Care for the Elderly: Stay Safe When Heating your Home

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posted by Ryan Whittington on January 20, 2011

More home fires happen during the winter months than any other time of the year mainly due to home heating devices.  People age 65 and older are three times more likely to die or be injured in a home fire as those younger.

As the temperature drops, we all need to be reminded about home heating best practices.  More specifically, senior citizens are at a higher risk due to situations such as decreased mobility and reduced circulation.  Use this list as a guide to assist an elderly person determine a homes level of safety.

Common Alternative Methods for Home Heating

Wood Stoves

According to the U.S Fire Administration, wood stoves cause over 9,000 residential fires every year.  Before firing up your wood-burning stove this winter, make sure to check the following:

  • Check legs, hinges, and door seals for smooth joints and seams.  Make sure there are no cracks.
  • Annually inspect and clean the pipes and chimney.
  • Use only seasoned hardwood for fuel.  Do not use green wood, artificial logs or trash.
  • Keep combustible objects at least 3 feet away from your wood stove.

Electric Space Heaters

Even though electric heaters don't have an open flame, the heating elements of some types of electric heaters are hot enough to ignite nearby combustibles like draperies, paper, clothing, furniture and flammable liquids.  Consider these before purchasing an electric heater:

  • Purchase only heater with the UL safety listing.
  • Purchase a heater that is equipped with a thermostat control mechanism and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over.
  • Space heaters are not intended for drying clothing or any other type of item.  Keep combustibles at least three feet  away from the heater.
  • Always unplug your heater when not in use.  Keep cords out of walkways to help fall prevention.


Fireplaces inside of your home provide a good source of warmth, relaxation, and enjoyment for the family. Like any other home appliance, safety comes first. To ensure your family's safety, the fireplace should be safely used and properly maintained. The following tips should be taken into consideration before, during, and after the fireplace is in use:

  • Have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned annually. Check for obstructions and cracks, which will help to prevent deadly chimney and roof fires.
  • Make sure the damper is open before lighting a fire.
  • Never burn trash, paper, or green wood in your fireplace. These materials cause heavy creosote buildup and are difficult to control. Creosote is a dark brown or black flammable tar deposited from wood smoke onto the walls of a chimney.
  • Glass doors or a metal screen should be placed in front of the fireplace to prevent sparks or burning logs from leaving the fireplace and causing a home fire.
  • Extinguish the fire completely before going to bed.

General Heating Guidelines

Safety is crucial in a heating emergency. The following is a list of general guidelines related to alternative heating resources.

  • Children should not have access to portable heaters, electric or fuel powered.
  • Do not burn anything larger than candles inside your home without providing good ventilation such as opening windows, doors and fireplace flumes.
  • All heaters that run on fuel (natural gas, kerosene, butane, oil) should be vented. The only exception to this rule is electric heaters.
  • Do not use the kitchen oven or stove top to heat your home. This can be a fire hazard as well as a source of toxic fumes.
  • "Space" heaters need their space. Keep anything combustible at least three feet away.
  • Before purchasing a portable heater, make sure it has "tip switches." These switches are designed to automatically shut off the heating unit in the event it tips over. 
  • ONLY refuel heaters outdoors! Use the type of fuel recommended by the manufacturer, and follow instructions carefully.
  • Glass doors or a metal screen should be placed in front of your fireplace to prevent sparks or hot ash from igniting carpets, furniture, or other combustible items.
  • Install smoke alarms that are equipped with a battery back up in your home. Make sure that smoke alarms are on every level of the home as well as near every bedroom in the home. Test the alarms monthly, and change the batteries at least once a year
  • Purchase and install a carbon monoxide alarm for your home. Make sure it is marked with the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) safety listing. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for placement in your home.

Source: Texas A&M

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