All fuel burning equipment, including your fireplace, must have a good supply of fresh air and effective venting that carries exhausts outdoors. If anything interferes with the air supply or the safe venting of exhausts, incomplete or faulty combustion could occur. If this happens, carbon monoxide could be produced. Do not store gasoline, lawnmowers and other flammables in close proximity to furnaces, water heaters and other sources of potential ignition.

It is important for you and your family to understand the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO). It is an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas which is very toxic. The symptoms, in the early stages of carbon monoxide poisoning are quite similar to flu: headache, nausea, fatigue and drowsiness. CO detectors are a good second line of defense, so take the time to learn about them and ensure you are using them properly and effectively. However, they do not eliminate the need for an annual inspection, as well as regular maintenance and safe use of your fuel burning equipment. Some towns in Northern Illinois require HVAC inspections for residential rental units (homes).

If you are conducting your own inspection, here's what to check for:

Check the chimney. Use a mirror to look up your chimney through the cleanout door during daylight hours. You should have an unobstructed view to the outside. There should be no visual evidence of crumbling mortar, brick or stone. If your view is obstructed, you must call a chimney repair company for an inspection immediately. Note that some chimneys may be "offset" which will not allow a visual inspection with a mirror. In this case you must have the inspection conducted by a chimney specialist.

Check the cleanout pit. Should you find any debris, remove it. If it contains bits of mortar, brick or stone, erosion is most likely taking place. If there is broken mortar, brick or stone in the cleanout pit and you cannot see daylight using a mirror, turn off all appliances which are hooked into the chimney immediately and call a chimney repair company for an inspection. It is strongly recommended that you call a chimney repair company for an inspection if there is debris but no blockage.

Check the outside chimney brickwork. You should not see a white chalky substance on the bricks, stone or mortar. If you can see a white chalky stain, but the cleanout pit is clear and there are no obstructions in the chimney or signs of deterioration on the chimney's exterior, call a chimney repair company for an inspection. In the meantime, you may operate your heating system safely.

If you have to use a space heater, keep it at least three feet from any combustible objects, such as furniture or drapes. Don't leave young children or pets alone with a space heater.

When shopping for a space heater, get one that automatically shuts off when it is bumped or knocked over. Also make sure that any fuel-burning space heater you buy is rated for indoor use.

Don't use electric heaters in the bathroom where they can get wet.

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