10 Easy Fire Prevention Tips for HVAC Contractors
In 2011, heating equipment related fires accounted for 14 percent of all residential fires which were reported for the year, totaling approximately 53,600 residential fires. These fires caused 400 deaths, 1,520 injuries, and property damage totaling $893 million.
In efforts to keep homeowners and their families safe, HVAC contractors should educate their customers with these 10 fire prevention tips to ensure safe use of heating equipment, proper maintenance, and safer alternatives.
Solving space heating issues
According to the National Fire Prevention Association, space heaters are the leading cause of heating-related fires, contributing to approximately one-third of all heating-related fires. Leading to an estimated 18,000 home fires in 2011, space heater fires caused 320 deaths and 1,180 injuries to civilians, along with $423 million in property damage. Space heaters refer to both portable and stationary equipment, including stoves, gas and electric heaters, and fireplace inserts.
Common causes of space heater fires include storing combustible materials too close to the device, leaving the equipment unattended, failure to clean or maintain the equipment, and turning the equipment on or not turning it off unintentionally. 15 percent of space heater fires start in a flue or chimney, with the buildup of creosote being a leading cause of these incidents.
Many homeowners utilize space heaters to correct comfort issues within the home. Here’s how HVAC professionals can recommend safer alternatives:
- If homeowners complain that their central heating systems cannot keep their homes comfortable, an undersized unit may be to blame. Contractors should perform load calculations to determine proper sizing for heating systems and recommend upgrading the central heating system or installing equipment such as a ductless mini split to provide supplemental heating for the home.
- If homeowners complain that certain areas of the home require the use of space heaters because they are colder than the rest of the home, suggest installing a zoning system for independent temperature control in these areas. Educate homeowners regarding the benefits of zoning for heating these problem areas; zoning utilizes the central heating system, eliminating the need for unsafe space heaters. Whole home-focused HVAC contractors may also suggest evaluating the home’s insulation and making recommended upgrades to help retain more heat.
Contractors should remind homeowners that space heaters should be used only as a temporary solution, and remind them of safe operating instructions. Homeowners should:
- Always keep the three-foot area surrounding the space heater clear, and remove all flammable and combustible items.
- Have chimneys cleaned and inspected on a yearly basis.
- Never leave space heaters running unattended, or while sleeping.
- Properly vent fuel burning space heaters.
- Only use space heaters on flat, stable surfaces.
- Do not use extension cords with space heaters.
Fire prevention for central heating units
According to 2011 statistics from the National Fire Prevention Association, central heating systems were involved in approximately 7,500 residential fires, which was 14 percent of the total heating-related home fires for the year. While there is a much lower risk of fire with a central heating unit compared to portable equipment, they do occur.
Undetermined mechanical failures and malfunctions, as well as automatic control failures are the leading causes of central heating unit fires. Failing to keep the unit cleaned properly and storing combustible materials too close to the heating system are other common causes.
- If a homeowner asks about fire risks associated with their central heating unit, contractors should inform them of the common causes as well as offer preventative services which can lower their risk. When suggesting professional preventative maintenance services, inform homeowners that this service includes system cleaning, which removes flammable materials from within the system, such as dust and lint.
- It also includes a complete system inspection, which can allow automatic control issues and other heating system fire hazards to be identified and replaced.
A preventative maintenance service appointment is an ideal time for contractors to correct unsafe behaviors which could contribute to heating fires; identify combustible materials and other items which are stored too close to the unit and talk to the homeowner about making a plan to keep all items at least three feet away from the heating unit at all times.
Whether it is Fire Prevention Month or not, helping homeowners stay safe during heating season should be a priority for every HVAC contractor. Every service call is an opportunity to educate customers and help them make smarter heating choices which can reduce their risk of heating-related fires at home.
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