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Winter heating safety tips

by marge padgitt

An article written for the Independence Examiner


Every year, many people become ill or die due to a back up of Carbon Monoxide gasses from the furnace or hot water heater flue or connecting pipes. This can be avoided with regular maintenance of the chimney.

● Have the furnace flue checked annually by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to be sure it is not clogged or damaged, and that there is no Carbon Monoxide backup into the home.

● Make sure the flue is sized correctly to the appliances so it will draft well. Flues that are too large cause excessive condensation and damage the flue walls and mortar joints.

● Keep trash and storage containers at least 3’ away from the heating system.

● Have a heavy duty stainless steel chimney cover installed to keep damaging rain, animals, and debris out of the chimney.

● Have the furnace checked annually by a qualified HVAC technician to be sure everything in the furnace is clean and in good working order. 

● Only have a trained technician do needed repairs. 


CO is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that is the natural by-product of combustion. It is called the “Silent Killer,” because the victims may not know they are being poisoned. Your body absorbs CO more easily than Oxygen, and mistakes it for Oxygen, causing illness and sometimes death. Even low levels of CO have been shown to cause irreversible brain damage.

Some Symptoms of CO poisoning are: Dizziness, headaches, Uuexplained flu-like symptoms, fainting, nausea, death

Get to a hospital as soon as exposure to CO is known so proper treatment can be administered. 


Most fires in wood stoves, fireplaces, and chimneys occur because of a lack of regular cleaning to remove creosote, which is the residue left behind by unburned fuel (ALL fuel burns incompletely).

● Don’t burn treated wood, railroad ties, trash, or colored paper since they emit toxic fumes.

● Don’t burn pine trees or railroad ties since they create excessive amounts of flammable creosote. 

● Have the chimney checked annually (every 2 months during the heating season if used for the primary source of heat) and cleaned as necessary by a professional CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to remove flammable creosote which causes chimney fires.

● Follow operating instructions by the manufacturer (if applicable) to assure safe and efficient heating.

● Keep combustible materials (including furniture) at least 3’ away from the appliance.

● A screen should be placed in front of open fireplaces to keep embers and sparks from popping out.

● Place a child guard screen around stoves to keep children from getting burned. 

● Never use flammable liquids to start a fire—the fumes can ignite and explode. Use an approved gel, fatwood, or firestarter.

● Remove flammable materials such as stockings from the mantel before starting a fire.

● Use a metal container to transport ashes to the exterior of the home. 

● Do not build large fires in open fireplaces—these  meant for small, ambient fires only and are not energy efficient heating devices. If you want to make your fireplace energy efficient, have a wood or gas fireplace insert installed by a professional.

● Have a heavy duty stainless steel chimney cover installed to keep damaging rain, animals, and debris out of the chimney.

● If a chimney fire occurs, close the damper (if possible, get out of the house, and call the fire department. DO NOT use the chimney until it has been inspected by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep


● Install a digital CO detector on each level of your home.

● Install a hard-wired fire alarm system with an alarm on each floor and in the attic next to the chimney.

● Avoid the use of electric space heaters in bathrooms, or where they may come in contact with water. Keep electric heaters at least 3’ away from combustibles (this includes furniture).

● Only use heavy duty extension cords with electric heaters. Do not leave heaters or fires unattended.