Safety comes first in winterizing homes

Posted: Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Carbon monoxide detectors top the list of items to be checked or installed to get homes ready for winter, according to the Kenai Fire Department.

Inspecting furnaces and wood stoves at the beginning of the heating season can ensure home safety too, while also improving fuel efficiency and averting a potential mid-freeze shutdown.

In addition to installing CO detectors or having them checked before winter, Kenai Fire Marshal James Baisden suggests that people clean their wood stove or fireplace chimneys to prevent a fire, install smoke detectors in and outside all sleeping rooms and have a working fire extinguisher on hand as a "first line of defense."

Fire extinguishers should be multi-purpose Type A-B-C extinguishers, effective in fighting wood, flammable-liquid and electrical fires, and Baisden believes "the bigger, the better."

"I have 10-pound extinguishers in my home," said Baisden.

"Anything from five to 10 pounds is good, and people should be familiar with how to use them -- before the fire starts."

The fire marshal said many smaller, one-pound extinguishers are not recommended because when a fire starts, people are excited and may not direct the extinguisher's chemical onto the actual fire until half the extinguisher is used up.

"The first thing people should do when there's a fire, is get everyone out of the house," he said.

"Then call the fire department, and then try to put out the fire with an extinguisher, if it's safe to do so."

Other safety suggestions in preparing a home for winter include stacking firewood away from the house and keeping all combustible materials away from wood stoves and fireplaces inside the home.

Baisden said with winter comes the holiday season and people should carefully inspect all Christmas decorations for frayed electrical wires or missing light bulbs.

If he had his way, he said he would also ban all candles -- the cause of many home fires.

One additional item on Baisden's checklist is calling a heating service professional to inspect heaters and furnaces at least once a year.

A heating service pro will check to see if boiler pressures are correct in hot-water systems, check the antifreeze level in glycol systems and replace filters in oil heaters.

"Most (furnace) inspections and services can be done in an hour to an hour and a half," said Dennis Studebaker, service manager for Redoubt Plumbing and Heating in Kenai.

Redoubt charges $70 per hour for the service call, plus the cost of any service materials or parts needed to put the heating plant in good working order.

Studebaker said homeowners with forced-air heat should replace air filters monthly during the heating season and should clean out the blower compartments before winter.

Other suggestions Studebaker offered in preparing homes for winter include checking caulking around doors and windows, ensuring that vents underneath homes that may have been opened for summertime ventilation be closed and checking the seals under garage doors.

Simply stated, Studebaker said, "Close all the holes ... winter's coming."

He also said homeowners should remember to remove garden hoses from outside taps to prevent freezing in pipes that can burst.

To allow good air flow across window panes and cut down on the formation of condensation, Studebaker said it would be a good idea to remove window screens in winter. Doing so will also allow more daylight to enter homes during Alaska's short winter days.

A final tip offered by Studebaker is that homeowners should clean their wood stove chimneys.

"Ninety percent of wood stove fires are chimney fires," he said.

Fire departments on the Kenai Peninsula offer the free loan of chimney cleaning brushes.

"We have all sizes available," said Baisden in Kenai.

So does the Nikiski Fire Department, according to Fire Chief Daniel Gregory, and Central Emergency Services offers the free loan service as well.

Debbie King, owner of Professional Heating Sales on Sterling Highway in Soldotna, agreed that people with wood stoves should inspect chimneys "to be sure there's no creosote in the chimney."

Her company, which sells wood and coal stoves and gas and oil heaters, will also service heaters if homeowners bring them in.

"People with Monitor heaters should inspect the flue," said King.

"If the air hose is all black inside, the heater is sucking in exhaust and should be serviced," she said.

King also recommends replacing water-separator filters on diesel-fuel heaters and furnaces every six months.

Inspecting and servicing home heating equipment at the beginning of the season can avert problems during the dead of winter and ensure people's homes are warm as well as safe.

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