Keep Your Home Warm and Safe During the Winter
Not only does cold winter weather bring increased utility costs but it can also bring home heating safety hazards. You can take simple steps to both manage heating costs and ensure your family’s safety. Staying warm can be much more challenging if the heat goes out in your home. Community resources may be available to help those who need assistance heating their home.
Reduce Energy Costs
Both homeowners and renters can save on heating costs and help keep their homes warm by taking simple steps, including:
- Turning down the thermostat when you are not home or are sleeping.
- Opening blinds during the day to let in the sun and closing them at night to keep the cold out.
- Changing the furnace filter as needed.
See Energy Actions to Save $ and Increase Comfort (404 K PDF) for more tips.
Heat Your Home Safely
The winter heating season can be dangerous if precautions are not taken. When families use space heaters, wood burning stoves, or fireplaces, there is an increased risk of fire. Fires and other heating equipment accidents are often preventable if heating equipment is cleaned and properly maintained. It is good practice to review general safety tips, particularly those related to your specific heating equipment and fire safety, each winter. For practical tips to decrease your risk of fire, see the U.S. Fire Administration’s Winter Fires: Safety Tips for the Home. For more information on heating your home safely, see eXtension’s Home Heating Safety Tips.
Stay Safe during Winter Storms
Winter storms are considered a natural disaster. They can have a devastating effect on families and their homes. Here are some things to be aware of:
- If you lose power and resort to using alternative heating equipment or other heat sources (ovens, grills, etc.), you could be facing a winter fire or carbon monoxide issues if the equipment is used incorrectly. Follow the operating instructions for all heating equipment and use only in locations they were intended for.
- Generators, often used during power outages, may be hazardous if not properly used and maintained. Follow the operating instructions as listed in the owner’s manual.
- Damaged utility lines not only present a fire hazard; they can also be life threatening. Stay away from utility lines and notify the utility company if lines have been damaged.
- Water damaged appliances and utilities may still be electrically charged. Unplug damaged appliances, turn off electrical breakers (or switches), and contact your utility company as needed.
- Frozen water pipes can burst and cause home damage and safety hazards. If possible, drain and shut off water pipes that are not used frequently in the winter, especially those that lead outside.
- Gas lines, gas propane containers, and vehicle gas tanks may explode or ignite if they are leaking. If you smell gas, exit immediately and call for help.
Reduce the probability of becoming a fire casualty by identifying potential hazards and following the safety tips outlined in U.S. Fire Administration and FEMA’s Winter Storm Fire Safety.
Carbon Monoxide Safety
Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly (used inside vs. outside, etc.), dangerous levels of CO can result. Carbon monoxide cannot be seen or smelled, but at high levels it can kill a person in minutes. Learn more from Environmental Protection Agency’s Protect your Family and Yourself from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.
Energy Assistance Program
The Energy Assistance Program, funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, helps pay home heating costs and furnace repairs for income-qualified households. Both renters and homeowners are eligible for the program based on income, household size, fuel type, and usage. Learn more about the Energy Assistance Program in Minnesota.
Winter Impacts — Online resources for protecting your home and property from winter damage.
AnswerLine — Phone and email system that can provide reliable, research-based answers to your consumer questions.