Winter home safety: How to stay warm without heater and fire risks

Common winter home safety hazards and how to avoid them

From heaters to hot water bottles and wheat packs to electric blankets, staying cosy during winter can sometimes be surprisingly risky.

As the temperature drops and people find ways to turn up the heat, fire and injury hazards in the home can rise.

“Winter is a time when people use a range of household appliances and items to stay warm,” Fire Rescue Victoria assistant chief fire officer Darren McQuade says.

“It’s important that all heating appliances and items are in good working order.

“If there’s any sign of damage or ageing, appliances should be replaced and heaters should be serviced regularly.”

Here’s a guide to keep you and your family warm and safe this winter.

Heaters and fires

CFA chief officer Jason Heffernan advises people to be cautious when using open fires, wood heaters, electrical and gas heating appliances and portable heaters.

“Many residential fires that result in fatalities or serious injuries start in lounge and sleeping areas,” Jason says.

“Remember to never leave portable heaters and fireplaces unattended and turn off heaters before leaving the room.

“Ensure fireplace embers are extinguished before leaving your house or going to bed.”

Top tips for reducing heater and fire hazards:

  • If drying clothes near heaters, keep clothing at least one metre from the heat source.
  • Use a fire screen in front of an open fire.
  • Generally, gas heaters should be serviced every two years.
  • Never start an open fire with an accelerant such as petrol.
  • Open fires can leave deposits in the chimney that can cause a fire, so have the chimney cleaned every year.
  • Gas heaters should be checked annually to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Hot water bottles

About 200 Australians a year are taken to hospital with burns caused by hot water bottles, Darren says.

“Rubber hot water bottles perish, increasing the risk of leaks or splitting at the seams – especially if the bottle is placed under pressure by a person lying on it in bed,” he adds.

Top tips for hot water bottle safety:

  • Check your hot water bottle for leaks and fill it with warm, not boiling, water.
  • Replace at least every two years, or as soon as your bottle looks cracked or worn.
  • Wrap the bottle in a towel or fabric cover before placing against skin.

Electric blankets

“Electric blankets can cause fires when the electrical wires within the blanket break and provide a spark that ignites the surrounding materials,” Darren says.

“When an electric blanket is folded and stored over summer, the wires can become fragile and break when they are bent or stretched.”

Tips for electric blanket safety:

  • Don’t fold electric blankets.
  • Always turn a blanket off before falling asleep.

Smoke alarms

Reduce the risk of fires by installing and maintaining smoke alarms.

Fire services recommend installing interconnected smoke alarms with a 10-year long-life battery in bedrooms and living areas.

More winter health and wellness advice:

Written by Sarah Marinos.