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Stay safe and warm during winter emergencies

A hand holding a log reaches toward a fireplace.

Feb. 5, 2022— The winter storm that hit large parts of the U.S. this week serves as a reminder of how important it is to know how to stay warm safely when the power goes out. Portable generators or charcoal grills can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning if they are used inside the house.

Here's what you need to know to stay safe.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas. It's colorless and odorless and can kill in minutes. CO is produced by:

  • Furnaces.
  • Motor vehicles.
  • Portable generators.
  • Stoves.
  • Lanterns.
  • Gas ranges.
  • Burning wood.

You should have CO alarms installed outside each sleeping area in your home and on each floor, if it has multiple stories. If the alarm goes off, don't hang around to investigate. Leave your house at once and call 911.

Safely staying warm

Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others for heating your home safely and staying warm when the power goes out.

1. Use portable generators safely:

  • Keep them outside and at least 20 feet away from the house.
  • Point the generator's exhaust away from the home.
  • Never operate a portable generator inside a home, garage, basement or shed; on the porch; or near a window.
  • Plug appliances into the generator using individual heavy-duty extension cords rated for outdoor use.

2. Use fireplaces and wood stoves safely:

  • Use fireplaces and wood stoves only if they are vented to the outside.
  • Don't burn paper in a fireplace. It can create dangerous fumes.

3. Take care with alternate heat sources:

  • Never burn charcoal indoors or in a garage, even with the door open.
  • Don't run a motor vehicle inside a garage, even with the door open.
  • Don't try to heat your house with a gas oven.

4. Conserve heat where you can:

  • If you have curtains, close them.
  • Close off unused rooms.
  • Stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors.
  • Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing.
  • Use blankets, sleeping bags and warm winter coats.
  • Don't skip meals. Eating regularly will prompt your body to produce its own heat.
  • Drink warm broth or juice. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • If needed, get to a warming shelter in your community.

For more tips on staying safe this winter, check out our Winter Health topic center.

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The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.