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Image of a log in a fireplace.
Read on for some great tips on how to safely heat your home!

Staying Warm and Safe This Winter

MOUNTAIN COMMUNITIES — We made it! The past two weeks have been very busy with the holiday season and a rare winter storm with very low elevation snow.  There have been traffic collisions, hazards and many disabled vehicles on our roads.  There were also some power outages sprinkled in too.  For me this has meant that I’ve been furiously posting the incidents to the Sierra News Online Facebook page and on the community watch groups I run as well just trying to help people stay safe and informed.  Now that we’re into a new year and things have quieted down, I would like to talk to you all about safe home heating to get you through the next few months of winter.

One of my own wood stoves with a warm pile of coals ready to start a fire.

I’ve lived in the foothills and mountains of the Motherlode for over 30 years in a lot of different types of residences.  These have included mobile homes, apartments, sticks and bricks homes and even tents and dorms. Each of these residences have been unique and have had different types of ways to keep them, actually us, cool and warm.  The most common home heating equipment has been wood stoves, propane heaters, fireplaces and space heaters.  I’m sure that most of you have used all of these as well and I know we can add pellet stoves to the list, too.  With each of these systems, I’ve learned that there are right ways and wrong ways to use them and the wrong ways can result in very serious injury or even death.  In fact, home heating equipment is involved in 1 of every home fires in the winter and 1 in every home fire deaths. Please, please keep reading for safety tips for each one of these.

Propane Home Heating Equipment

The biggest part to staying safe while using propane home heating equipment is safely using propane in your home and we recently published this article about that on Sierra News Online.  For your propane heating equipment here are some ways to stay safe:

  • Install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Have your furnace cleaned and checked every year by a certified HVAC technician.
  • Change your filter regularly.
  • Keep the area around your furnace clean and unobstructed especially keeping combustible materials away from the area.
  • A gas or “rotten eggs” smell can indicate a leak and needs to be reported immediately to your gas company.  Also leave the area and shut off the gas right away.
  • Only use portable propane heaters that are designed for indoor use and include safety features like automatic tip over shut off,  propane tank guards and flame guards. NEVER USE AN OUTDOOR PROPANE HEATER INDOORS!


  • Install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Have your chimneys cleaned and maintained by certified technicians.
  • Don’t burn trash, plastic, or flammable items.
  • Don’t overload the fireplace.

Wood Stoves

  • Install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Have your stove and stove pipes cleaned and maintained by certified technicians.
  • Keep all flammable household items far away from the stove, including dry wood and pellets.
  • Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them. Put the ashes in a tightly covered metal container. placed outside of your house and away from any buildings.
  • Don’t burn cardboard, trash or debris in your wood stove.
  • Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
  • Make sure your stove pipe (chimney) has the proper cap and spark arrester (the screen that surrounds the chimney cap).
  • Keep children and pets away because the outsides of wood stoves and pellet stoves are very hot.

Portable Space Heaters

  • Keep your space heater at least 3 feet from anything flammable.
  • Do not plug a space heater into an extension chord or power strip.
  • Never leave a space heater unattended while in use.

Honestly, as I’m finishing writing this article I am seeing reports of a deadly fire in New York that is being blamed on a faulty electric space heater and this is really hitting home with me right now.  I have to admit that in the past I haven’t taken my own safety and the safety of my family as seriously as I should have. One of the homes we lived in had two fireplaces and no heater and we used to leave those fireplaces unattended repeatedly. I also couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve left space heaters on while I’ve been gone or they’ve been plugged into power strips. After writing this article and seeing the common thread that we all need to maintain our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors I am ashamed to admit that I’ve disabled smoke detectors in some of my homes in the past or not bothered to replace the dead batteries in them.

Please, don’t be like me! I think we can all do better.

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Sierra News Online

Sierra News Online