When the snow and sleet start falling, so do the power lines.  Many folks turn to portable propane and kerosene space heaters.  Unfortunately, carbon monoxide poisoning is often more deadly than the cold temperatures.  Any heater that uses combustible fuels creates carbon monoxide.

Here is a list of ten safe practices for your space heater.

  1. Only use heaters that carry an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listing.
  2. Use only the approved fuel for the heater. You should never use gasoline.  Only use approved containers that are clearly marked for that particular fuel.  Store them outdoors.  Keep the fuel away from the heater.
  3. Never fill a heater that is still hot.  Follow the manufacturer’s fueling instructions.  Do not overfill the heater — you must allow for the expansion of the liquid.  Do not allow children to refill or operate the heater.  Teach them what to do in the event of an emergency.
  4. Have vented space heaters professionally inspected every year.
  5. Do not leave the heater running unattended.  Do not sleep with the heater on.
  6. Ensure heater is outside traffic areas where it could be knocked over and away from materials that could catch fire (rug, chair, drapes, etc.).
  7. Keep a Class B fire extinguisher nearby (class B is for combustible fuels).  Ensure all family members are trained on its use.
  8. Locate the heater in a well-ventilated space. Crack a window in the room where the heater is located.
  9. If the heater is not vented properly dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) can enter the home causing sickness and death. CO also can be produced if the heater is not properly set up and adjusted for the type of gas used and the altitude at which it is installed.  If you do not have CO detectors installed in your home purchase a battery-operated one.  Test it regularly and keep fresh batteries on hand.
  10. The symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu without the fever: nausea, headache, burning eyes, confusion and drowsiness.  If anyone starts exhibiting these symptoms, get everyone outside immediately and call 911 or the fire department.  Don’t forget the pets!

Check out http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/portable-heaters for more tips!

Matt S
Matt is a former infantry officer in the US Army with a degree in systems engineering from West Point. He currently works as an engineering consultant integrating hardware and software into new applications. He is a graduate of Airborne School, Air Assault School, and SERE-High Risk (Level C) at JFKSWCS.

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