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. When weather becomes this cold, some consumers may turn to dangerous heating alternatives to stay warm — propane heaters, generators, space heaters and/or outdoor grills brought inside. Carbon monoxide poisoning and residential fires may have lethal consequences if such devices are used improperly.
“During extreme cold weather, it can literally be a life-or-death situation if someone heats their home via unsafe methods,” said New York State Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. “We want New Yorkers to be safe this winter, and these tips will help prevent tragedies.”
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. 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.
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection offers the following tips to keep families safe and warm this winter:
If one suspects carbon monoxide poisoning, they should get to fresh air immediately and then call 911.
Home Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Tips
- Install carbon monoxide alarms on every floor of a home. Such alarms are required on every floor of new home construction.
- Inspect all fuel-burning equipment every year. Make sure that all gas heaters are properly vented to the outside.
- Do not use a gas range or oven to warm up a home.
- Do not use a gas or charcoal grill indoors or inside a garage. The fumes are deadly.
- Do not use a gas generator in a home, garage, basement or any enclosed space. 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.
- Never use an electric generator indoors, in the basement, inside the garage, near open windows, or the air intake of a home.
- Plug in appliances to the generator using only individual heavy-duty, outdoor-rated electrical cords.
- Never leave a vehicle running while parked in a garage attached to a home.
- Have vehicles’ mufflers and tailpipes checked on a regular basis.
Winter Home Heating & Fire Safety Tips
- If planning to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- 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.
- Have home heating systems serviced by a qualified technician every year.
- Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
- Ensure adequate ventilation if using a kerosene heater.
- Use only the specific type of fuel a heater is designed to use—don’t substitute with another source.
- Do not place a space heater within 3 feet of anything that may catch fire, including drapes, furniture, or bedding.
- Never cover a space heater.
- Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water.
- Never leave children unattended near a space heater.
- Ensure that the electrical cord for a space heater is not a tripping hazard, but do not run the cord under carpets or rugs.
- Avoid using extension cords with a space heater.
- If a space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, stop use immediately.
- Keep a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated.
If there is a power failure at home:
- Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns instead of candles, if possible.
- Never leave lit candles unattended.
The NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control has a Carbon Monoxide Virtual Toolbox with more information. The NYS Department of Health has additional information on safe heating practices and cold weather preparation.
The Division of Consumer Protection’s Consumer Helpline is 800-697-1220, available Monday to Friday, from 8:30am to 4:30pm. Consumer complaints can be filed at any time via the Division’s website. The Division can also be reached via Twitter at @NYSConsumer or Facebook at www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.