MINNEAPOLIS - CenterPoint Energy is offering winter safety information to help its customers and the general public stay safe this winter. Contractors can also pass along the following tips to their customers.

Carbon monoxide poisoning: Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and non-irritating poisonous gas. Symptoms of CO poisoning can resemble the common flu - headaches, nausea, fatigue, confusion, and dizziness. These symptoms vary depending on a person's age and general health, level of physical activity, and the duration and concentration of the exposure. Any fuel-burning appliance, equipment, or engine has the potential to produce CO. This is more likely to occur if the equipment is poorly maintained, improperly operated or adjusted, or if a home has insufficient ventilation.

  • Have all fuel-burning equipment and appliances inspected annually by a qualified professional, as recommended by manufacturers. The inspection helps to ensure safe operation, efficiency, and dependability.

  • Do not leave vehicles running in an attached garage. In as little as 45 seconds, a vehicle can produce a significant level of CO from exhaust that can gradually enter the home. This can occur even when the garage door is left open while a vehicle runs inside. Pull motor vehicles all the way out of the garage immediately after starting them and close the garage door.

  • Install a CO detector as an added layer of defense. Look for a quality device with an audible alarm and digital readout. Make sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation and operation.

  • Never confine fuel-burning appliances in small, tightly sealed areas while in use. These appliances need plenty of fresh air for safe combustion and ventilation. Also keep the surrounding area free of debris and clutter, and keep flammable substances a safe distance away.

  • Make sure fresh air intakes are not blocked or restricted. The intake brings fresh air to natural gas furnaces and water heaters for their combustion, and helps provide important fresh air exchange for your home.

  • Be sure all fuel-burning appliances are properly vented and the vents are in good condition. Appliances need proper ventilation to ensure combustion gases are removed from the home. Visually inspect the vents for rust, holes, or gaps. You may need a qualified professional to check the vents to ensure they are properly installed.

  • Never use charcoal or gas grills inside the home or garage, even with doors or windows open. Also, charcoal grills should never be stored in the garage until the coals are completely out.

  • Keep vents and chimneys clear of debris or other blockages. Never leave a fire smoldering in the fireplace.

  • Don't try to heat a room with a gas range, oven, or clothes dryer.

  • Make sure all fuel-burning appliances show a clear blue flame. A yellow or orange flame may indicate a problem and should be checked by a qualified technician.

  • Watch for signs that your home is not receiving enough fresh air for moisture control and proper appliance operation. They include: excessive humidity in the home indicated by heavy moisture or frost on the inside of windows; soot buildup on ceilings and walls, the front of a fireplace, or front panel of a furnace; or the presence of a peculiar, stale odor or burning eyes when an appliance is operating.

    Staying warm while waiting for appliance service: Very cold weather can create heavy repair demand. Homeowners with heating problems may experience a service delay, even though technicians work overtime to meet this demand. Here are tips to keep warm while waiting for service:

  • Turn on all electrical lights.

  • Fill bathtub with hot water.

  • Bake cookies. The heat from the oven and the activity will warm you and your home. Do not, however, just turn on the oven and open the door. An oven is not a space heater.

  • If the outside temperature is above 20 degrees F, build a fire in the fireplace. If it's colder than 20 degrees F, do not, because the fireplace will pull in cold air rather than create warm air.

  • Use sweaters, blankets, or an electric space heater. Do not use unvented heaters such as kerosene heaters or lamps.

    Publication date: 01/16/2006