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Staying Safe

Improper use of heating equipment is the number one cause of home fires in New Hampshire. To ensure your safety, follow these safety tips from the State Fire Marshall.

GENERAL TIPS

Follow these safety tips in your home regardless of what type of heating system you use:

  • When buying a new space heater, make sure it carries the mark of an independent testing laboratory. Be sure to have fixed space heaters installed by a qualified technician and according to manufacturer’s instructions or applicable codes. Or make sure a qualified technician checks to see that the unit has been properly installed.
  • Keep or maintain a 36-inch clearance between heating systems and anything that can burn.
  • Test smoke alarms monthly; install a carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside each sleeping area.
  • Develop and practice a home escape plan.
  • Never use your gas oven for heating. Prolonged use of the open oven in a closed house burns oxygen, thereby causing improper combustion of gas and creating a lethal carbon monoxide gas.

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BEWARE OF CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a natural product of incomplete combustion. That includes wood, kerosene, gasoline, oil, propane, or natural gas. CO is a toxic, tasteless, colorless, and odorless gas. Even small amounts can cause severe illness and even death. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, faintness, drowsiness, pain in the ears, or seeing spots. Many people often mistake CO symptoms for the flu. If you or any of your family members are experiencing flu-like symptoms that seem to disappear when you leave your home, have your heating system checked immediately. If you suspect a carbon monoxide problem, open the windows and leave the home at once.

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WOOD BURNING HEATING SYSTEMS

General safety tips for both fireplace and woodstove use:

  • Have your fireplace, wood stove and chimney cleaned and inspected annually for creosote build-up and cracks in mortar or chimney flues.
  • Use only wood that is properly seasoned to reduce creosote build-up.
  • Allow ashes to cool before disposing in a metal container. Place container with ashes outside your home, away from decks, landscape materials and other combustibles, and soak them with water.
  • Use paper and kindling wood to ignite a fire. Avoid using lighter fluid, kerosene, or gasoline.
  • Only a competent adult should start and supervise a fireplace or wood stove fire.
  • Build small fires that burn completely and produce little smoke.
  • Do not exceed the fuel capacity of your fireplace or wood stove.
  • Never leave any burning fire unattended.
  • Always supervise kids and pets around a fireplace or wood stove.
  • Always extinguish your fireplace or wood stove fire before going to bed.
  • Store firewood away from the fireplace and at least 30 feet away from your home.
  • Make sure that the roof is clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.
  • Remove branches hanging above chimneys, flues or vents.

Warning signs of chimney problems

  • Build up of creosote (dripping from the base of the chimney or staining of the outer chimney shell).
  • Sluggish draft (smoke spilling out when the woodstove door is opened).
  • Corrosion of the outer shell of a factory built chimney.
  • Deterioration of the brickwork of a masonry chimney.

Fireplace

If you love to cozy up to a warm fire during cold winter nights, make sure you’re not letting energy escape out the chimney along with the smoke. A wood-burning fireplace is one of the most inefficient ways to heat a room.

Here’s why: hot air rises, so the majority of the air warmed by the fire goes up the chimney — only a small percentage finds its way into the room. The warm air leaving the room is replaced by cold air from other areas of the house. If your furnace or other heating system is running while the fireplace is going, you’re consuming energy to heat air that’s being drawn into the fireplace and right up the chimney.

If you can’t bear to give up your wood-burning fireplace, follow these efficiency tips to reduce your energy loss:

  • Keep the damper closed whenever the fireplace isn’t being used — leaving a damper open is the equivalent of keeping a two-foot-square window wide open.
  • Check the seal on the damper by closing it off and holding a piece of tissue paper inside the firebox. If drafts blow the tissue paper around, repair or replace the damper.
  • Tight-fitting glass doors can prevent air from escaping out the chimney; they also improve the combustion efficiency while the fire is going.
  • Add caulking around the fireplace hearth.
  • Make sure your fireplace has a sturdy screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room.
  • Keep the hearth area clear of decorations, debris and combustible materials.

Woodstove

Woodstoves are a popular alternative heating source for many manufactured homeowners, especially those who own older model homes. Make sure to take proper precautions to ensure that you enjoy the added comfort while minimizing the risk to your family and home.

  • Open the dampers before starting a fire in a wood stove.
  • Vent your stove properly and insulate vent from flammable materials.
  • Keep dry wood away from the stove.
  • Remember that slow burning fires can create creosote and soot problems. Small hot fires are more efficient.

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FURNACES

Maintenance and safety tips for your furnace:

  • Look for cracked, rusted, misaligned, or clogged vents.
  • Check your flue assembly for alignment and rigidity.
  • Make sure the flame is blue – a yellow flame may be a sign that the burner could be out of adjustment.
  • Inspect for soot in the burning area and vents – this can be an indication that the gas burner is not properly adjusted and requires servicing.
  • Look for cracked or frayed blower belts.
  • Clean all dust and lint near the burning chamber. Remember to switch the thermostat to the off position prior to cleaning.
  • Clean or replace your furnace filter and make sure the blower door is properly secured.
  • Securely fasten the door that covers the pilot light and burner area.
  • Do not store or use combustible materials or liquids near any gas appliance.
  • Check ducts for leaks and have them properly insulated.
  • Keep the area around your furnace clean and unobstructed.
  • Keep the burner area of your furnace clean.
  • A qualified heating technician should attend to furnaces that require lubrication on the motors and bearings once a year.
  • Do not have anything combustible within six inches of your vent pipe.
  • Do not close off more than 20% of the registers in your house. This can cause high resistance and unnecessary heat build-up in the furnace.
  • Do not store combustible material such as paint thinners, gasoline, etc. near your furnace.

How to Tell When Your Furnace May be Malfunctioning

Scale: Flakes of rust, produced by the by-products of burning gas (carbon dioxide and water vapor). Scale may fall on the burners and impede gas flow. Over time, it can damage your furnace by harboring moisture, thereby fostering rust on a large scale.

The solution: Your service technician can take out the burners and clean them. You can clean out excess rust flakes that fall to the bottom of the furnace housing.

Grinding, chattering sounds from relays (signifying electrical problems), a burner that huffs and puffs, banging (delayed ignition), or clunking and bumping (cracked belt passing over pulleys).

The solution: A good rule of thumb: if it's an unusual noise, it's a problem. Unless you're completely comfortable with changing a relay or a belt, call your service technician.

Carbon Monoxide: It's colorless, odorless and tasteless, and it can kill you if it's concentrated enough. It is caused by a lack of oxygen or a disruption of the fuel-burning process.

The solutions: Your furnace breathes, just like you. Provide adequate ventilation to the unit and consider installing a fresh-air (combustion) intake. Use carbon monoxide detectors, combined with routine maintenance checks by qualified service technicians (mark them on your calendar).

Yellow Flame: That flame should be sharp and blue, clean and stable, burning as purely as possible. A yellow flame indicates dirt in the burner, which prevents it from mixing the gas and air properly.

The solution: Call your technician to thoroughly test the system and clean it.

Dusty Smell: You turn up the thermostat and within minutes, your home is filled with a dry, dusty smell.

The solutions: 1) Don't worry; it's just burning the dust out of the combustion chamber. Change your filter. 2) If it's a constant odor, call your technician. 3) If it smells like gas, call your utility company.

Backdrafting/Negative Pressure: Negative pressure results when you take air out of the house by using oxygen faster than air can enter the house. Backdrafting is a natural consequence of negative pressure; air rushes into the house through the chimney, effectively choking off the natural process of venting.

The solution: Run a combustible air duct to the unit from the outside.

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