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Smart Coverage: How to safely keep warm on a cold night

Photo by Alena Ozerova/

As winter approaches, you might be gathering wood for your fireplace or pulling out portable space heaters. As you do, be sure to brush up on heating safety.

Not surprisingly, nearly half of residential heating-related fires occur in December, January, and February. From 2017 to 2019, heating equipment caused an average of 34,200 blazes in residential buildings, resulting in 165 deaths, 600 injuries, and $367 million in property loss per year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. After cooking, it’s the No. 2 cause of residential building fires in the U.S. 

Although your homeowners insurance typically covers damage caused by these kinds of fires, you can reduce your risk of having to file a claim by taking these preventive steps.

  • Keep anything flammable at least 3 feet away from a heat source, including fireplaces, space heaters, heating vents, and wood stoves.
  • If you have a fireplace, place a glass or metal screen, sturdy enough to catch any embers, in front of it. The smallest spark can start a fire if it lands on the wrong thing.
  • Only burn dry, seasoned wood or logs made specifically for fireplaces. Don’t add cardboard or paper to a crackling fire; both burn hot and are light enough to float into the chimney while they’re aflame. There, they can ignite creosote deposits and cause a chimney fire.
  • Hire a certified chimney sweep to inspect and clean your fireplace once a year.
  • If you use portable heaters, make sure they’re the type that automatically shut off if they tip over. Most models on the market today have this feature; if yours don’t, invest in new ones. Portable heaters may cause only about 1,000 fires a year, but they’re disproportionately responsible for fire-related deaths: From 2017 to 2019, 41% of fatal heating blazes involved portable heaters. One likely reason: People use space heaters in their bedrooms at night, so they’re not aware of fires when they start. Make sure you turn off all portable heaters—and extinguish the fire in your fireplace—before you turn in for the night.
  • Last but not least: Be smart about smoke detectors. Place one in every bedroom and in other strategic locations throughout your home and test the batteries once a month.

Ask an Agent

Question: I plan to give my wife a special piece of jewelry this holiday season. Should I increase my homeowners insurance to cover it?

Answer: Most policies for homeowners and renters limit coverage for jewelry, so rather than increase your coverage, you’ll probably want to add a rider to your policy. Your insurance agent can help you obtain this additional protection.

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