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When It's Cold Outside, Be Careful Inside With Heaters

SATURDAY Jan. 10, 2009 -- Don't let colder temperatures put you at a greater risk of a home heating accident, such as a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that heating equipment is the cause of one of every six fires in the home. Space heaters caused a third of these incidents, resulting in three-fourths of home-heating-related deaths.

At the same time, U.S. fire departments have been responding to an increasing number of non-fire, carbon monoxide incidents in recent years. Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, colorless but deadly gas that can come from fuels burned incompletely in space heaters, fireplaces, generators or even cooking equipment.

Robert Emery, vice president for safety, health, environment and risk management at the University of Texas School of Public Health, advises people to limit their chances of home-heating tragedy by following these tips:

  • Keep flammable items at least three feet from such heating equipment as a furnace, fireplace or portable heater.
  • Have qualified professionals properly clean and service all heating equipment and chimneys at least once a year.
  • Do not leave portable heaters on and unattended. Turn them off when going to bed.
  • Use only the fuel specified by the manufacturer in fuel-burning space heaters. Be sure all fuel-burning equipment vents to the outside so that carbon monoxide doesn't build up indoors.
  • Use a sturdy screen in front of a fireplace to prevent sparks from entering the room. Burn only dry, seasoned wood. Once the ashes cool, dispose of them in a metal container a safe distance from the house.
  • Install carbon monoxide and smoke alarms and maintain them properly. Smoke alarms, for example, should be tested at least monthly.

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about preventing carbon monoxide poisoning.

Posted: January 2009


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