Filters and flues: Are you ready to turn up the heat?

With nighttime temperatures fast approaching the freezing mark, you may be ready to turn up that heater, furnace, wood burning stove or electric blanket.

According to an article published in 2014 by the Red Cross, “Home fires are the single-most common disaster that the American Red Cross responds to across the country, and heating fires are the second leading cause of these home fires.”

According to the National Safety Council and the Red Cross, a working smoke alarm can “reduce one’s chances of dying in a fire by nearly half.”

One thing that the experts agree upon is the importance of preventative maintenance. Contact a licensed professional to have your heating/cooling system serviced. This will help identify problems before they become dangerous and will ensure that your system is running at optimal performance levels.

Furnaces and heat systems

Before you turn on your home’s furnace or heating unit, do a general inspection to make sure everything is relatively clean and dust/debris free.

Make sure that the power to the furnace is turned off. With a vacuum brush or a damp cloth, remove dust, lint and debris.

Remove items from around the base and sides of the furnace so that airflow is not obstructed. Also remove flammable products from the furnace room including cloth, cleaning chemicals, rags, oil or other household and garage-type items.

Remove residue from the pilot light port and burners. Work carefully to avoid damaging the components.

Change the filter in the furnace if it has a disposable type of filter.

If the filter is re-usable and can be easily removed, then remove the filter for cleaning. Vacuum out the dust/dirt and wash gently with soap and water. Make sure to allow it to dry completely before placing it back in the furnace.

Inspect your chimney vent and flues. Clean out dirt, dust, ash, etc.

Test carbon monoxide and smoke detectors monthly to ensure that they are working properly. Some require regular battery replacement.

Install carbon monoxide detectors near your furnace and water heater.

If you are uncomfortable or unsure about how to clean around a heating unit, hire a licensed, qualified heating technician.

Fireplaces and wood stoves

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys be swept at least once a year. Removing the soot and debris is important because the build up of creosote or wood tar is extremely flammable and often the main causes of chimney fires.

To avoid breathing in ash and dust, sprinkle some used coffee grounds or tea leaves over the piles of debris in your fireplace before sweeping it up and dumping it.

It’s important to dispose of chimney ash and soot in a metal container that is placed away from the home. There are examples of house fires started by ashes in a paper bag. Even if you feel the bag, there may still be hot embers inside.

Checking the outside of your chimney for loose bricks, cracks, missing mortar and deterioration is also important. (The pipe inside of some chimneys can also become fatigued, warped or collapsed causing blockage and improper ventilation.)

Replace or repair the chimney cap that covers the top of the chimney to keep rain, birds, squirrels and debris from entering the structure.

When possible, burn seasoned wood which means that it has had a chance to dry out. Generally speaking, the drier the wood, the cleaner the burn. Burning unseasoned (green) or even partially seasoned wood in your stove or fireplace can cause creosote build-up in your chimney, which can lead to a chimney fire.

Lastly, safety is the most important thing to consider. Hiring a licensed and bonded contractor can give you piece of mind and avoid system failures and costly repairs down the road.

Local fire departments and districts are always willing to provide information and education about home safety.

National Fire Prevention Week is Oct. 8-14. For more information, visit any of the following websites or contact your local fire department:,,

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Laura Singleton is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering Show Low city government, business and education.

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