Home Heating Safety Tips for Massachusetts Residents

Home Heating Safety Tips for Massachusetts Residents

Electric Space Heaters

Smoke Alarms and CO Detectors
Oil Heat
Propane Heat
Wood-Burning Stoves

Electric Space Heaters

  • Keep the heater at least three feet away from bedding, drapes, furniture and other flammables.
  • Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  • Use a space heater that has been tested and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. These heaters have the most up-to-date safety features and will be marked with one of these abbreviations: ETL, UL or CSA.
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for proper use.
  • Place the heater on a level, hard, nonflammable surface, such as a ceramic tile floor.
  • Turn the space heater off when you leave a room or go to bed.
  • Purchase a portable space heater with an automatic shut off so if it’s tipped over it will turn off.
  • Plug power cords directly into outlets and never into an extension cord. If you must use an extension cord, make sure it is a heavy duty cord marked with a # 14 gauge or larger wire.
  • Inspect for cracked or damaged, broken plugs or loose connections. Replace before using.
  • Make sure to purchase an electric heater with a guard around the heating element.
  • Have your electric space heater inspected annually.

Smoke Alarms and CO Detectors

  • Install smoke detectors on each floor of your home, including inside every bedroom.
  • Install carbon monoxide alarms in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home.
  • Choose smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors that have been tested by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.
  • Call your local fire department’s non-emergency line and ask what phone number to call if your carbon monoxide alarm sounds.
  • Check your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors at least once a month.
  • Replace batteries according to the manufacturer’s instructions or if there is a problem with the device’s signal. Your smoke alarm will emit a chirping sound if it’s time to replace the battery.
  • Talk with your family about an exit plan in case your smoke alarm sounds. Agree to meet in a certain location outside to make sure everyone is accounted for.
  • If your carbon monoxide detector sounds, move outside or by an open door or window. Make sure everyone in the house is accounted for. Stay in a fresh air location until the fire department arrives.

Oil Heat

  • Have a qualified oil heat service technician inspect and clean your system annually to remove soot build-up and ensure it is operating safely.
  • Avoid replacing or repairing parts of your furnace or oil heating tank yourself.
  • Keep heating vents clear of snow and ice. If a vent is obstructed, a heating system fueled by oil can create a carbon monoxide hazard.
  • Ask your oil company about Automatic Delivery to avoid disrupting your heating service during the cold winter months. Your oil company will use a computerized system to signal them when tank volumes are low and need to be refilled.
  • Educate yourself about the best way to purchase oil for your home. In addition to Automatic Delivery, oil companies offer what’s known as Will Call Service or Cash on Delivery service. These services vary by provider, but you can expect to wait at least 24-48 hours for delivery.
  • There are many websites and oil companies offering online ordering for oil. If you order online, call the company beforehand to learn all the details and afterward to make sure your order is being processed when you expect. Like many online retailers, oil vendors may use automatic confirmation e-mails and orders may not be processed immediately.
  • State law regarding oil heating systems changed on July 1, 2010. If you installed your heating system before 1990, you may be affected. The new law requires oil safety valves on your system to be covered with a protective or non-metallic sleeve to prevent leaks. Insurance companies that offer homeowners insurance are now required to offer coverage for these systems. Ask your local oil technician or fire department for more information.


  • Frequently clean the chimney or hire a heating professional to do so. Watch out for cracks.
  • Have flues and chimneys inspected before each heating season for leakage and blockage.
  • Open the fireplace damper before lighting the fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool. Never close the damper before going to bed if the ashes are still warm. An open damper will prevent build-up of poisonous gases inside the home.
  • Never use gasoline, charcoal lighter or another fuel to light a fire because the vapors can explode.
  • Never keep flammable fuels or materials near a fire. Never store flammable liquids in your home. If you do have flammable fluids in the home, do not use your fireplace.
  • Keep a screen or glass enclosure around a fireplace to prevent sparks or embers from igniting flammable materials.

Propane Heat

  • Do not attempt to inspect your system yourself. This could have the adverse effect of creating a leak. Contact your local supplier.
  • Purchase a gas detector. They are available for approximately $60 at your local hardware store or online.
  • Take immediate action if you smell gas. Ethyl mercaptan emits a strong sulfur smell. It is what you smell if your stove does not light properly. If you believe that there is a gas leak in your home, immediately evacuate and call 911. Do not turn any switches on or off before your leave the premises since even a small spark can ignite leaking gas.


  • Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can be replaced. A hypothermic state is when body temperature drops to or below 95 degrees.
    Those most susceptible to hypothermia are the elderly, babies sleeping in cold bedrooms and people who remain outdoors for long periods of time.
  • Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. Infants will show low energy and have bright red, cold skin.
  • If a person exhibits signs of hypothermia, call for medical assistance immediately.
  • While you wait for medical assistance, remove any wet clothing the person may be wearing. Warm the center of the person’s body first, then wrap them in a warm blanket. Give the person a warm beverage if available, except if the person is unconscious.

Wood-Burning Stoves

    • When purchasing a wood-burning stove, make sure it is tested by a nationally recognized testing laboratory and EPA-certified.
    • If you purchase a secondhand wood-burning stove, make sure it has no cracks or broken parts and have it professionally inspected.
    • Have a professional install your wood-burning stove. Schedule a professional inspection of both your wood-burning stove and chimney each year.
    • A wood-burning stove requires a building permit before installation in Massachusetts. Contact your local town or city hall for more information.
    • Start your fire properly. Use clean newspaper or dry kindling to start a fire. Never use gasoline, kerosene, charcoal starter or a propane torch.
    • Learn what type of wood is safe to burn in your stove. Wood burns best when the moisture content is less than 20 percent. You can purchase a wood moisture meter to test the wood before you burn it.
    • Season wood outdoors for at least six months before burning. Seasoned wood burns hotter, cuts fuel consumption and reduces the amount of smoke your stove produces.
    • Do not burn wet or unseasoned logs. Do not use logs made from wax and sawdust in your wood stove. These are made for open hearth fireplaces. If you use manufactured logs, choose those made from 100 percent compressed sawdust.
    • Only burn wood in your wood-burning stove. Never burn household garbage, cardboard, plastics, foam and materials with colored ink, like magazines and product wrappers. These produce harmful chemicals and may damage your wood-burning stove.
    • Clean ashes from your wood-burning stove to avoid clogging the vents.
    • Dispose of ashes in a metal container away from the house or any flammable material.
    • Keep combustibles at least three feet away from your wood-burning stove.
  • Keep children and pets away from your wood-burning stove.


  • The use and sale of unvented kerosene heaters is illegal in Massachusetts.