Hazards abound in heating older homes

Jenna Gerling

Beware anyone living in or moving into one of Kent’s older houses: It’s cold outside, and chances are it’s going to be cold in your house, too.

Today, on one of the coldest days of the year so far, the thermostats will be turned up and space heaters will be turned on. But what some may not realize is that those sources of heat may be hazardous.

Kent Fire Department Lt. Craig Peeps said last year alone there were four chimney-related fires in Kent. These fires can be caused by blockages from debris like bricks, animals, birds’ nests or by the build up of creosote. To avoid this, Peeps recommends a chimney sweeping once a year.


• Use a window insulation kit

• Apply caulk around windows

• Change furnace’s filter

• Use weather strips on main doors

• Install storm windows

• Put a rolled-up, damp towel at doors’ bases.

Source: Wayne Demmer, Kent Hardware and Building Center

However, chimneys aren’t the only concern. Electrical outlets, space heaters and carbon monoxide leaks are also possible dangers.

Larry Wright, owner of Wright Heating and Cooling, said some of Kent’s older houses have outdated heating units, which, if corroded or cracked, can leak carbon monoxide.

“In Kent, there are lots of inefficient units – there should be an upgrade or replacement once the unit gets to be 20 years old,” Wright said. “Around here, there are units up to 30 years old.”

Units may also become inefficient if the air filters get plugged if they haven’t been changed often enough. Wright said air filters should be changed two to three times per season – once in the fall and once in the spring.

“Some people who rent houses here only fix them. They don’t replace them. Whether they’re efficient or not, they don’t care – it’s just so students have heat,” he said.

Molly Wagner, junior English major at the University of Akron, said the old house she lives in on 121 Crain Ave. in Kent was more or less a hopeless cause in heat-proofing.

After stapling rubber weather strips to the bottoms of the doors, caulking most of the windows shut and covering them in plastic and then hanging bedsheets over the windows, her house didn’t get warmer than 50 degrees.

“Even after we turned on our heat in December, the [weatherproofing] didn’t do much. With these old houses – they’re just not insulated well,” Wagner said. “In-between the walls, they aren’t insulated the way houses are now.”

Her December gas bill amounted to $208, as much as each of the three tenants have to pay for rent.

“After that, it’s up to the space heaters,” Wagner said.

Peeps said one of the other issues for older homes around Kent is that many aren’t built to handle so many chords for electrical devices. Peeps said the use of fused power strips is always better than an extension chord because it’s at least a little bit protected.

Another problem with the older houses is their drafty windows, doors and floors. To cut down on gas bills, people will turn to electric heaters.

“The problems we start running into there are things get too close [to the heater] or they tip over – and the older ones don’t have the tip over protection – and they start the carpet or something next to it on fire,” Peeps said. “Kerosene heaters have the same problem. If there’s no clearance around them, people get things get too close, they just catch on fire.”

When choosing a safe heater, Peeps said it’s most important to look for tip protection and an Underwriters Laboratories listing for it for product compliance. And once at home, make sure that it’s plugged directly into a fuse power strip or into an actual outlet – do not let it run through extension chords.

Contact public affairs reporter Jenna Gerling at [email protected].