Most home heating fires involve portable heaters and space heaters, with gas and kerosene heaters accounting for the highest fatality risk. All heating systems, including fireplaces, can be dangerous if not used and maintained properly.
Before buying any heating equipment, check with your local fire department to ensure what you're buying conforms to local building or and fire codes. When shopping for portable or space heaters, look for automatic shut-off safety features. All portable heaters should bear the mark of an independent testing laboratory indicating the heater has met basic safety standards.
When you use your fireplace, protect your home from sparks by using a fire screen made of sturdy metal or heat-tempered glass. Burn only dry wood. Add wood carefully; sparks can escape into the room while the screen is open. Be sure dampers are in working order, and never leave fires unattended.
All fuelled heaters must be vented to prevent dangerous carbon monoxide build-up in your home. Creosote and carbon deposits, caused by inefficient burning in fireplaces and wood stoves, can coat chimney flues and pose a fire hazard. Have your chimney inspected by a professional before each heating season and have it cleaned if necessary. Unusually high concentrations of chimney deposits could mean your fireplace or wood stove is not burning efficiently and should be inspected for defects. If you use a wood stove, have the flue and chimney connection inspected and cleaned regularly. Consider installing a spark arrester on top of any chimney that vents a solid-fuel stove or fireplace.
Give space heaters space. Keep all combustible materials away from portable and space heaters. Place all space heaters at least three feet from furniture, walls, curtains or anything else that could catch fire. Turn off space heaters when you leave home or go to bed.
If your space heater burns liquid fuel such as kerosene, let the heater cool down before refuelling it. Adding fuel to a hot heater can cause fumes to ignite. Always refuel your heater outdoors in an area away from structures where a spill won't present a fire hazard. Use only the type of fuel recommended by the manufacturer. Never use a substitute or a lower-grade fuel. Never put gasoline in any space heater. Buy a fuel container for the space heater fuel that allows for safe storage of the fuel, and store the fuel in a garage or shed, not in the living area of your home.
Check vents periodically to make sure they aren't blocked. Never install non-vented heaters in bathrooms or sleeping areas.
Inspect electric heater cords for cracks or other damage and have an electrician replace frayed or damaged cords. If cords overheat while the heater is on, replace the heater. Electric heaters with a tip-over safety switch that turns the heater off if it is accidentally tipped over should only be purchased.
Statistically, central heating systems are less likely to than portable or space heaters to cause home fires, but neglect can increase the risk to your safety. Never store combustible materials near a furnace and be sure that installation and automatic shut-off systems conform to local fire safety codes and are good working order Have your furnace inspected and serviced if needed, yearly by a qualified professional.