With low temperatures expected to dip into the upper 30s later this week, there's a good chance furnaces and fireplaces will be lit for the first time this heating season, if they haven't been used already.
Area heating and fire officials are stressing the importance of having heating equipment - including furnaces, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces - inspected to help reduce the risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.
Last year, four area residents died in separate fires in October - a time when heating sources are generally used for the first time since the end of the last heating season. Heating sources were blamed for both of last October's fires, including one in Parkersburg that killed three people and one in New Matamoras that killed one person.
"I think it is of the utmost importance to have some professional look over their heating system at this time of year to make sure everything is OK," said David Haas, vice president of Morrison Inc., a local heating and cooling company. "Too often, people wait until they have a problem before they call."
Waiting only creates the potential for more danger and more costly repairs, Haas said.
An annual furnace inspection generally costs between $75 and $100.
Tips to keep homes warm and safe this heating season:
Be sure your heater is in good working condition. Inspect exhaust parts for carbon buildup. Be sure the heater has an emergency shutoff in case the device is tipped over.
Never use fuel-burning appliances without proper room venting. Burning fuel (coal, kerosene, or propane, for example) can produce deadly fumes.
Use only the fuel recommended by the heater manufacturer. Never introduce a fuel into a unit not designed for that type fuel.
Keep kerosene, or other flammable liquids stored in approved metal containers, in well ventilated storage areas, outside of the house.
Never fill the heater while it is operating or hot. When refueling an oil or kerosene unit, avoid overfilling. Do not use cold fuel because it may expand in the tank as it warms up. Refueling should be done outside of the home (or outdoors). Keep young children away from space heaters - especially when they are wearing night gowns or other loose clothing that can be easily ignited.
When using a fuel-burning appliance in the bedroom, be sure there is proper ventilation to prevent a buildup of carbon monoxide.
Wood stoves and fireplaces:
Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (36 inches) from combustible surfaces and proper floor support and protection.
Wood stoves should be of good quality, solid construction and design, and should be evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
Have the chimney inspected annually and cleaned if necessary, especially if it has not been used for some time.
Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire.
Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening, to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out, unwanted material from going in, and help prevent the possibility of burns to occupants.
The stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15 to 30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup.
Don't use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires in fireplaces. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by overbuilding the fire.
Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal can give off lethal amounts of carbon monoxide.
Keep flammable materials away from your fireplace mantel. A spark from the fireplace could easily ignite theses materials. Before you go to sleep, be sure your fireplace fire is out. Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper will help the fire heat up again and will force toxic carbon monoxide into the house.
If synthetic logs are used, follow the directions on the package. Never break a synthetic log apart to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time. They often burn unevenly, releasing higher levels of carbon monoxide.
It is important that you have your furnace inspected to ensure that it is in good working condition.
Be sure all furnace controls and emergency shutoffs are in proper working condition.
Leave furnace repairs to qualified specialists. Do not attempt repairs yourself unless you are qualified.
Inspect the walls and ceiling near the furnace and along the chimney line. If the wall is hot or discolored, additional pipe insulation or clearance may be required.
Check the flue pipe and pipe seams. Are they well supported and free of holes and cracks? Soot along or around seams may be an indicator of a leak.
Is the chimney solid, with cracks or loose bricks? All unused flue openings should be sealed with solid masonry.
Keep trash and other combustibles away from the heating system.
Source: U.S. Fire Administration
Having working smoke detectors on each floor of the home and outside each bedroom is critical to saving lives and property, said Richard Stewart, Marietta city fire inspector. Also, carbon monoxide detectors are important safeguards for people who use fossil fuels to heat their homes. Any cracks in heating chambers or vents can allow for dangerous gases to escape, which can cause people to become ill or die.
"With a wood-burning stove, for example, it has been sitting there for several months and you just don't know what's in that chimney," Stewart said. "You could have birds' nests or things like that, which could cause some problems."
Keeping the "space" in space heaters is another important point to keeping warm and safe this winter.
"One of the most important things people can do is to keep combustibles at least 36 inches away from any heating appliance," Stewart said.
In addition to keeping all heating sources a safe distance from anything that can burn, they should be kept out of the reach of pets and children, Stewart said.