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Home Heating

Heating equipment is a leading cause of home fire deaths. Half of home heating equipment fires are reported during the months of December, January, and February.

Home Heating Safety Tips

  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, (furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater).
  • Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Have heating equipment and chimneys cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
  • Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.
  • Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room. Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container. Keep the container a safe distance away from your home. 
  • Test smoke alarms monthly.


An annual inspection ensures that your heating and venting systems are operating safely and efficiently. A qualified heating contractor can provide that important annual check-up. Things to look for:

  • Check your furnace's flame. Flames should be mostly blue and steady. A pale yellow or wavy flame is a sign that your furnace is not working properly.
  • Check your venting system. Soft, rusted, or broken vent piping can release combustion products into your home.
  • Examine your unit to ensure it is free of dust, rust or signs of corrosion.
  • Look for signs of discoloration or soot. Build-up around the burner access door and vents could indicate a problem.
  • Check air filters monthly and clean/replace them as needed.
  • Make sure that furnace panels and grills are in place and that the fan compartment door is closed when the furnace is on. Leaving these doors open could cause carbon monoxide to build up in living areas.
Tips to Keep your Furnace Room Tidy and Safe
Make space.

Since furnaces and hot water heaters are powered by electricity or fossil fuels such as oil, propane or natural gas, it is important to ensure the furnace has adequate space for proper ventilation. You will also want to be sure there is enough space to allow for any maintenance or repair work that might need to be done.

Implement storage solutions.

Don’t store any unnecessary items in your furnace room. Furnace rooms should be kept clear of clutter that can obstruct service and maintenance work as well as interfere with how well your equipment runs.

Keep it clean and safe.

We know that not every home has a separate furnace room and that sometimes it’s necessary to use it for storage. If your furnace room doubles as storage or laundry space, be sure to keep it organized and clean by doing the following:

  • Don’t hang laundry or clotheslines from your equipment. Not only is this a major fire hazard, but it can also impact airflow and your equipment’s ability to ventilate properly.
  • Don’t place kitty litter near the furnace. The ammonia fumes from the litter can actually corrode the furnace’s heat exchanger and the odours can circulate throughout the home.
  • Don’t keep any cleaning or laundry products near the furnace. Store them in airtight containers.
  • Don’t store anything that is combustible at low flash points such as gasoline, paint and paint thinners.
  • Don’t leave used filters or old furnace parts lying around.
  • Tidy your furnace area regularly. Be sure to vacuum and clean around the furnace, and the burner compartment to prevent any dust buildup.

Fireplaces & Chimneys

Dirty chimneys can cause chimney fires, which damage structures, destroy homes and injure or kill people. With proper chimney system care, chimney fires are entirely preventable. Here are some ways to avoid them:

  • Only use seasoned wood. Dryness is more important than hard wood versus soft wood considerations.
  • Build smaller, hotter fires that burn more completely and produce less smoke.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes, wrapping paper, trash or Christmas trees. These items can spark a chimney fire.
  • Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures where wood stoves are in use, so you can adjust burning practices as needed.
  • Have the chimney inspected and cleaned on a regular basis.
Tips for Safe Fireplace Use
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing and maintaining your chimney or appliance. If you do not have instructions, call the manufacturer. For masonry chimneys, call the builder. Note: For all new installations, a Building Permit is required.

Inspect and clean your chimney regularly.

The Ontario Fire Code requires homeowners to maintain the safety of their chimneys and inspect them at least once a year. Your chimney could have a problem you cannot see. If in doubt, consult a Wood Energy Technical Training (WETT) certified chimney sweep.

Check stovepipes and connections.

Ensure screws are located at every joint. Also look for leaching (dark staining or white powder) at every joint. This could be a sign of chimney trouble - consult a WETT certified chimney sweep.

Check for creosote.

Creosote can form quickly and is a major cause of chimney fires. Check chimney and flue pipes often and clean when necessary. Never let creosote or soot build up. Check walls for excessive heat. If the wall is very hot, it could be a sign of improper installation of the chimney or stove pipe. Check with a WETT certified chimney sweep.

Install a rain cap.

A rain cap should be installed on top of all metal and masonry chimneys. If you have a spark screen around the chimney cap, inspect it regularly for blockage. Watch for smoke coming into the room. This could indicate a blockage in the chimney or a faulty damper control mechanism.

Protect floors and walls from heat and sparks.

Keep combustibles safely away from your appliance. Always use a properly fitting screen for your fireplace. Regularly check for signs of problems. Your heating appliance, flue pipes and chimney can deteriorate over time. Look for corrosion or rust stains on the outer shell of a metal chimney and check for bulges or corrosion in its liner.

FAQs: Chimney Fires
What should I do if I have a chimney fire?

If you realize a chimney fire is occurring, get everyone, including yourself, out of the house. Call the fire department. Remember: homes are replaceable, lives are not. If you can do so without risk to yourself, these additional steps may help save your home.

