Stay safe and warm this winter

The days are chilly, the nights are cold. Area residents have been forced to use their furnaces much earlier than they thought.

And the extended forecast calls for more of the same.

The warm glow of the fire sure feels great, doesn’t it?

Not only does the fireplace or wood stove look and feel great, they are great way to save money.

In an effort to keep heating costs low, many homeowners are using fireplaces, wood-burning stoves and other alternative heating sources.

However, these money-saving home heating options present many home safety hazards if used incorrectly.

Yes, fireplaces and wood stoves can provide solace and comfort at this time of year.

They also can burn houses down.

Chimneys get clogged and filled with creosote, a product of burning. If they are not properly maintained, they can cause fires to spread.

Chimney fires increase during the winter, but with some time and effort, that does not have to happen, experts say.

There are some 22 million fireplaces in use in the United States.

The National Fire Protection Association says approximately 14,000 house fires a year are caused by fireplaces.

Some 6,000 people require hospital emergency treatment each year for injuries from fireplaces, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

More than one-third of home fire deaths occur in the winter months and are largely attributed to using home heating equipment incorrectly, safety experts said.

Homeowners need to properly install and maintain alternative heating equipment, monitor the carbon monoxide levels in the home, and use extreme care when burning wood for heat.

Safety experts recommend the following advice to stay safe while staying warm.

– Ensure wood stoves bear the label of a recognized testing laboratory (e.g. UL) and meet local fire codes.

– Burn only wood and be sure the wood stove is placed on an approved stove board to protect the floor from heat and hot embers.

– Burn seasoned wood in fireplaces, since it burns longer and hotter than fresh-cut wood.

– Place all portable heaters and wood stoves at least 36 inches away from anything that can burn, including wallpaper, bedding, clothing, pets and people.

– Supervise children and pets at all times when a portable space heater or wood-burning stove is in use.

– Never place articles for drying over a space heater or less than 36 inches from the heater.

– Install at least one smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm on every level of your home and near the sleeping areas.

– Always clean the chimney before using the fireplace for the first time of the season. Creosote buildup (a chemical substance that forms when wood burns) or blocked vents can cause chimney fires or high carbon monoxide levels.

– Never use a charcoal or gas cooking stove to heat your home. In addition to being a carbon monoxide hazard, extended use of a cooking stove can cause surrounding wood or paneling to ignite, especially if there’s leftover cooking grease on the stove.

The heating season is long and your heating equipment will be working hard to ensure the contentment of living in a warm, efficient and safe home this winter.

If you are using a traditional heating system, an inspection and tune-up by a qualified technician is recommended and can save money by ensuring the furnace is operating safely and efficiently, Wisconsin Public Service officials said.

Other heating tips include:

– Clean or replace your furnace filter as needed (follow manufacturer’s guidelines).

– Check the flame in the burner to make sure it’s blue. A yellow flame may indicate the need for adjustment.

– Check your chimney flues for corrosion and make sure all vents are clear of any blockages or debris.

– Keep the area around your furnaces, boilers and water heaters clear.

– Do not store flammable liquids or other combustibles nearby.