Getting ready for a winter storm involves more than buying bread and milk. Protecting your family from discomfort is important, but protecting your family from danger is a priority. One real danger is carbon monoxide poisoning.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an average of 450 deaths from accidental carbon monoxide exposure each year. The CDC states that several thousand people each year are treated in emergency rooms for carbon monoxide poisoning. Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist, said the problem is that you cannot see, taste or small carbon monoxide, and poisoning can creep up on you when you least expect it.
Protect yourself and your family from danger by understanding common carbon monoxide exposure routes.“Fuel-burning appliances and accessories that are not properly maintained or used as intended produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide,” Peek said.
“What this really means is that appliances that are powered by fuel, including but not limited to gas furnaces, wood stoves and kerosene or propane space heaters, need attention to ensure that they are functioning properly and are not a hazard. “It’s also extremely important that these products are used as intended by the manufacturer. Read all directions and do what the manufacturer tells you to do. If you have questions or are not sure, get help from the manufacturer.”
Peek recommends the following to prepare before a storm hits.
- Have combustion appliances serviced on an annual basis to help ensure safety. This servicing will help maintain appliance efficiency, which will save you money.
- If you have a fireplace, have it inspected annually to ensure that it is in good condition and free of carbon and creosote buildup.
- Check venting systems for debris, such as bird nests, that might prevent adequate ventilation.
- Get carbon monoxide alarms and install them in sleeping areas if you have combustion appliances. There are a number of models available, from electric with battery backup to those that run only on battery power.
- Replace the batteries in your carbon monoxide alarm when you replace the batteries in your smoke alarm. Carbon monoxide alarms are not a substitute for prudent behavior. If you already have carbon monoxide alarms, test them to make certain that they are working properly.
- Instead of using generators and other combustion appliances, consider waiting the storm out by going nearby to some place with power
- Going elsewhere for a little while can keep you comfortable and reduce the chances of being harmed by carbon monoxide exposure.
During and after a storm, Peek said, it is important to remember to use combustion appliances how they are supposed to be used. For example, do not use your stove to heat the house, and do not burn charcoal or use camp stoves inside. Also, practice safety when using generators, if you choose to use one. Never use a generator inside, in a partially enclosed place, in the garage or near the house.
Even if the windows are open, you will not be safe. Do not place the generator near vents where carbon monoxide can enter your home. Read, understand and follow all directions. “Always remember that sometimes it’s not the storm itself that is so hazardous, but what happens after the storm,” she said. “Take caution to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. If you or anyone in your family feels sick, dizzy or nauseous, get away to fresh air and call 999 immediately.”