A chilly winter forecast may prompt some families to seek cheaper—and potentially unsafe—alternative heating sources, according to Travelers (NYSE: TRV).
Shipments of wood burning stoves and inserts increased by more than 80 percent in 2008, while pellet stoves and pellet fireplace inserts rose more than 160 percent over the same time period according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association. High demands are expected to continue throughout 2009 and 2010 thanks to many consumers looking to supplement their main home heating supply as a way to save money. Additionally, an incentive from the federal government offering a 30 percent tax rebate, up to $1,500 on the purchase of wood and pellet stoves meeting certain efficiency requirements, makes purchasing these items more appealing.
According to Philip E. Crombie Jr., Managing Forensic Specialist at Travelers’ Engineering Laboratory in Windsor, Conn., the spike in alternative heating device usage over the past few years has also led to a steady increase in the number of times they are used or installed improperly, causing fires and malfunctions.
“With the unsettled economy, volatile home heating fuel prices and typically cold winters in certain parts of the country, more people might consider alternative heating sources,” said Crombie, who also serves as the fire chief in South Windsor, Conn. “Using supplemental heating devices can help keep costs down, but they can pose specific hazards if they’re installed incorrectly or used improperly.”
Among the problems Crombie sees are chimneys filled with dangerous levels of creosote, space heaters used with extension cords that overheat, improperly installed wood stoves and fireplace inserts and kitchen ovens used as an extra heating source.
As winter approaches, Crombie encourages families and individuals to take the following precautions recommended by the Institute for Business & Home Safety when using specific heating devices:
- Getting started – Install carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in several parts of the house and test them regularly.
- Stove placement – Placement of the stove must take into consideration adequate space for installation, maintenance and replacement, flue or vent pipe routing and most importantly, safe location relative to combustible materials.
- Chimneys – Properly maintain heating equipment and chimneys with an annual inspection by a licensed professional.
- Pellet stoves – Hire a licensed and certified professional for installation. Stove placement must allow for proper venting, electrical sources and required clearances. Finally, have vent pipes or chimneys inspected annually prior to use.
- Space heaters – Maintain at least a three-foot clearance between the heater and combustible materials. Avoid using extension cords (if necessary, use cords marked with a No. 14-gauge or larger wire).
- Wood stoves – Follow the same precautions as listed for a pellet stove. Hire a licensed and certified professional for installation, position for electrical sources and to allow clearance for proper venting, keep the stove clear of combustible materials and have vent pipes or chimneys inspected annually prior to use.
- Fireplaces – Obtain an annual inspection from a professional chimney sweep.
- Kitchen ovens – Never use a kitchen oven to stay warm as material may ignite and catch fire.
- Look for UL label – Choose products that have been tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).