When winter temperatures dip below freezing, families across the country fire up their furnaces, boilers, space heaters, woodstoves and other heating devices to beat the cold and keep their homes warm and snug. Unfortunately, the very appliances that ward off the winter chill can put you in danger of a house fire. January is the leading month for residential home fires, accounting for 21 percent of the total, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, and home heating is the second leading cause of all fires, after cooking.

Don't let your home become a statistic. Take these steps to reduce your risk of a house fire:

Clean your chimney: Creosote can build up from normal fireplace usage and clog the chimney from below; the chimney can also be clogged from above if debris falls in or if the chimney itself starts to deteriorate. Either way, it's a danger. Make sure your chimney is cleaned each year before using it.

Get your HVAC equipment serviced: You should have a technician pay a visit once a year to make sure your furnace and other equipment is in good working order. Your service professional can perform routine maintenance, repair any issues and instruct you on how to maintain your unit. Some maintenance, like replacing air filters monthly, you can do yourself in compliance with manufacturer instructions.

Careful with that space heater: Space heaters can be a convenient way to heat a small area, but they come with several caveats. Be very wary of liquid-fueled heaters -- older models shouldn't be used indoors at all, although newer models can be safe as long as you diligently follow all instructions regarding fueling and operation. Even electric heaters can cause problems, because they draw a lot of power which can overload the circuits in older homes. If you decide to use a space heater, make sure it is in no danger of tipping over, and never leave it running unattended. Space heaters account for one third of all heating fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association, so be careful.

Keep combustible material away from heat sources:  Leave a few feet of clearance between your stove, space heaters, vents, radiators and other heat sources combustibles like furniture, carpet or curtains.

Don't thaw pipes with a blowtorch: Frozen pipes are a serious problem, and thawing the ice is critical to avoiding a burst pipe and the expensive damage that can accompany it. You have a number of good options to heat the problem area -- a hair dryer, heat lamp, space heater, hot towel or specialized heat tape will do the trick. Avoid open flames, which create a fire hazard.

Test your smoke detectors: It just takes only a moment to ensure your smoke detectors work. If you do have a fire, they could save your life.

Mister Sparky electricians are always here to help. Call local Mister Sparky to have one of our professionals check to see you have an ample number of smoke detectors for the size of your home and ensure they are installed properly and in the correct location.

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