Keep your home warm and safe in winter

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In winter, our thoughts often turn first to higher utility costs. But we may need to consider more measures to stay warm and safe at home. Staying warm becomes more challenging if the heat goes out in your home. In that case, look for community resources to help you heat your house or apartment.

Keep warm and reduce costs

Whether you're a homeowner or renter, you can keep your home warm and save on heating costs. Just take these simple steps:

  • Set your heat at 68 degrees or lower. To save on heating bills, close off rooms you don't use. Also turn the thermostat below 68 degrees when you're asleep or away from home.
  • Keep extra blankets, sleeping bags, and warm winter coats available if the power goes out.
  • To keep warm at home, wear socks, slippers and long underwear. Throw a blanket over your legs when you are sitting.
  • Do not turn on stove burners or the oven for heat. This poses a fire hazard and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. Maintaining and using appliances running on these fuel sources correctly usually keeps CO levels safe. But if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless. At high levels, it can kill a person in minutes.
  • Portable space heaters are a good choice to provide more heat. Make sure your space heater has an automatic shut-off switch and a non-glowing element. Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water. Also keep it at least three feet away from furniture and drapes. Never leave children unattended near a space heater.

For more information, see the following resources.

Stay safe during winter storms

Winter storms are natural disasters. They can have a devastating effect on families and their homes. Here are some things to be aware of:

  • If you lose power, don't use stoves, ovens, grills, or other cooking equipment for heat. This could cause fires or carbon monoxide poisoning. Only use proper equipment, like space heaters, to provide heat. And use them correctly (see above).
  • You may use a generator during power outages. But be sure to maintain and operate it correctly. Follow the operating instructions as listed in the owner’s manual.
  • Stay away from damaged utility lines. They present a fire hazard and can be life threatening.
  • Water-damaged appliances and utility equipment, like water heaters, may still be electrically charged. Unplug damaged appliances and equipment. Also turn off electrical breakers or switches and contact your utility company.
  • Frozen water pipes can burst and cause home damage and safety hazards. 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.

Don't let fire hurt your home or you. Identify potential hazards and follow safety tips in the U.S. Fire Administration's Winter storm fire safety fact sheet.

Get help from the Energy Assistance Program

The federal Energy Assistance Program helps pay home heating costs and furnace repairs if you qualify. 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 on the Minnesota Department of Commerce website.

Sara Croymans and Lori Hendrickson, Extension educators in family resiliency

Reviewed in 2018

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