As winter sets in and the nights grow colder, naturally South Africans are dusting off their gas, electric and fan heaters to warm up their homes. So it should come as no surprise that the number of household fires rises dramatically at this time of year. Fire safety and being conscious of the dangers associated with household heaters are vital. Here are 10 tips to keep safe and warm this winter.

1. Always turn your gas heater off at the valve
Gas heaters generally have dials that turn all the way down to ‘0’ or ‘off’, but if the main gas valve remains open there will always be a risk of gas leaks. Close the valve after turning the heater dial all the way down or off to be certain of avoiding gas leaks.

2. Check the rubber washer at the end of your regulator
Gas cylinders are regularly refilled and changed but one piece of equipment that can be overlooked is the rubber washer or ring on the end of the gas regulator, which is usually at the end of the gas pipe fitted to your heater. Ensure that this hasn’t worn away, split or cracked. This rubber ring keeps the connection tightly sealed and any wear or tear could lead to gas leaks.

3. Test your heater for gas leaks
If you are worried about a gas leak, you can test for leaks by spraying or applying a soapy water solution onto areas and connections where you feel there may be leaks. Leaks will become visible where the area bubbles. This is also a great method to check for punctures in car and bicycle tyres.

4. Keep your heater away from flammable substances
It seems obvious to keep flammable substances away from the heater and flames, but very often you may not be aware of how flammable a simple household detergent can be. Read the instruction label carefully and keep all detergents away from your heater to ensure safety. Even certain gels or a wood wax can be highly flammable.

5. Keep a safe distance from your heater
It’s always tempting to get as close as possible to the warmth of a heater, particularly when temperatures are very low, but always maintain a safe distance from your heater. Keeping furniture, clothes and other items away from your heater is also important.

6. Do not move your heater while in use
Rather move nearer to your heater than attempt to move a heater while it is switched on or running. Accidents are more likely to occur when attempting to move a heater. Even if your gas heater has wheels, rather switch it off and let it cool down before moving it.

7. Unplug electric heaters
Always be cautious with electrical appliances because they can become faulty at any time.   Heaters can short and cause a fire as long as they are plugged in a wall, even if it is switched off. Switching appliances such as these off at the wall before leaving your house or going to sleep is a great habit to develop.

8. When in doubt turn it off
Never take risks. If you think you smell gas, if you think your electric or fan heater may have sparked or may be faulty, rather switch it off and take it in to a professional to assess it.

9. Never leave your heater on all night
Whether it’s an electric, fan or gas heater, never leave it running over night while you are asleep. Heat up your room before you go to sleep and try to keep the heat contained by closing doors or windows but avoid leaving your heater on. Accidents are more likely to occur when heaters have been running for long periods, and if you are asleep you will not notice potential danger.

10. Put safety measures in place

Safety should be a priority in your home, particularly in winter when electricity and gas use increases. Teach your family members how to operate your heaters, show them what warning signs to look for and explain what to do in the case of a fire. Smoke detectors can be installed relatively cheaply and having at least one fire extinguisher in the home is highly advisable.

Keep warm this winter but keep safe too.

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