Fireplace and Generator Safety and Prevention of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

fireplace safety

Fireplace and Generator Safety and Prevention of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

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Things to Know Before You Spark Up the Logs

With natural gas and propane prices continuing to rise, you’ll likely be looking to the old fireplace this winter to help cut your home-heating bills. But before you spark up the logs, take heed that fireplaces and chimneys are involved in 42 percent of all home-heating fires. So first make sure you know how to use your fireplace by following these seven safety tips.

1. Hire a Chimney Sweep

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys be swept at least once a year at the beginning of the winter to remove soot and debris. Find a certified sweep in your area via the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

2. Check for Damage

In addition to cleaning, a chimney sweep should inspect the chimney structure for cracks, loose bricks, or missing mortar. Chimney liners should also be checked for cracking or deterioration.

3. Cap the Chimney

A cap fitted with wire-mesh sides covers the top of the chimney and keeps rain, birds, squirrels, and debris from entering. Replace or repair a cap that’s missing or damaged.

4. Burn Seasoned Hardwoods

Choose dense wood, such as oak, that’s been split and stored in a high and dry place for at least six months. Green wood and resinous softwoods like pine produce more creosote, a flammable by-product of combustion that can build up in the chimney.

5. Don’t Overload

Small fires generate less smoke, thus less creosote buildup. Also, a fire that’s too large or too hot can crack the chimney.

6. Build It Right

Place logs at the rear of the fireplace on a metal grate. Use kindling, rather than flammable liquids, to start the fire.

7. Use a Spark Guard

Prevent errant embers from shooting out of the firebox with a mesh metal screen or glass fireplace doors. A guard in front of an open flame is especially important when the room is unoccupied.

Must-Know Tips for Using Your Generator Safely

Power generators can be a lifeline for you and your family in the event you experience a blackout. Properly maintaining your generator is vital to ensuring that it works when you need it. Improper usage of a generator can lead to it malfunctioning or worse, causing a fire and putting your family in danger. By following some simple steps, your generator should be able to provide you with the safety and power security you need during a power outage.

Check the Fuel Level
Your portable generator runs on fuel and it’s necessary to ensure that the tank is kept full. The full line in the tank is typically about an inch from top. Do not put any extra fuel in the generator tank. This could lead to fuel spillage and cause an accidental fire.

Check the Oil Level
Your generator also needs oil to run. Be sure the oil is at an optimal level by lifting the off cap.  If necessary, pour in more oil to fill the tank. Be sure to determine from your product guide the correct type of oil you need before putting it in the tank.

Find a Safe Place
Never run your generator in your home! Push your generator into an outdoor area that is well-ventilated and make sure the exhaust pipe is pointed in a direction away from your home. The fact that your generator is outside does not prevent fumes from getting into your home through windows, doors or exhaust openings. It is vital to ensure that the generator exhaust is located in a dry area at least ten feet from your windows and doors so that it cannot enter your home. This will prevent any chances of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home. It’s a wise choice to have a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm installed in your home. This device will notify you if any CO fumes from your generator do enter your home and put you and your family at risk.

Turn on Your Generator
Set the fuel valve on your generator to “ON.” This is typically a vertical position on most generators. Next, pull the generator choke to “ON” as well. Finally, press the control “ON” button to start the generator. Once the generator has begun operating, you can release the choke.

Plug In Your Appliances
Plug your devices into an extension cord that is designed for this purpose and that can be used outside. Then, plug the extension cord into the generator. If the power outage is lengthy and you need to refill the fuel tank on your generator, turn off all of the connected devices and then turn off the generator as well. Allow the generator enough time to cool completely before adding more fuel to the tank.

Prevent Power Overload
Your generator is designed to support a specific number of electric devices. Smaller generators can usually provide around 3,000 watts of power. That amount of wattage would be enough to power a refrigerator, several lights and a fan or two. Trying to power too many devices can lead to fuse problems on the generator and electrical damage to the devices you are attempting to power. Non-essential appliances should be left off until the power outage is over.

Provide Proper Maintenance
It’s important to keep your generator well-maintained in order for it to operate properly during a blackout. Turn on your generator once a month for about ten minutes to check that it is running as it should be. Your generator should be placed in a safe area outside while you check it. Ensure that you have an electrical appliance connected to it while it is running. If necessary, fill the tank with fuel and make sure that the oil is at its proper level as well. When you are sure that your generator is operating properly, place it back in its normal storage space. Store the fuel for your generator in a proper safety container. Be sure that the fuel container is placed in an area away from your living space.

How Can I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Anyone can be at risk. The CDC says infants, the elderly, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia or breathing problems are more prone to illness or death, but carbon monoxide doesn’t discriminate.

Winter can be a prime time for carbon monoxide poisoning as people turn on their heating systems and mistakenly warm their cars in garages. So, as the weather turns colder, it’s important to take extra precautions.

The National Safety Council recommends you install a battery-operated or battery backup carbon monoxide detector in the hallway near each separate sleeping area in your home. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall and replace the detector every five years.

The CDC offers these additional tips:

  • Have your furnace, water heater and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year
  • Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors
  • Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year, and make sure your fireplace damper is open before lighting a fire and well after the fire is extinguished
  • Never use a gas oven for heating your home
  • Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent; fatal levels of carbon monoxide can be produced in just minutes, even if doors and windows are open
  • Never run a car in a garage that is attached to a house, even with the garage door open; always open the door to a detached garage to let in fresh air when you run a car inside

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The U.S. Fire Administration has put together materials on the dangers of carbon monoxide, including a list of carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms.

Symptom severity varies depending on the level of carbon monoxide and duration of exposure. Mild symptoms sometimes are mistaken for flu.

Low to moderate carbon monoxide poisoning is characterized by:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

High-level carbon monoxide poisoning results in:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death

If you think you are experiencing any of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, go outside and get fresh air immediately. You could lose consciousness and die if you stay in the home.

When the Carbon Monoxide Alarm Sounds

The Consumer Product Safety Commission warns that you should never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm, and do not try to find the source of the gas. Instead, follow these steps:

  • Immediately move outside to fresh air
  • Call emergency services, fire department or 9-1-1
  • Do a head count to check to account for everyone
  • Do not reenter the premises until emergency responders have given you permission to do so

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