How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Home Fires This Winter

An arctic cold front is set to hit the entire United States this week on Tuesday night through the Christmas weekend. As frigid conditions inch closer, it is important to maintain safety when keeping warm.

Key takeaways:

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and fires are most prevalent during the winter. According to CDC data from 2010 to 2015, 36% of deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning occur in December, January, and February. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) labels winter as the busiest time of the year for home fires.

Midwest and Central Plains states are the ones to be the most affected this week, where temperatures are expected to feel like -60 F. States with usually mild winters like Texas, where temperatures are expected to drop in the negatives in Dallas, will be more vulnerable to CO poising or home fires.

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

Alternate sources of power that produce CO fumes include furnaces, stoves, lanterns, and gas ranges, or by burning charcoal and wood. These forms of energy become more popular during severe winter storms such as the ones approaching. Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

CO detectors are a great way to prevent CO fumes from making rounds around the home. As long as the batteries are fresh, the detectors should be efficient at finding any signs of CO. Make sure they are scattered throughout the home, and on multiple floors if applicable. Test detectors routinely, and never ignore a beep.

On Dec. 13, 2022, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a report to prepare Americans for the upcoming freeze. When using generators during power outages, they provided multiple points of advice that include:

Never operate a portable generator inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or shed. Opening doors or windows will not provide enough ventilation to prevent the buildup of lethal levels of CO.

Operate portable generators outside only, at least 20 feet away from the house, and direct the generator’s exhaust away from the home and any other buildings that someone could enter, while keeping windows and other openings closed in the path of the generator’s exhaust. Do not operate a generator on an outside porch or in a carport. They are too close to the home.

Check that portable generators have been maintained properly, and read and follow the labels, instructions, and warnings on the generator and in the owner’s manual.

Look for portable generators that have a CO shut-off safety feature, which is designed to shut the generator off automatically when high levels of CO are present around the generator.

Staying wary of home fires

Like CO poisoning, home fires most commonly occur in the winter months such as December, January, and February. Heating is the second highest cause of home fire injuries and the third leading cause of death. Space heaters are commonly used during severe cold weather, and are responsible for 44% of fires.

Although Christmas is the holiday of spirit and cheer, it is also the most popular day for home fires. It is important to be extra precautions when placing heaters near Christmas trees. Also, make sure candles are at least 12 inches away, and portable heaters three feet in distance from flammable objects. If you have had a Christmas tree for a long period, it may be starting to dry and need disposing of.

Keys when using portable heaters:

  1. Use wall outlet versus power strip; Don’t run cord under flammable material.
  2. Don’t place the heater near an area with water.
  3. Make sure the heater can not be easily tipped or fall over.
  4. If the heater cord feels hotter, disconnect it and seek professional assistance.

Are heaters and furnaces to disappear in 2023?

California has already taken measures to become the first in the Union to ban natural gas-powered space and water heaters by 2030. Although it is being praised for its environmental benefits, the future ramifications may disproportionately affect those not able to afford more renewable forms of energy.

In a virtual news conference last week, CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka highlighted the need for more control over gas stove use, and to even potentially ban gas stoves totally. Regulation could be on the horizon for gas stoves in the near future.

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