Winter Home Safety

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Winter Home Safety

Winter is now in full force in Wisconsin. With the extreme conditions of cold weather comes the need for extra heating to stay warm. With proper precaution, you can be ready if something happens. Here are three topics to address on whether or not your house is properly equipped.

January is National Radon Action Month. Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to EPA estimates. Overall, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is a radioactive colorless, odorless, tasteless gas. Not all areas have high levels of radon, but some do. This gas is produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water.

Radon enters your home through cracks in concrete slabs or walls, floor to wall joints, exposed soil, drain tile where a sump pump may be, mortar joints, well water and more. The Air Pressure inside your home is usually lower than the pressure in the soil around your home’s foundation. Soil is the principal source of elevated radon levels, and mitigation systems are commonly found in homes where is above safe levels.

Testing: There are Do-it-Yourself radon kits available. They are cheap and easy to use. All you need to do is collect an air sample under consistent conditions (weather, wind and barometric pressure do have an impact on the test). Send the test kit in for examination and results. If you find that your home has high radon, contact an expert in the field to install a mitigation system.

Winter is the most common time of year for home fires, due to the increased need for home heating. There is a variety of home heating sources used by properties all over the area, including Natural Gas or LP Furnaces, Wood Burning stoves, Pellet Stoves, Electric or Radiant Baseboard heaters, Space Heaters, and Outdoor Wood Boilers. All of them pose some sort of fire hazard.

Be sure to have smoke alarms in all key areas of your home, including near the furnace, bedrooms and kitchen. Some models are direct wired to your home’s electrical system. If they are battery operated, be sure to put in new batteries at least once a year. A good rule of thumb would be to change them when Daylight Savings begins and ends – twice a year. And of course, have a Fire Extinguisher in a location that is quickly and easily accessible. Be sure to check its charge level annually as well.

Carbon Monoxide (Known as CO – its symbol on the periodic element table) is found in fumes produced any time you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces. CO can build up indoors and poison people and animals who breathe it.

The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. CO symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” If you breathe in a lot of CO it can make you pass out or kill you. People who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before they have symptoms.

It is now State Law in Wisconsin for residences to have installed Carbon Monoxide Detectors, IF the structure contains a gas heater or appliance, fireplace, or attached garage. There must be one unit on each level of the dwelling, including the basement.

How can I prevent CO poisoning in my home?

Install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. Place your detector where it will wake you up if it alarms, such as outside your bedroom. Consider buying a detector with a digital readout. This detector can tell you the highest level of CO concentration in your home in addition to alarming. Replace your CO detector every five years.

Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.

Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors. 

If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator have an expert service it. An odor from your gas refrigerator can mean it could be leaking CO.

When you buy gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as Underwriters’ Laboratories.

Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly. Horizontal vent pipes for appliances, such as a water heater, should go up slightly as they go toward outdoors, as shown below. This prevents CO from leaking if the joints or pipes aren’t fitted tightly.

Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris. This can cause CO to build up inside your home or cabin.

Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum, or something else. This kind of patch can make CO build up in your home, cabin, or camper.

Never use a gas range or oven for heating. Using a gas range or oven for heating can cause a build up of CO inside your home, cabin, or camper.

Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal – red, gray, black, or white – gives off CO.

Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors. Using a gas camp stove indoors can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper.

Never use a generator inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent.

When using a generator, use a battery-powered or battery backup CO detector in your home.