Prepare for Cold Weather

Prepare for Cold Weather
Columbia Gas of Maryland offers tips on appliance checks, carbon monoxide and safe heating practices

Columbia Gas of Maryland urges customers to prepare their homes and check their natural gas appliances this heating season.
"The first cold snap of the year is always the busiest time for both Columbia Gas operations employees and heating contractors," said Deborah Cochenour, manager of universal services. "Customers should have their natural gas appliances checked to make sure they are operating properly, especially your furnace."
Properly maintaining your natural gas appliances can increase operating efficiency and reduce energy bills. Making sure your natural gas appliances are working properly also is important for safety.
"People tend to spend more time at home during the colder months. In colder weather close doors and windows. In general, they seal the home tighter than during the summer months," Cochenour added. "A malfunctioning natural gas appliance or a poorly installed secondary heating device could produce carbon monoxide."
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have joined forces to warn residents not to use gasoline-powered generators or charcoal grills indoors or in attached garages because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless and non-corrosive gas created by the improper combustion of natural gas or other fossil fuels such as gasoline, heating oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal. Carbon monoxide is relatively harmless in open spaces but can be very poisonous if allowed to accumulate. Malfunctioning appliances or improper venting are major causes of carbon monoxide. Customers should learn the symptoms and preventative actions in avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning this winter.
Here are several tips to help customers prepare:
* Customers without service should contact their local utility company to make arrangements to have their service restored.
* Columbia Gas of Maryland offers customers of all income levels a variety of programs to help restore and manage their heating bills and expenses.
* Customers should follow the maintenance schedule outlined on the appliance.
* Change your filters at the start of and during the heating season to help your furnace operate more efficiently all winter.
* Consider having a qualified heating contractor inspect your heating system and other natural gas appliances at the beginning of the season to ensure its proper operation.
* If you have gas logs, inspect them and ensure they are in proper working condition.
* Never use appliances to heat your home that are not designed for that purpose, such as ovens or grills.
* Follow manufacturer instructions and safety warnings when using supplement-heating devices.
* Electrical-heating devices also can pose a hazard when used improperly--follow all safety warnings.
Carbon monoxide symptoms
The symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure are similar to the flu. They include but are not limited to headache, dizziness, and drowsiness, ringing in the ears, nausea, violent coughing and irregular breathing.
Other household symptoms include foul-smelling or stale air; the smell of exhaust fumes; a yellow/orange flame on natural gas range, furnace or water heater burners; soot around outside of chimney, furnace or water heater flue vent or fireplace; and large areas of condensation of water vapor on walls or windows.
What to Do
Get into fresh air quickly if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. Call emergency responders and seek immediate medical attention. Immediately after victim is taken care of, call a qualified contractor to locate the cause of the problem and make necessary repairs.
Carbon monoxide safety tips
* Purchase carbon monoxide detectors.
* Be sure all fuel-burning equipment (coal, wood, charcoal, natural gas, kerosene and fuel oil) is installed, adjusted and operated properly.
* Have appliances installed by a professional, and carefully follow manufacturer instructions.
* Do not cut off or restrict combustion air sources to appliances.
* Maintain equipment per manufacturer's recommendation.
* Provide adequate ventilation in house when using stoves, fireplaces or unvented space heaters.
* Never burn charcoal indoors or in an enclosed space.
* Clean chimney and check for blockage, especially with wood burning fireplaces and stoves.
* Open garage door before starting vehicle.

Courtesy of Columbia Gas of Maryland, www.columbiagas.com