  • Put a flare type chimney fire extinguisher into the fireplace or wood stove.
  • Close the glass doors on the fireplace.
  • Close the air inlets on the wood stove.
  • Use a garden hose to spray down the roof (not the chimney) so the fire won't spread to the rest of the structure.
  • Monitor the exterior chimney temperature throughout the house for at least two or three hours after the fire is out.
What are signs that I've had a chimney fire?

Chimney fires can occur without anyone being aware of them, and damage from such fires can endanger a home and its occupants. Here are the signs a professional chimney sweep looks for:

  • 'Puffy' creosote, with rainbow coloured streaks that has expanded beyond creosote's normal form
  • Warped metal of the damper, metal smoke chamber, connector pipe or factory-built metal chimney
  • Cracked or collapsed flue tiles, or tiles with large chunks missing
  • Discoloured and distorted rain cap
  • Creosote flakes and pieces found on the roof or ground
  • Roofing material damaged from hot creosote
  • Cracks in exterior masonry
  • Evidence of smoke escaping through mortar joints of masonry or tile liners

If you think a chimney fire has occurred, call a WETT-Certified Chimney Sweep for a professional evaluation. If your suspicions are confirmed, a certified sweep will be able to make recommendations about how to bring the system back into compliance with safety standards.

How do chimney fires damage chimneys?

Masonry chimneys:
When chimney fires occur in masonry chimneys, whether the flues are an older, unlined type or are tile lined to meet current safety codes, the high temperatures they burn at (around 2000 F) can melt mortar, crack tiles, cause liners to collapse and damage the outer masonry material. Most often, tiles crack and mortar is displaced, which provides a pathway for flames to reach the combustible wood frame of the house. One chimney fire may not harm a home. A second can burn it down. Enough heat can also conduct through a perfectly sound chimney to ignite nearby combustibles.

Pre-fabricated, factory-built, metal chimneys:
To be installed in most jurisdictions in Canada, factory-built, metal chimneys that are designed to vent wood burning stoves or pre-fabricated metal fireplaces must pass special tests determined by Underwriter's Laboratories of Canada (ULC). Under chimney fire conditions, damage to these systems still may occur, usually in the form of buckled or warped seams and joints on the inner liner. When pre-fabricated, factory-built metal chimneys are damaged by a chimney fire, they should no longer be used and must be replaced.

What is creosote?

Creosote is black or brown residue that sticks to the inner walls of chimneys. It can be crusty and flaky, tar-like, drippy and sticky or shiny and hardened. Often, all forms will occur in one chimney system.

Whatever form it takes, creosote is highly combustible. If it builds up in sufficient quantities and catches fire inside the chimney flue, the result will be a chimney fire. Although any amount of creosote can burn, there is cause for concern when creosote builds up in sufficient quantities to sustain a long, hot, destructive chimney fire.

What are conditions that encourage the build-up of creosote?

Air supply:
The air supply on fireplaces may be restricted by closed glass doors or by failure to open the damper wide enough to move heated smoke up the chimney rapidly (the longer the smoke's 'residence time' in the flue, the more likely it is that creosote will form). A wood stove's air supply can be limited by closing down the stove damper or air inlets too soon and too much, and by improperly using the stovepipe damper to restrict air movement.

Burning unseasoned firewood:
Because so much energy is used to drive off the water trapped in the cells of the logs, burning green wood keeps the resulting smoke cooler as it moves through the system, than if dried, seasoned wood is used.

Cool flue temperatures:
In the case of wood stoves, fully-packed loads of wood that give large, cool fires and eight to 10 hour burn times, contribute to creosote build-up. Condensation of the unburned by-products of combustion also occurs more rapidly in an exterior chimney than in a chimney that runs through the centre of a house and exposes only the upper reaches of the flue to the elements.

Portable Heaters

Portable space heaters are a potential source of fire if not used properly. The requirements listed below, applicable code requirements, and manufacturer’s recommendations must be followed to maintain a safe environment. No open-coil space heaters are permitted in any university buildings; space heaters of any type are prohibited in laboratories.

If you will be using a portable space heater, ensure you follow these safety tips:

  • Do not place heaters under desks or other enclosed areas.
  • Monitor when in operation. Do not use heaters in rooms that will not be continually occupied.
  • Plug heater directly into a wall receptacle. Never plug it into an extension cord.
  • Monitor daily. Those heaters missing guards, control knobs, feet, etc. must be taken out of service immediately and repaired by a competent person.
  • Keep doors and windows closed, including storm windows. This will help prevent freeze-ups.
  • Keep space heaters away from exit ways, walkways and paths of travel.
  • Do not use space heaters in wet areas like bathrooms or kitchens.
  • Do not use portable space heaters if small children are expected in the area.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any special hazard considerations for seniors?

The greatest fire risk seniors face is their clothing catching on fire. It could be from an ash or ember of a cigarette, occur while cooking or getting too close to a space heater.

If your clothing does catch on fire, remember to Stop (immediately stop what you are doing), Drop (lower yourself to the ground) and Roll (over and over until the fire is out).

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