How Safe is My Heating System?

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

Provided by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC)

Consider following these steps to help ensure that your heating system is safe. Also, ask a contractor for other safety tips.

• Look for safety features on appliances you are considering purchasing: Many appliances come with safety controls that prevent the device from turning on in unsafe conditions. For instance, combustion heaters often feature a high-limit switch that shuts off the heat source if the temperature in the heat exchanger is too high. This prevents the appliance from becoming too hot, which could cause the combustion chamber to crack and leak dangerous exhaust gases into a home. Ask your heating contractor to show you the safety features of the device you are considering.

• Make sure your device is properly installed: All heating appliances and distribution systems should be installed correctly for safe operation. On combustion appliances, it is important to ensure the chimney and air intake are properly placed. Distribution systems should also be installed properly: for example, baseboards should be located away from furniture and doors.

• Regular maintenance: Most heating systems need a yearly check-up from a heating professional to keep running efficiently. In addition to fine-tuning your system, your heating contractor can check that your system is operating safely. Homeowners can also perform routine maintenance such as inspecting the chimney on wood-burning appliances, emptying ash from a pellet stove, changing the air filter on a furnace, or checking that drains remain clear for a hydronic system. Check the appliance manuals for maintenance tips and ask your heating contractor what to look for!

• Install a Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector: CO is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels like wood, coal, fuel oil, and natural gas. It is an odorless and colorless gas and cannot be detected by humans. In low doses, it causes headache, fatigue, and nausea. In high doses or long exposure, it can result in death! Combustion space heating appliances produce CO, which can potentially leak into a home if the appliance is installed improperly or has a cracked combustion chamber. A CO detector can prevent CO poisoning. They are available at local hardware stores for less than $50, are battery-operated and easy to install. It is especially important to install them in bedrooms or hallways near bedrooms.

The Cold Climate Housing Research Center is an industry-based nonprofit based in Fairbanks, Alaska that develops and tests energy efficient building technologies for the north. The articles and videos included in this guide are part of its mission to promote healthy, sustainable, affordable housing in Alaska and beyond. Find more at