Holiday safety tips from the Chimney Safety Institute of America start this week's column.
Each year, 27,000 house fires start in chimneys or fireplaces, while nearly 16,000 fires begin in clothes dryers, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission.
That's roughly 43,000 house fires a year that can be prevented.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America and the National Fire Protection Association recommend that all chimneys, fireplaces and dryer vents be inspected at least annually.
"Many homeowners think their chimney only needs to be cleaned and inspected if they burn wood in their fireplaces or wood stoves," said the institute's Ashley Eldridge, "but almost all heating appliances, whether they burn gas, oil, wood or coal, rely on the chimney to safely carry toxic gases produced by the heating system of the house."
Lint and other debris that build up in clothes dryer vents can also create potentially hazardous conditions including carbon monoxide intrusion and the possibility for exhaust fires.
"When shifting into home-improvement mode or preparing homes for winter, homeowners tend to focus on what can be seen, like garages, gutters and basements," said Eldridge. "Often the most dangerous hazards are those that are undetectable without an inspection by a qualified professional."
Keeping burglars out. More than two million burglaries occur every year, the lock maker Kwikset reports. Kwikset suggests five ways to improve home safety:
Make sure you have effective locks that are being used. Remember that not all locks are created equal. For maximum protection, choose high security locks.
Do some yard work before you leave the house for an extended period of time. Trim your hedges and bushes so thieves won't have a chance to hide out, and you won't give the impression your home has been left unattended and vacant. That goes for winter chores, as well. Perhaps your neighbor can shovel your walk to give the impression you are home.
Leave your spare key with a trusted neighbor. Never hide it on the property. Keyless entry locks with electronic keypads are also a great option. Burglars have more experience looking for keys than you do hiding them.
Be sure all outside entrances of the home are well-lighted. A timer or solar-powered light on the front, back and side of the house makes it difficult for burglars to hide.
Think twice before posting upcoming vacations on Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media outlet. You'd be surprised how fast information can travel on the information highway - and sometimes to the wrong computer screen.
New vs. old. In its January issue, Consumer Reports finds that, although compact fluorescent lights have improved, the 100-watt-equivalent CFLs might not be as bright over their lives as the incandescents they are designed to replace.
Consumer Reports did find that some Energy Star-qualified 60-watt CFL equivalents are as bright as regular incandescents. They also use about 75 percent less energy and last seven to 10 times longer.
Energy tips. The Edison Electric Institute suggests that lowering the thermostat setting a degree or two saves up to 3 percent per degree on heating costs.
In addition, if you clean or replace the filter in your heating system, you can save between 5 percent and 15 percent on heating costs.
And more tips. From the makers of GE silicone caulk comes advice on controlling the incursion of cold air into the house and adding mightily to your heating bills.
A critical first step to caulking is to find the hidden leaks that allow cold air to sneak inside.
Leaks usually occur around the outside of a home and in nonregulated temperature areas like attics and basements that are exposed to harsh elements throughout the year.
Obvious areas include the frames around windows and doors. Be sure to pay close attention to where the floor frame rests on the foundation on the inside of a house and where siding meets the corner boards on the exterior.