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Safety tips for cold weather

Written By: Melissa McDonald, UT Physicians | Updated: January 10, 2021
Woman in winter clothing

Follow these tips to stay safe and warm this season.

With chilly temperatures expected across our region these next few days, an expert at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) has advice regarding dangers that may be present for Houstonians both inside their home and out.

Scott Patlovich, DrPH, assistant vice president of environmental health and safety at UTHealth, offers these facts and tips.

Home-Heating Fire Facts

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 1 in 6 home fires is caused by heating equipment. Space heaters are the type of heating equipment most often involved in home heating fires. The leading factor in fires is placement of heating equipment too close to items such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses, or bedding.

For wood burning fireplaces or stoves, keeping a chimney clean is also extremely important to avoid the buildup of creosote, a dangerous and toxic by-product of burning fires that clings to the chimney walls and can easily catch on fire.

Home-Heating Carbon Monoxide Facts

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of carbon monoxide (CO). Generators not used in well-ventilated areas can also produce dangerous levels of CO. Never place a generator indoors.

The dangers of CO exposure depend on a number of variables including a person’s health and activity level. Infants, pregnant women, and people with physical conditions that limit their body’s ability to use oxygen (i.e. emphysema, asthma, heart disease) can be more severely affected by lower concentrations of CO than healthy adults would be. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, an upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.

Each year, CO poisoning is responsible for more than 50,000 emergency department visits, according to the CDC.

Home Heating Safety Tips

  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment, such as the furnace, fireplace, or portable heater.
  • Only use heating equipment that bears the “UL Mark,” which indicates the product has been rigorously safety tested.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional.
  • Turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • For fuel burning space heaters, always use the proper fuel as specified by the manufacturer.
  • Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room and burn only dry, seasoned wood. Allow ashes to cool before disposing in a metal container, which is kept a safe distance from the home.
  • Make sure all fuel-burning equipment is vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Install and maintain carbon monoxide (CO) alarms to avoid the risk of CO poisoning.
  • Test smoke alarms at least monthly.

Exercise roadway safety

Some precipitation is expected throughout this cold front. If temperatures go below freezing, icy roads become a possibility. Please exercise caution and monitor local media. To stay up to date on current travel conditions, visit the Houston TranStar site.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.