As the mercury drops we need to turn on the heaters to stay warm and cosy in our homes. Given that it's that chilly time of year again we thought it would be smart to give a refresher course in heating safety. Taking a few small precautions can prevent big problems later.

Invest in a proper heating unit

While it can seem like a good idea at the time, you should never attempt to warm your home using your oven or stove. It’s a potential fire hazard and could put your family in danger. Ovens and stoves were simply not designed for this purpose.

Check your alarms

Now is the time to check your smoke alarms. If you hear a high-pitched chirping noise coming from your smoke alarm, the batteries need to be changed.

Turn it off!

Yes, it can be lovely to walk into a warm home when you return from a long day at work or running errands. However, leaving your heater on while you are not around is a really bad idea. If anything goes wrong a fire could start and get out of control before anyone notices.  Heat pumps are an option that can be left on without worry. Make sure you have it professionally installed. Since heat pumps involve electrical wiring they are not a good DIY project.

Keep flammable materials away from your heater

Keep flammable material at least a metre away from furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters. Flammable material includes paper, blankets, furniture and toys.

Fireplace safety

Invest in a good firescreen even if your unit uses gas. The screen will prevent things from accidentally landing in the flames and stop any embers from escaping. Never throw rubbish into the fireplace!  Rubbish could contain flammable material that may explode. Always empty ashes and ashtrays into a metal bin and pour water over them before disposal. Keep the metal bin outside away from the house. Remember, ashes can take up to five days to cool. Clean chimneys and flues before you light the first fire of the season.

Only use wall outlets

Plug heating devices directly into the wall. Never use power strips or extension cords. They can overheat and cause a fire.

Be careful with your clothes

Using a clothes horse to dry your laundry is not always an option during cold and wet weather. Use a clothes dryer instead. Remember, don’t overload your clothes dryers and clean the lint filter after each load cycle.

Don’t leave heaters running overnight

It is never a good idea to leave your heater on overnight. Being sound asleep in the event of a fire, is a dangerous combination. Instead, ramp up your heater before you head to bed, then turn it off and put another blanket on.

Care for your electric blankets

Using an electric blanket can be a cost-effective way to keep yourself warm but you need to take some safety precautions when using them. You must replace your electric blanket every five years with newer heat-protected models, even if it is in good condition.

Careful with those wonderful heat packs

Heat packs are fabric bags filled with wheat or some other grain that you can heat in the microwave and then cuddle for some direct heat. Caution is needed when using heat packs as they can cause burns or fires. The typical causes are related to being heated in the microwave for longer than the time specified by the manufacturer. Also, replace your heat pack if it is getting old. The filling may have dried out and become combustible. Always place a cup of water in the microwave along with your heat pack - the moisture helps to stop it from overheating.

Remember that heaters need to be stable

Buy a unit with a tip-over safety switch, which automatically shuts off the heater if it gets knocked over. Keep in mind that taller heaters are more easily tipped over. Don’t leave pets and young children alone in a room with a space heater. Parts of the unit can become very hot. Teach children not to touch the heater.

Have an escape plan

Especially if you have children, have an escape plan. Make sure that your family knows every way out of each room and select a meeting point off the property where everyone could meet in the event of a fire. Advice for teaching your family about fire safety without creating fear can be found here.