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When the weather turns cold outside, things can heat up inside -- sometimes a little too much, if you don't take precautions.

Frigid arctic air blanketing much of the U.S. comes with a triple-threat to household health and safety related to carbon monoxide poisoning, home heating and power outages, according to the Home Safety Council.

"The increased use of alternative heat sources and weather-related power outages create multiple opportunities for dangers in the home. While we cannot change the course of nature, families can change their home safety practices to ensure a safer home environment during the winter months," said Meri-K Appy, president of the council.

The council offers the following guidelines:

Carbon Monoxide Danger

Most, 67 percent, of American households use fuel-burning appliances and equipment including gas, wood or kerosene that can emit dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) if the equipment isn't properly used and maintained. The odorless, colorless toxic by-product of combustion accounts for nearly 300 home-based deaths a year. Take these precautions:

  • In addition to smoke detectors, install at least one CO alarm to protect sleeping areas.
  • Keep central heating systems in top fuel-burning efficient shape with regular professional inspections, cleanings and tune-ups. Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves and chimneys and flues should also be inspected once a year and cleaned or repaired as needed.
  • Keep gas appliances properly adjusted and serviced.
  • Never use an oven or range -- gas or electric -- to heat your home. The open flame can overheat and ignite nearby materials.
  • Never use a gas grill inside your home or in a closed garage.
  • Use liquid or gas fuel fired portable electric generators outside only and never in garages or other confined areas where CO can collect.
  • Stock up on batteries, flashlights, portable radios, canned foods, manual can openers, bottled water and blankets. Use flashlights for emergency lighting rather than candles. Do no permit children to keep or use candles in their rooms. A Red Cross certified emergency preparedness kit should have all the supplies you need.

Fireplaces and Wood-Burning Stoves

January is the peak month in the U.S. for home fires in the fire place or wood-burning stoves. The council recommends the following precautions:

  • Install at least one smoke alarm on every level of your home and near sleeping areas.
  • Burn only well-seasoned wood, preferably hardwoods that generate less creosote -- not trash, newspapers, cardboard boxes, building lumber, engineered woods, pressed boards, plywood, Christmas trees or other products because these items burn unevenly, may contain toxins, and increase the risk of uncontrolled fires. If you use artificial fire logs burn the recommended size and number -- typically one at a time. The heat of an artificial fire log combined with firewood may be too intense for your fire box.
  • Have a professional chimney sweep inspect the fire box and chimneys you use regularly every year for cracks, blockages and leaks and have them cleaned and repaired as needed.
  • Keep all persons and flammable objects, including kindling, bedding, clothing and pets, at least 36 inches away from fireplaces and wood stoves.
  • Open flues 15 to 20 minutes or longer before using a fireplace to help create an updraft and prevent a backdraft.
  • Working fireplaces need screens or doors sufficient to keep embers inside the fire box.
  • Keep young children away from working wood stoves and fireplaces to avoid contact burn injuries. Prohibit physical play in the room where a fireplace or wood-burning stove is operating.
  • Never leave a fireplace or wood-burning stove unattended, especially while you are sleeping.
  • Fire extinguishers can come in handy but only after you've been trained in their use and provided the extinguisher does not prevent you from calling fire fighters when necessary.
  • Never cook indoors with a barbecue grill or similar appliance.

Portable Space Heaters

  • Follow manufacturers' instructions for portable space heaters. Do not use recalled heaters but return them to the manufacturer for repair, replacement or refund.
  • Use only Underwriters Laboratory (UL) approved electric space heaters.
  • Turn off space heaters before leaving a room or going to sleep.
  • Supervise children and pets at all times when a portable space heater is on.
  • Liquid or gas-fueled heaters should be filled outside with the proper grade of fuel.
  • Never use space heaters to dry clothing or blankets.
  • Keep all flammable objects at least three feet from space heaters.
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