Cold Weather Home Safety - the Danger of CO When the Power is Out
January 30, 2024

With cold weather this time of year, emergencies caused by people trying to stay warm, or trying to cook food with the power out in bad weather are risking injuries and death this winter. So here are some cold weather home safety lessons that can save your life:

Carbon Monoxide is an Invisible Killer

You can't smell it, but the carbon monoxide that is in exhaust fumes can cause real harm in the home. Carbon monoxide or CO is created by combustion engines (like on cars and generators) and from the smoke from barbeque grills and cookers. How can CO get into your home? CO gas can leak into your home when generators, cars or grills are operated too close to the home, like on porches or in the entryways to garages. Even homes with closed windows and doors are not fully air tight, and windy conditions can drive smoke and CO gases into the home.

Safety Lesson: Always locate power equipment and gas/charcoal grills well away from homes, in well ventilated areas, and have a working CO alarm in your home.

Charcoal Grills and Cookers are for the Outdoors

When the power is out, people quickly turn to the barbeque for cooking. But in the middle of winter, the temptation is to use grills and cookers on back porches, in the garage and even indoors. CO gas, smoke and the risk of fire all present real dangers for homes and businesses.

Safety Lesson: Never use outdoor cooking equipment indoors, for any reason.

Power Out? Generator Safety

Portable generators are helpful when winter storms result in power outages, but generator engines produce exhaust that is dangerous, and gasoline should never be used indoors either. Generators are designed to be operated outdoors, well away from homes, even in very poor weather.

Safety Lesson: Never operate a portable generator indoors, or close to a home. Never refuel a running generator -- let the engine cool before refilling a gasoline tank as gas vapors are highly flammable.

No Heat/No Power -- How to stay warm?

When the power is out, and the weather is very, very cold, people often look for alternative sources of heat. Fire Departments across the country have seen grills, deep fryers, gas powered shop heaters, gas ovens and other similar devices used inside the home to create heat. These devices are never to be used to provide heat sources. There is a significant risk of both fire and CO poisoning. Even when the power is out, gas ovens may still work, but ovens are also not designed to be used as a heat source.

Safety Lesson: Never use outdoor appliances as an alternative heat source -- avoid the risk of fire or CO poisoning

Cars are a Place to Get Warm?

In a difficult situation, escaping to the family car to get warm may seem like a good idea, but too many families make the mistake of sitting in a running car inside the garage. The car's engine is creating exhaust and that exhaust inside a garage will quickly fill a house with dangerous CO gasses.

Safety Lesson: Never run an automobile inside the garage. If a car engine must idle, it should be in the driveway, well away from a residence.

For more information, see these great websites listed below.

Hyperlinks: NFPA on Generator Safety
Safety During Power Outages
Car Safety in Garages