The New York State Division of Consumer Protection today alerted consumers of the dangers of fire hazards, carbon monoxide poisoning and performing strenuous outside activities in the upcoming cold weather. As the winter months approach and the temperatures drop, consumers may turn to dangerous heating alternatives to stay warm. Propane heaters, generators and space heaters all pose lethal risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and fire hazards when used improperly. As strong winter storms continue to hit the United States, consumers need to exercise caution to stay safe and healthy during snow cleanup activities.
“Taking preventative action is your best defense against dealing with extreme cold weather,” said Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez. “The Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection urges New Yorkers to take proper safety precautions while using candles and space heaters, install fire and carbon monoxide detectors and replace batteries in your alarms on an annual basis to help decrease the risk of fire hazards in your home.”
Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Daniel W. Tietz said, “In addition to providing assistance to help cover home heating costs, the Home Energy Assistance Program can help with getting heating equipment cleaned and serviced so it is safe and operating at peak efficiency, and even cover the cost of repairing or replacing faulty heating equipment. These services are vital to helping New Yorkers stay safe and warm through the harsh winter months. Anyone in need of this assistance should apply as soon as possible.”
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection offers the following tips to keep families safe and warm this winter:
When temperatures plummet, home heating systems may run constantly and the potential for CO poisoning increases. During and after dangerous weather, using alternative sources of power can also cause CO to build up in the home.
Carbon-Monoxide Dangers and Safety Tips:
- Install carbon monoxide alarms. Have a carbon monoxide alarm on every floor and outside sleeping areas.
- Inspect all fuel-burning equipment every year. Have a trained service technician inspect your home heating systems. Make sure that all gas heaters are properly vented to the outside.
- Use generators safely. Do not use a gas or electric generator in a home, garage, basement or any enclosed space. Plug in appliances to the generator using only individual heavy-duty, outdoor-rated electrical cords. When used, gas generators should be located at least 20 feet from any window, door, or vent -- preferably in a space where rain and snow does not reach them.
- Avoid build-up of carbon monoxide fumes. Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool. Never use a gas range, oven or grill to warm up a home. Never leave a vehicle running while parked in a garage attached to a home, even if the windows are open. Have vehicles’ mufflers and tailpipes checked on a regular basis to prevent accidental CO build-up.
- Keep furnace and dryer vents clear of ice and snow. Check furnace and dryer vents on the exterior of your house during and after heavy snowfalls, and clear snow away from the vents’ openings if it builds up. When a furnace or gas dryer vent is blocked, carbon monoxide can build up inside the home, and on newer furnaces, the system may shut off completely as a safety measure leaving the home without heat. While electric dryers do not pose a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, a blocked vent could still be a fire hazard.
- If one suspects carbon monoxide poisoning, they should get to fresh air immediately and then call 911.
Colder temperatures also increase the risk of fire hazards. Home fires can happen at any time, but they generally increase during the fall and winter, with December and January being the peak months.
Winter Home Heating & Fire Safety Tips:
- Working Smoke Alarms Saves Lives. According to the National Fire Protection Association, roughly 3 out of 5 fire deaths happen in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms so remember to have working smoke alarms on every floor and in every bedroom. The early warning provided by smoke alarms can save a life.
- Safely operate fireplaces, wood stoves and other combustion heaters. Use fireplaces, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space. If planning to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
- Keep your home properly ventilated. Ensure adequate ventilation if using a kerosene, propane or other fuel heater. Also, use only the specific type of fuel a heater is designed to use—don’t substitute with another source.
- Keep space heaters away, stable, and uncovered. Space heaters should be kept at least three feet away from beds, clothes, curtains, and other flammable materials. Never cover a space heater or place on top of furniture or near water. Space heaters should not be left unattended when used near children. If a space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, stop use immediately.
- Check your extension cords. Extension cords should not be overloaded or run where they can become a tripping hazard. Never run extension cords under carpets or rugs. Avoid using extension cords with a space heater.
- Prepare for emergencies. Keep a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated.
- Regularly review fire safety plans with your family, especially with homes with young children, older adults, and persons with disabilities. Make sure there is a working smoke alarm on every level and outside of sleeping areas, and that the batteries in the alarm are functional.
- If there is a power failure at home, use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns instead of candles, if possible. If you must use candles, use extreme caution. Never leave lit candles unattended, and do not burn them on or near anything that can catch fire. Extinguish candles when you leave the room and before sleeping.
New York’s Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) can help eligible New Yorkers heat their homes. The program provides up to $1,126 to eligible homeowners and renters depending on income, household size and how they heat their home. Administered by the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, applications for HEAP are accepted at local departments of social services in person or by telephone, with funding provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Residents outside of New York City may also apply online for regular heating assistance benefits. New York City residents can obtain program information online and download an application. To qualify for benefits, a family of four may have a maximum gross monthly income of $5,485, or an annual gross income of $65,829.
For households facing no-heat situations due to non-working heating equipment, OTDA is also accepting applications for its heating equipment repair or replacement benefit. Eligible homeowners can apply for up to $4,000 for repairs or $8,000 for replacement of a furnace, boiler or other direct heating equipment necessary to keep the household's primary heating source working. Additionally, eligible households can receive energy efficiency services, which include the cleaning of primary heating equipment to allow for safe and efficient operation. Interested households can apply with their local HEAP contact.
As the recent historic storm in Buffalo showed, snow and winter storms can be dangerous and even deadly. Snow shoveling can contribute to a number of health risks for many people, from back injuries to heart attacks. New Yorkers must exercise caution when doing snow or ice cleanup as the strenuous activity can be dangerous for vulnerable individuals.
The following tips can help keep you safer when you set out to shovel:
- Warm up. Warm your muscles before heading out to shovel by doing some light movements, such as bending side to side or walking in place.
- Push rather than lift. Pushing the snow with the shovel instead of lifting can help reduce the strain on your body. When lifting snow, bend your knees and use your legs when possible.
- Choose your shovel wisely. Ergonomically designed shovels can help reduce the amount of bending you have to do.
- Lighten your load. Consider using a lighter-weight plastic shovel instead of a metal one to help decrease the weight being lifted.
- Hit the pause button. Pace yourself and be sure to take frequent breaks. Consider taking a break after 20 to 30 minutes of shoveling, especially when the snow is wet.
- Consider multiple trips. Consider shoveling periodically throughout the storm to avoid having to move large amounts of snow at once.
- Keep up with snowfall. Try to shovel snow shortly after it falls, when it is lighter and fluffier. The longer snow stays on the ground, the wetter it can become. Wet snow is heavier and harder to move.
- Wear layers. Dress in layers and remove them as you get warm to help maintain a comfortable body temperature.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated while shoveling
Additional resources are offered through the NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control’s Carbon Monoxide Virtual Toolbox and the through the NYS Department of Health Cold Weather Tips page here.
About the New York State Division of Consumer Protection
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides resources and education materials to consumers on product safety, as well as voluntary mediation services between consumers and businesses. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, excluding State Holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection.
For more consumer protection tips, follow the Division on social media at Twitter: @NYSConsumer and Facebook: www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.