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Types of Heating & Fire Safety at Home

Couple sitting by the fire

Heating technology is an essential part of making a home habitable, especially during the winter. Throughout history, people have used various techniques for keeping their homes warm during the cold months of the year. Home heating methods have ranged from burning wood in fireplaces in the past, to modern, electric-powered HVAC systems of the present. Along with air conditioning, modern home heating technology has radically improved the standard of living for residents of homes and apartments alike. Not all heating methods are equal, however, as some are more energy-efficient and resource-efficient than others. In addition, there are hazards that come with the use of certain heating techniques, not the least of which is the potential for the outbreak of a fire. Therefore it is essential to not only understand the risks that come with heating systems, but to know how to prevent or respond to fires if they occur.

One of the first known forms of home heating involved the burning of wood. In modern times this typically happens in a fireplace. Fireplaces bring the risk of burning embers escaping to set carpets or other objects on fire. In addition, a form of residue called creosote can build up in the chimney, which can ignite and cause a fire hazard. Wood-burning and coal-burning stoves are another form of home heating technology that has existed for centuries. They carry the same risks that fireplaces do. Heaters that use flammable liquids came into existence near the start of the industrial age, most notably paraffin or kerosene heaters. Flammable liquids are a fire risk by nature, as they can ignite into a fire or even explode.

Close up of fire

Natural gas-based heaters are a potential fire hazard for the same reason. Electric-powered heaters are a modern-day invention; however they also carry certain risks. Electric heaters have heating elements that get red-hot in order to radiate heat into a room. Their heating elements can start fires by igniting paper, carpets, or anything else that they come into contact with. Perhaps the lowest risk form of home heating is a central HVAC system, particularly one powered by solar energy. However they, too, run a low risk of electrical fires, particularly if their wiring gets old or damaged.

Most modern homes have fireplaces and chimneys. Preventing fires from getting out of control involves making sure that embers from the fireplace do not escape onto flammable materials or surfaces. This means keeping objects a safe distance away, as well as burning only seasoned hardwood. Cleaning chimneys is essential to avoiding the buildup of potentially dangerous creosote. Similar safety precautions should be taken with wood and coal stoves. Flammable liquids should never be used to start fires. Ashes should be cool when they are being disposed of, and they should only be disposed of in a sealed metal container. Fuel for gas-based or oil-based heaters should be stored in containers designed for the specific fuel being used. Gasoline should never be used as a substitute as it is much more likely to catch fire or explode. Electric heaters should be placed in an area where they will not tip over or radiate heat onto curtains, clothes, paper, or carpets. In addition, no heating source should ever be left running or burning while residents are gone. Electric-powered HVAC systems should be inspected on a semi-annual or annual basis to check for damage to wiring or other issues that could reduce its efficiency or lead to an electrical fire. Heating systems, by nature, generate enough heat to potentially ignite either their own fuel, or objects around them, and cause an uncontrolled fire. Therefore, despite the best of efforts at fire safety and prevention, a fire may still break out and threaten life and property.

Fireman after rescuing a cat

In case a fire does break out, it is necessary for residents to plan fire escape routes and a place where everyone can meet after evacuation. Staying close to the floor is the best way to escape a fire, because smoke rises to the ceiling, as do flames. If the fire is restricted to a small area, it can be put out with an extinguisher. Fires based on oil or other flammable liquids should not be put out with water. These can be put out with baking soda or an ABC-rated fire extinguisher. Children should be a part of any family's fire safety plan as well. Curiosity as well as lack of knowledge, are primary reasons why children set fires. Keeping matches, flammable liquids and lighters away from children is one way to keep fires from happening. The most effective way to prevent children from causing fires, however, is supervision, guidance and education. Children need to be instructed about the uses and dangers of fire, and why fire should not be treated like a toy. They should be familiarized with the sound of smoke alarms, and where to evacuate to in the case of a fire. Fire safety education and drills should be a family effort, including children and adults. There are certain types of equipment that every household should have in the case of a fire. One is a smoke detector which is designed to sound an alarm when a fire breaks out. These should be routinely tested and their batteries checked to ensure that they are working properly. Fire extinguishers should be readily available for use as well. For kitchens, an ABC fire extinguisher is the best option in case of a grease fire. A home sprinkler system is a wise option for other areas besides the kitchen.

All home heating systems present some level of a fire hazard. Understanding how to operate them safely is key to minimizing the risk of a fire. In addition, knowing how to respond to a fire, is essential to protecting one's home, belongings, and perhaps even lives. Preventing fires and avoiding a tragedy in the event of one, requires not only the right equipment, but also proper fire safety education for both adults and children in the household.