals and cause about $930 million in damages during the holiday season. So safety should be top priority when heating your home or cabin.

Homeowners are strongly urged to have:

Smoke alarms double your chance of surviving a fire. Be sure you have a properly installed smoke alarm on each floor and outside all sleeping areas. Test the batteries monthly.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas often formed in the process of incomplete combustion of organic substances, including fuels. It's dangerous since it interferes with normal oxygen uptake. Those at greatest risk include the unborn, elderly people with cardiac conditions and people with respiratory problems, including asthma. Carbon monoxide alarms for the home are available online or at home improvement stores like Home Depot.

Many public utility companies offer a home energy checkup to their customers at a reasonable cost. Contact your public utility company to see if they provide this service. Private companies also offer this service to homeowners.

Energy conservation is the most cost-effective measure you can take to reduce heating costs while being comfortable. Contact your public utility and energy websites for more information.

A final safety note: Don't buy "vent free" gas fireplaces or space heaters, including kerosene space heaters. These products only give you poor indoor air quality, moisture problems and generally unsafe heating conditions. And do not use gas stoves or ovens for space heaters.

Additional information on heating the home or cabin, and answers to more than 50 questions commonly asked by home and lake cabin owners, can be found in Extension's Lake Home and Cabin Kit, Version 2. The kit retails for $29.99 and may be purchased by visiting University of Minnesota Extension Service or by calling 800-876-8636. For fire prevention tips related to Christmas trees or holiday decorations, visit the United States Fire Administration. Listen to Richard Stone with the University of Minnesota Extension Service discuss the importance of inspecting home heating equipment.

Richard Stone is an educator in housing technology with the University of Minnesota Extension Service.