Fire claims persist as homeowners take risks to stay warm

Buckeye Farm News

As the cold temperatures set in, many homeowners are taking risks to stay warm that often end in tragic home fires. A review of Nationwide Insurance claims data reveals significant jumps in home fires started by alternative heating sources – such as fireplaces, wood burning stoves and space heaters.

While the frequency of these types of fire dropped 10 percent among Nationwide customers last winter and are now closer to historical levels, these devices are among the most prominent causes of winter home fires. Nationwide saw a huge spike in fires started by alternative heating devices the previous two winters.

According to Nationwide Insurance fire claims, wood burning fireplaces still cause the most alternative heating source fires followed by wood burning stoves, overloaded extension cords, space heaters, and gas fireplaces. Fire claims from the winter of 2009/2010 from alternative heating sources found:

  • 57 percent of fires were caused by wood burning fireplaces
  • 13 percent of fires were caused by wood burning stoves
  • 13 percent of fires were caused by overloaded extension cords
  • 11 percent of fires were caused by space heaters.

More than one third of Americans already use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-burning appliances to heat their home and their use is increasing.

To learn more, Nationwide commissioned a survey of more than 1,000 Americans that revealed the risks many homeowners take with home safety to stay warm and to save money on their heating bills.

Among key findings in Nationwide’s survey, 68 percent of  those surveyed said they plan to use their alternative heating source as much or more often compared to last winter.

Among the fire risks revealed:

  • 41 percent of Americans do not have their chimneys inspected each year and 25 percent do it less than every four years
  • 38 percent do not own carbon monoxide detectors
  • 29 percent do not turn off their space heater when going to bed
  • 13 percent use their oven to heat their kitchen
  • 11 percent use an extension cord with their electric space heater.

“While fireplaces and space heaters help keep home heating costs down, the risks outweigh the benefits if installed incorrectly or not used properly,” said Bill Windsor, Nationwide’s safety officer. “Each of these claims represents a significant and often life-changing event that in most cases could have been prevented.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are 64,000 home heating fires annually in the United States, resulting in 540 deaths and 1,400 injuries. There is still a significant problem as Americans continue to sacrifice home protection in an attempt to offset high home heating costs by using alternative heating sources.

The reason people use the devices is to save money. Americans surveyed by Nationwide say they save an average of $474 each winter by using alternative heating sources and those in the Midwest save an average of $644.

“While Americans save a lot of money using these alternative heating sources, they can be extremely dangerous,” Windsor added. “But by taking a few simple precautions, your family can stay warm and stay safe.”

As a homeowner, you know disasters can occur inside and outside your home, so it pays to be prepared. Protect your family and your belongings with comprehensive home insurance.Ohio Farm Bureau is a sponsor of Nationwide and endorses the company’s coverages.


For more information about protecting your home and its contents, contact a local Nationwide agent, or visit

Lynn Snyder 

Lynn Snyder is senior director of communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.

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