Winter Heating & Electrical Safety Checklist | Direct Energy Blog

Winter Heating & Electrical Safety Checklist

While holiday lights might be now be safely packed away, wintertime cold remains. With many homeowners relying on space heaters and other kinds of electric heating devices to make their homes comfortable, it’s important to state alert to problems with these that can result in injury or even tragic house fires. To help you safely enjoy being comfortable this winter, we’ve put together our Electrical Safety Checklist For Winter.

1. Electric Space Heater Safety Checklist

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) says heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fires in the United States, causing over 65,000 home fires each year. Using them safely isn’t difficult but it does require homeowners to be alert and cautious when using an electric space heater. When setting up your space heater, always these safety tips:

Winter Heating & Electrical Safety Checklist | Direct Energy Blog

  • Is the power cord in good condition? Look for frayed wires or dark, discolored insulation that indicate the electrical cord is too unsafe to use.
  • Is the heater plugged directly into a suitable outlet? Avoid using extension cords as these may not be rated at the amperage that the heater needs to operate.
  • Is the heater plugged into a circuit that could overload? Space heaters use lots of power (amperage) to work. Unplugging other appliances or devices on the same circuit will prevent overloading the circuit. While homes with circuit breakers usually trip before an overload becomes dangerous, homes with fuses are not always safe.
  • Is the heater placed where no one will trip over it or its power cord? Never put space heater or its power cable in a traffic area in your home, and never put the power cord underneath a rug. Power cables can get very hot when lots of power flows through them and putting them under a rug prevents them from staying cool. Depending on the amount of heat, the cable’s insulation can become brittle and fail, causing a short circuit and fire.
  • Is the heater placed at least three feet away from potentially flammable objects (curtains, furniture, houseplants, toys)? Never use space heaters to warm bedding, cook food, dry clothing or thaw pipes.
  • Is the heater in a dry location, away from water? Water, even just a few drops, can easily cause a short circuit and fire. Avoid using them in bathrooms, especially while bathing or showering.
  • Is the space heater clean? Dust and pet fur build up in or around the heat can easily start a fire. Regularly vacuum the back of space heaters and any filters to remove any dust build-up, which can become a fire hazard if not removed.
  • Are you leaving the house or going to sleep? Never leave a space heater unattended. Turn it off when you’re leaving a room or going to sleep. Keep pets and children away from a space heater while it’s on.

Winter Heating & Electrical Safety Checklist | Direct Energy Blog

2. Electric Blanket Safety Checklist

Heating pads and blankets might feel comforting and snuggly when you’re in bed, but they have a dangerous record for almost 500 fires each year. According to ESFI, almost all electric blanket fires were caused by blankets that were over ten years old.

  1. Is the plug and cable in good condition? Loose prongs, bad grounding connections, torn insulation, or frayed wires are fire threats.
  2. Is the electric blanket under other blankets or covered by anything? Covering an electric blanket or heating pad can cause the blanket to overheat and be a risk for fire.
  3. Is the blanket folded while turned on? Folded electric blankets concentrate heat and pose a risk for overheating.
  4. Are you going to sleep? Never fall asleep with your electric blanket —UNLESS your blanket is a low voltage DC electric blanket. These blankets are protected from overheating, have auto shut-offs, and because the the voltage is so low, they eliminate chances of electrical shock —even if they get wet.
  5. Is the blanket still on when you’re not using it? Turn it off. Not only will this prevent a possible fire but also reduce your electricity usage.

3. Heating Pipe Tape Safety Checklist

Heat tape is used to prevent water pipes from freezing. It’s basically wire cable that uses electrical resistance to heat up, so it can use a lot of electricity during prolonged periods of cold. While heat tape is easy to use and effective, it’s important to use it safely.

  1. Do you have plastic pipes? Only use a heat tape that has an automatic thermostat. While plastic pipe can take high temperatures, heat tape can get hot enough to soften, deform, or even melt PVC pipe.
  2. Do you know how to apply heat tape? Wrap heat tape around pipes in a spiral. This also prevents it from wrapping over itself, which can pose a fire hazard.
  3. Is it plugged into a safe outlet type? Heat tapes should be plugged into properly grounded GFCI outlets.
  4. Is the insulation cracked or falling off? Heat tape should be inspected after each heating season. If there is cracked or missing insulation it should be thrown away.

4. Outdoor Outlet Safety Checklist

Because any little bit of water can cause a short, outdoor outlets need to stay free of moisture and ice.

  1. Make sure they are in weatherproof boxes so that they can be kept dry.
  2. Outdoor outlets are also required to be ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to prevent fires or injury.

Winter Heating & Electrical Safety Checklist | Direct Energy Blog

5. Outdoor Extension Cord Safety Checklist

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that about 4,700 residential fires originate in extension cords each year. Whether you need an extension cord out in the snow and ice to power an electric engine block warmer or to power the electric starter on your snow thrower, the same safety rules apply:

  1. Does the extension cord have a damaged plug, missing ground prong, frayed wires, or missing insulation? If so, throw the cord away or learn how to repair it.
  2. Does your extension cord match the amperage for the job? The best medium gauge for outdoor use is 14 gauge.
  3. Is your extension cord the right length? It’s tempting to just plug a couple of cords together and make do. But in the snow and ice, you’re risking a short or a fire and even the likelihood of melting your extension cords. If you’re using a lot of power but have a long distance to go, you need to use a single, heavier gauge cord.

6. Find and Fix Leaks

Roof leaks and other places that let melted water get into your ceiling or walls pose a real threat. Water that leaks into a roof can travel down rafters, drip down into wire holes, seep through a wall’s top plate, and enter an electrical box. Not only can this cause a nasty electrical shock but it can also start a fire. Keep an eye out for any signs of water staining on attic rafters as these indicate leaks.

7. Trim Your Trees

Are tree branches in the way of your power lines? Ice storms can easily bend tree branches onto power lines, causing blackouts. If you have trees close to your home that are also close to power lines, the next ice storm could result in a house fire. Be sure to keep your trees pruned by a professional arborist so that they not only enhance your home but keep it safe as well.

Check out more safety tips at the Live Brighter Blog!

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About 

Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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