A fireplace in a home

Despite improvement, home fires involving heating equipment remain a concern

A newly-released NFPA report estimates that home heating equipment was responsible for just over 48,500 home fires each year between 2014 and 2018, and that these fires caused an estimated 500 civilian deaths, 1,350 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage each year.

Home fires caused by heating equipment most often involved space heaters, which accounted for just over two in five fires, as well as four in five deaths and injuries and more than half of the direct property damage. Fireplaces or chimneys, responsible for approximately three in ten fires caused by heating equipment, were the second leading cause of home heating equipment fires.  The fires caused by fireplaces or chimneys led to proportionately fewer deaths or injuries but were responsible for nearly one-quarter of the direct property damage. Central heating systems and water heaters each accounted for approximately one in ten fires caused by heating equipment, but smaller shares of deaths, injuries, and direct property damage.

Attention to fire safety with heating equipment is a real concern. Heating equipment was responsible for one in seven home structure fires and one-fifth of home fire fatalities in 2014-2018. The NFPA report nevertheless finds some encouraging news on the overall trends for heating equipment fires. The estimated annual number of home heating equipment fires has fallen from over 70,000 fires each year between 2000 and 2003 to fewer than 50,000 since 2015, with a new low point of 43,620 estimated fires in 2017.

Still, there is clearly more work to be done to reduce the burden of home heating fires. NFPA identifies a number of home safety practices that can help to prevent fires caused by heating equipment. These include:

  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment.
  • Maintain a three-foot “kid-free zone” around home fires and space heaters.
  • Never use your oven to heat your home.
  • Have a qualified professional install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters, and central heating equipment according to local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Have heating equipment and chimneys inspected and cleaned every year by a qualified professional.
  • Remember to turn portable heaters off when leaving a room or going to bed.
  • Always use the appropriate type of fuel, as specified by the manufacturer, for fuel-burning space heaters.
  • Ensure that the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop embers from flying into the room.
  • Make sure that ashes are cool before placing them in a bin for removal.

More information on home heating equipment safety practices is available here. Learn more and download the full report, "Home Heating Fires."

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Richard Campbell
Senior Research Analyst

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