2007-03-02 / Community

Risk Remains As Winter Weather Persists

Dealing with hazardous weather conditions can become a routine of sorts during the last weeks of winter; however, life-threatening risks remain high and focusing on safety can prove to be a life-saving decision. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) urges the public to continue to be aware of elevated risks associated with winter weather and to take measures to avoid them.

Heating

Home heating remains the second highest cause of fire in the home. NFPA suggests the following for safe heating:

Maintain a three feet separation between things that can burn and heating equipment.

When buying a new space heater, make sure it carries the mark of an independent testing laboratory and is legal for use in your community. (Some communities do not permit portable kerosene heaters, for example.)

Install your stationary (fixed) space heater according to manufacturer's instructions or applicable codes or better yet, have it installed by a professional.

Plug your electric-powered space heater into an outlet with sufficient capacity and never into an extension cord. Use the proper grade of the proper fuel for your liquid-fueled space heater, and never use gasoline in any heater not approved for gasoline use. Refuel only in a well-ventilated area and when the equipment is cool.

In your fireplace or wood stove, use only dry, seasoned wood to avoid the build-up of creosote, an oily deposit that easily catches fire and accounts for most chimney fires and the largest share of home heating fires generally. Use only paper or kindling wood, not a flammable liquid, to start the fire. Do not use artificial logs in wood stoves.

Make sure your fireplace has a sturdy screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room. Allow fireplace and woodstove ashes to cool before disposing in a metal container, which is kept a safe distance from your home.

Turn off space heaters whenever the room they are in is unoccupied or under circumstances when manufacturer's instructions say they should be turned off. Portable space heaters are so easy to knock over in the dark that they should be turned off when you go to bed, but make sure your primary heating equipment for bedrooms is sufficient to avoid risks to residents from severe cold.

Do not use your oven to heat your home.

Make sure fuel-burning equipment is vented to the outside, that the venting is kept clear and unobstructed, and that the exit point is properly sealed around the vent, all of which is to make sure deadly carbon monoxide does not build up in the home.

Inspect all heating equipment annually, and clean as necessary. Test smoke alarms monthly; install a carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside each sleeping area.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light headedness or headaches.

NFPA suggests the following safety tips to avoid the dangers of carbon monoxide.

Install carbon monoxide (CO) alarms (listed by an independent testing laboratory) inside your home to provide early warning of accumulating CO. CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each separate sleeping area. If bedrooms are spaced apart, each area will need a CO alarm.

Test CO alarms at least once a month and replace alarms according to the manufacturer's instructions.

CO alarms are not substitutes for smoke alarms. Know the difference between the sound of smoke alarms and CO alarms.

Have fuel-burning heating equipment (fireplaces, furnaces, water heaters, wood and coal stoves, space or portable heaters) and chimneys inspected by a professional every year before cold weather sets in.

When using a fireplace, open the flue for adequate ventilation.

Never use your oven or grill to heat your home.

When buying an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating and cooking systems, as well as the sealed spaces between the garage and house.

If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle, generator, or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.

During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.

Portable Generators

During emergency situations people often use portable generators to meet electricity and heating needs.

NFPA, publisher of the National Electrical Code ® (NEC ®), recommends the following tips for proper use of portable generators.

Generators should be operated in well ventilated locations outdoors away from all doors, windows and vent openings.

The generator should be located so that exhaust fumes cannot enter the home through windows, doors or other building openings.

Do not refuel the generator while it is running. Turn the generator off and let it cool down before refueling.

Never store fuel for your generator in your home. Gasoline and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly-labeled safety containers. They should be stored away from any fuel-burning appliance such as a gas hot water heater.

Plug appliances directly into the generator or use a heavy duty outdoor-rated extension cord. Make sure the cord is free of cuts or tears and that the plug has all three prongs, especially a grounding pin. Do not try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator into a wall outlet.

If you must connect the generator to the house wiring to power appliances, have a qualified electrician install a properly rated transfer switch in accordance with the NEC and all applicable state and local electrical codes.

NFPA has been a worldwide leader in providing fire, electrical, building, and life safety to the public since 1896. The mission of the international nonprofit organization is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education. Visit NFPA's Web site at http://www.nfpa.org .

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