When the temperature drops and families head indoors to escape the cold, improper use of heating equipment can put homes at risk for fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.

When the temperature drops and families head indoors to escape the cold, improper use of heating equipment can put homes at risk for fire. According to theNational Fire Protection Association, heating equipment fires account for 18% of all reported home (second behind cooking) and 22% of home fire deaths. Specifically, most home-heating fire deaths (79%) and injuries (66%) and half (52%) of associated direct property damage involved stationary or portable space heaters.

That’s why Underwriters Laboratories warns it’s important to safeguard against potential fire and potential home-heating hazards.

“January and February are peak months for home-heating fire deaths,” saysJohn Drengenberg, UL’s consumer safety director. “By taking precautions and making sure you’re using indoor heating sources correctly, you can avoid tragedy while staying warm and fire safe.”

UL recommends these simple steps to help avoid potential home fires this winter season:

  • Keep flammable materials at least three ft. away from indoor heat sources such as space heaters and fireplaces.

  • Always shut off space heaters when leaving the room and before going to bed.

  • Check your home’s smoke alarms and make sure models and batteries are up to date.

  • Look for the UL mark on home heaters to make sure they have been tested to appropriate safety requirements.

“By understanding where fire hazards exist, and taking some simple preventative steps to avoid them, people can greatly reduce their risk to fire this winter,” saysLorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of communications.

Guard against carbon monoxide

In addition to home fires, Drengenberg reminds us that carbon monoxide also can be a hazard, especially to toddlers and older adults. CO is a colorless, odorless and poisonous gas that is often associated with faulty furnaces or alternative methods of winter heating.

Dubbed the “silent killer,” the gas kills 500 people and sends 15,200 more to the hospital each year.

To help make your home a little bit warmer and safer, UL is urging homeowners to inspect for, protect and detect against CO hazards and remember the following tips:

  • INSPECT for potential signs of CO leaks such as carbon streak or soot around fuel-burning appliances.

  • INSPECT furnace rooms for moisture collecting on windows or walls.

  • INSPECT chimneys and fireplaces as well as fuel-burning appliances (furnaces, water heaters and stoves) annually with a qualified technician.

  • PROTECT your home by purchasing and installing a CO alarm on every level of the home and outside sleeping areas.

  • PROTECT the effectiveness of your CO alarms by testing them monthly and replacing batteries once a year.

  • DETECT the source of CO by having a professional inspect and fix the problem after a CO alarm sounds.

  • DETECT carbon monoxide by watching for symptoms of gas poisoning including headaches, dizziness and other flu-like complaints  If you experience those symptoms, evacuate the house, call the fire department and seek medical attention.

For more information on home heating and CO safety tips, go toSafetyAtHome.com.