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Kenton Brine, President
Sandi Henke, Communications Director     
NW Insurance Council    
Phone: (206) 624-3330/(800) 664-4942
Fax: (206) 624-1975

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Space heaters, wood stoves and chimneys can ignite a home disaster if you're not careful

What To Know

  • Space heaters, wood stoves and other heating sources are the leading cause of home fires during the winter months.

  • Make sure you purchase enough insurance to rebuild your home and replace your possessions if fire damages or destroys your home.

  • A complete home inventory of your possessions will help you and your insurance company get through the claims process more quickly.

SEATTLE, November 18, 2016 Electric space heaters, wood stoves, chimneys and kerosene heaters are good sources of heat during the cold, winter months and can help reduce energy bills.  But carelessness and improper use can cause fires and even death if safety isn’t a priority.

According to The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating equipment accounted for 16 percent of all reported home fires between 2009 and 2013, causing an estimated 56,000 home structure fires, 1,490 injuries and 470 deaths. Nearly half of all home heating fires occurred in December, January and February.

The NFPA also reports that the leading factor in fatal home heating fires is placing space heaters and other portable or stationary heating equipment too close to items that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, bedding and clothing.

Another hazard to keep in mind is that fuel-burning heaters, such as kerosene heaters, can cause carbon monoxide poisoning and indoor air pollution due to improper venting or incomplete combustion.

NW Insurance Council encourages those who use space heaters or burn wood or kerosene as a source of heat to first follow these helpful tips:

  • Notify your insurance company or agent before you purchase a wood-burning appliance or begin to install it.  Be sure to ask about any special requirements.
  • Install your wood-burning appliance correctly, or have a professional install it.  Obtain a building permit, follow the building code and manufacturer’s recommendations and conform to any special requirements of your insurance company.
  • Use your wood-burning appliance safely.  Burn proper fuels – no milk cartons, other trash or Christmas trees.  These materials can lead to dangerous soot buildup that can cause chimney fires.
  • Maintain your wood-burning appliance on a regular basis.  Inspect the appliance and chimney for cracks or corrosion.  Sweep the chimney and check your fire extinguisher at least once a year – before the burning season.
  • Make sure your fireplace fire is cold before you go to bed. Never close the damper with hot ashes in the fireplace, because this can cause the fire to heat up again and spread toxic carbon monoxide throughout the house.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • Place heaters near the center of rooms away from furniture, drapes and other combustibles. Keep anything flammable at least three feet away from heating equipment.
  • Children and pets should be kept a safe distance from heaters.
  • Be sure to follow the manufacturers’ instructions while using a kerosene heater.
  • Maintain a constant source of fresh air.  Make sure rooms are adequately ventilated before using heaters.  Kerosene heaters consume oxygen as they burn.  If they are operated in a small room or in an inadequate ventilated place, oxygen levels could be reduced to dangerous levels.  Keeping doors to other rooms open will help provide more fresh air.
  • Test smoke alarms at least once a month.

Most Homeowners Insurance policies cover fire damage or loss caused by wood stoves or space heaters, but each company may have unique features in its policies.  Check with your agent or insurance company to learn more about your coverage.

For more information about insurance and fuel-burning heaters, contact NW Insurance Council at (800) 664-4942 or visit Also, visit the Insurance Information Institute’s website.

NW Insurance Council is a nonprofit, public-education and public policy organization funded by member companies serving Washington, Oregon and Idaho.