The New York State Division of Consumer Protection today issued a consumer alert about the dangers of carbon monoxide and fire hazards in extreme cold weather. The winter months pose the most risk for these hazards—as the temperatures drop, consumers may turn to dangerous heating alternatives to stay warm. Propane heaters, generators, space heaters and/or outdoor grills all pose lethal risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and fire hazards when used improperly.
“We are in the height of the winter months with shorter daylight hours and extreme cold weather. To help fight the extreme cold weather, many people seek additional ways to keep warm and these heating methods can often be dangerous," said Acting Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez. “There are basic tips New Yorkers can follow to help stay warm and most importantly, safe throughout the winter months.”
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless, but deadly poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engines such as portable generators, snow blowers and cars produce the gas. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces. People and animals unknowingly breathing in CO can be poisoned, resulting in significant health risks, including death.
When temperatures plummet, home heating systems run for hours and the potential for CO poisoning increases. In severe weather, using alternative sources of power can also cause CO to build up in the home. According to the Center for Disease Control, every year at least 430 people die from accidental CO poisoning across the United States, and 50,000 people seek emergency accidental CO poisoning treatment at hospitals.
Colder temperatures also increase the risk of fire hazards. Portable space heaters used incorrectly can start a fire. Having space heaters plugged in along with too many electronics can overload extension cords, causing them to ignite.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection offers the following tips to keep families safe and warm this winter:
Home Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Tips:
- Install carbon monoxide alarms. There should be a carbon monoxide alarm on every floor of a home. Such alarms are required on every floor of new home construction.
- 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.
- Grills are for outdoor use only. Do not use a gas or charcoal grill indoors or inside a garage, as they release deadly fumes.
- 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 or oven 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.
If one suspects carbon monoxide poisoning, they should get to fresh air immediately and then call 911.
Winter Home Heating & Fire Safety Tips:
- 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 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. Never leave lit candles unattended.
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.
About the New York State Division of Consumer Protection
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection serves to educate, assist and empower the State’s consumers. Consumers can file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Protection at https://dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection.
For more consumer protection information, call the DCP Helpline at 800-697-1220, Monday through Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm or visit the DCP website at https://dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.