Families in most parts of the country are gearing up for months of winter hibernation indoors with cozy fires, rich hot chocolate and warm blankets. While you welcome the toasty temperatures that fireplaces, furnaces and space heaters bring to your home, remember that these heating measures might also be sources of deadly carbon monoxide (CO) if not used properly.
Most CO poisonings in the U.S. occur during the winter months. Alarmingly, an annual average of 56 deaths and 2,157 non-fatal exposures occur each December followed by an average of 69 deaths and 2,511 non-fatal exposures in January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also notes that deaths from unintentional vehicle-related carbon monoxide poisonings are higher in winter months and in states with colder temperatures.
These unfortunate deaths and poisonings can be reduced if you are aware of the proper safety precautions. Here’s what I tell my family and friends to do to stay safe when heating up every room of their homes this winter.
It’s the season of generous, home-cooked meals with family and friends, but stoves can be a potential danger if not properly used and maintained. Foil on the bottom of a gas oven or a malfunctioning range can lead to a serious carbon monoxide problem in your kitchen.
Cozying around the fire keeps you warm, but if not professionally cleaned at the beginning of every winter season, soot and debris build-up in your chimney could lead to CO exposure.
Fuel-burning space heaters also are commonly used in the winter to provide a little extra heat to colder areas of the home, like basements or renovated garages. But these devices can pose a threat of CO poisoning if the vent becomes loose or detached. Before you turn on your space heater, check to see that all parts are intact and secure.
Another fairly common practice to try to stay warm on a cold day is to heat your car before driving somewhere. Avoid warming up your car in the garage. Exhaust from automobiles can be a source of CO and if you heat your car in an attached garage, there is great potential for the gas to leak into the house.
Knowing how CO can enter your home is an important first step in winter safety. CO is colorless and odorless, making it impossible for humans to detect. Alarms should be installed on every floor of the home, including the basement, and near every sleeping area to ensure best possible detection. Stay safe this season!Guest blogger Debbie Hanson is the Director of External Affairs for First Alert, a trusted brand in home safety products.