As the threat of snow looms over the weekend, several agencies in Tullahoma are reminding residents to take caution when heating their homes this winter.
According to Fire Chief Richard Shasteen, the increased use of space heaters in the home also increases the risk of fires during the winter months – particularly when items are left in front of them.
“They create heat that can cause a fire,” he said. “Even when you have the thermostat [on the heater] turned all the way down, they can still come on by themselves. So you have to always be thinking to not put anything in front of them so you don’t get a fire started.”
The fire department usually sees an uptick in the number of fire calls they receive during the early part of the winter “during those first few cold snaps.”
A few small fires due to heaters typically remind everyone that they need to be more careful when using their space heaters, Shasteen said.
There has already been one heater-related fire this year, Shasteen added, citing the Jan. 5 fire that occurred at East Gate Apartments on Silver Street.
“We had one at East Gate that was potentially a heater fire,” Shasteen said.
The department has already taken steps to remind everyone of the dangers of using space heaters through the use of their Facebook page, but, he said, people should still be checking all their heaters during the winter.
Residents should also check their smoke alarms to make sure they are properly powered and will alert in the case of a fire emergency.
“This time of year, when there’s more chance of fire, there’s more chance that your alarms will save you,” he said.
Those who need a free smoke alarm are encouraged to call the fire department to request one. The department will install it for you.
Those living in apartment complexes should also check their alarms, though their landlords are responsible for the furnishing of proper smoke alarms. Anyone living in an apartment complex who doesn’t feel comfortable with the shape of their alarm, however, should contact the fire department.
“If you don’t feel comfortable with what you’ve got, you call us and we’ll come check it,” Shasteen said. “If there’s any issues then we’ll go to the landlord for you.”
Tullahoma Fire Department can be reached by phone at 455-0936.
Space heaters can also deliver a blow to the wallet, according to the utility company.
According to Tullahoma Utilities Authority President Brian Skelton, using space heaters in the winter will drive up residents’ electricity bills dramatically.
“Space heaters are in general not very efficient and tend to be expensive to operate,” Skelton said.
While they can be helpful in heating one specific room in a home, trying to use them to heat an entire house or apartment may lead to large electricity bills.
TUA typically sees an increase in people’s utility bills during the winter time, due to both increased use of heating devices and a home’s energy efficiency, Skelton said.
TUA reminded its customers to make sure to follow all the safety rules that come with any space heaters on its Facebook page earlier this month.
“We want our customers to be around for a very long time,” the post read.
Space heater safety
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, all electric space heaters should be plugged directly into a wall outlet for the safest use.
If an extension cord is necessary for operation, the department recommends using the shortest possible heavy-duty cord of 14-guage wire or larger. Any manufacturer’s instructions on extension cord usage should also be followed for those using electric space heaters, according to the Energy Department.
When purchasing a space heater, the department recommends buying a unit with a tip-over safety switch, which shuts off the heater if the unit is ever tipped over from a standing position.
The nonprofit watchdog organization Consumer Reports adds that when purchasing a heating unit, consumers should look for a certification label from an “independent testing organization such as the UL mark from Underwriters Laboratories, the ETL label from Intertek or certification from CSA International.”
Consumer Reports also recommends purchasing a space heater with automatic shut-off functions when the unit overheats.
When using a space heater, Consumer Reports recommends establishing a 3-foot kid- and pet-free zone around the heater. The heater should also be kept at least 3 feet away from any combustible materials such as furniture, bedding and curtains.
Space heaters should be unplugged with not in use, and owners should check their heater cables periodically for any damage.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.