It may not feel like it yet, but winter is finally here and soon enough people in Forsyth County will be lighting fires in the fire place, plugging in space heaters, starting up the furnace and getting cozy.
But before you start splitting logs or setting your thermostat, here are a few tips from Forsyth County Fire Department spokesman Division Chief Jason Shivers on how you can stay safe while heating your home this winter.
Always have fully functioning alarms. That means replacing regularly.
According to Shivers, one of the most important things to keep in mind year round, but especially in the winter when people start using their fire places, furnaces and space heaters again, is the age of home detection devices like smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
We all know to do the yearly battery swap and tests for these devices, to make sure that their alarms still function. But what we don’t often consider is how old our devices are.
Shivers said that smoke and carbon monoxide alarms have a life of 10 years, and after that, the unit will need to be replaced, because the radioactive or sensitive element that detects smoke or carbon monoxide will have slowly deteriorated over the life of the device.
“Check your unit, and if it’s more than 10 years past the date of manufacture, it’s probably time to replace it,” Shivers said. "That’s a national standard that is going to be touted by any organization that promotes fire safety."
If you wait longer than 10 years, you run the risk of testing a device year after year that can produce an alarm but which no longer has the ability to detect smoke or carbon monoxide, he said.
Inspections have to come first
No matter how you heat your home this winter, Shivers said that before you start using your furnace, wood-burning fireplace or central heating system, getting a proper inspection and servicing should be on the top of your list.
Many fires happen each year after people use damaged or ill-maintained fireplaces and chimneys, he said, and home heating appliances can be just as fatal if they are not properly inspected and repaired.
"A home heating appliance that burns gas, not being in tune, has a very real risk of emitting carbon monoxide into the home," he said.
So each heating system in the home should be inspected each year by a professional, he said.
Shivers said that Forsyth County area has countless different options for professional inspection companies and all can be found easily online.
Heat smart, stay safe
Many people use heating appliances, like space heaters or wood-burning fireplaces, to add a little extra warmth to their home each year.
When used properly, Shivers said that all of those options are perfectly acceptable methods of heating the home.
Space heaters should be used exactly as the manufacturer intended and kept well clear of furniture, rugs, combustibles that could be ignited by the heater and out of the reach of children, he said.
And never for under any circumstance should an outdoor space heater be used to heat the home.
Shivers said that outdoor space heaters are designed to burn in an open environment, not enclosed spaces like a residence. So when they are used in a residence, they can quickly fill the space with carbon monoxide.
"There's simply not enough ventilation in a home, especially not in today's homes that are built very well sealed, to allow for the exchange of carbon monoxide that those devices create," he said.
On top of that, outdoor space heaters produce much more heat than indoor space heaters, which could possibly set things in the home ablaze even at a distance.
"It all boils down to this: you don't use anything inside a residential setting that's not designed for a residential setting," he said.