CPSC Urges Caution with Heating as Winter Weather Arrives

As families look for ways to save money in tough economic times, there is an increased risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisonings and fire deaths associated with the use of alternative heating and power sources. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is urging consumers to check all home heating systems from fireplaces to furnaces, including any back-up power systems.

Heating systems were associated with an average of 32,900 fires and 200 fire deaths per year from 2004-2006. This includes local fixed heaters, portable heaters, central heating systems, and fireplaces and chimneys.

CO deaths have been on the rise since 1999. On average there were 181 unintentional non-fire deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with consumer products per year from 2004-2006 compared to 123 from 1999-2001. Heating equipment and portable generators are among the top contributors to CO deaths.

Portable generator-related deaths have risen more than 400 percent in recent years from an average of about 16 deaths per year in 1999-2001 to 75 deaths per year in 2004-2006. In 2004-2006, 41 percent of consumer product-related CO deaths (an average of about 75 deaths annually) were generator-related and 35 percent (an average of 63 deaths per year) were heating system-related.

To prevent CO poisoning tragedies from occurring, CPSC urges consumers to:

  • Schedule a yearly professional inspection of all fuel-burning home heating systems, including furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, wood stoves, water heaters, chimneys, flues, and vents.
  • As a second line of defense, install carbon monoxide alarms meeting the requirements of UL 2034 Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Alarms or CSA 6.19 Residential Carbon Monoxide Alarming Devices in the home. Make sure the batteries are fresh and working. Replace the batteries annually at the spring or autumn time changes.
  • Activate the test button on the CO alarm monthly to ensure proper operation.
  • Never operate a portable gasoline powered generator in an enclosed space such as a garage, shed or crawlspace, or in the home.
  • Keep portable generators as far away from the home as possible--away from open doors, windows, or vents that could allow deadly carbon monoxide into the home.
  • Use a space heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up-to-date safety features. An unvented gas space heater that meets current safety standards will shut off if oxygen levels fall too low.
  • Do not use portable propane space heaters indoors or in any confined space unless they are specifically designed for indoor use. Always follow the manufacturer's directions for proper use.
  • Never use gas or electric stoves to heat the home. They are not intended for that purpose and can pose a CO or fire hazard.

CPSC also urges consumers to follow these home heating safety tips to prevent fires:

  • Place space heaters on a level, hard, and nonflammable surface such as a ceramic tile floor, not on rugs or carpets. Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture, and other flammable materials, and keep out of the flow of foot traffic. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  • To prevent the risk of fire, NEVER leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or place a space heater close to any sleeping person. Turn the heater off if you leave the area.
  • Never use gasoline in a kerosene space heater. Even small amounts of gasoline mixed with kerosene can increase the risk of a fire.
  • Have fireplace flues and chimneys inspected for leakage and blockage by creosote or debris.
  • Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool. An open damper may help prevent build-up of poisonous gases inside the home.
  • Store fireplace ashes in a fire-resistant container and cover it with a lid. Keep the container outdoors and away from combustibles. Dispose of ashes carefully keeping them away from combustibles, dry leaves, or trash.

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