It’s important to practice cold weather safety and to take steps to prevent dangerous falls in winter, but it’s also important to make sure you consider indoor safety in winter. As the temperature drops, take these steps to make sure that you and your loved ones are safe and warm when you’re at home.
Fire Safety Tips
Make sure you have a working smoke alarm in every room and a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your home (if you live in a one-story apartment, place it close to the bedrooms). Test all of them at least once a month and change batteries twice a year. Homeowners and landlords are responsible for installing these, but tenants are responsible for maintaining them, including changing batteries.
- Any appliance that gives off heat can be a fire hazard. These include space heaters and electric blankets, as well as coffeemakers and toaster ovens. If possible, purchase appliances that come with a timer. This way, they will shut off automatically before they overheat. And check to make sure cords are in good shape—never use any appliance, lamp, or charger that has a frayed or damaged cord.
- Plug space heaters and electric blankets directly into a wall outlet, rather than an extension cord or power strip. Don’t plug anything else into the outlet when the heater or blanket is on.
- If you use space heaters, turn them off for a few hours every day instead of running them continuously. Be sure to turn them off when you aren’t home, or when children are playing nearby.
- Keep anything that might catch fire at least three feet from a space heater. This includes furniture, curtains, and carpeting. And never drape clothes or towels over a space heater to dry them.
- Replace electric blankets that are 10 years old or older. And avoid tucking them in at the sides or foot of the bed.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
Some portable heaters can lead to fire or dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is released when fuel is burned. Never heat your home with a gas range or oven, a charcoal grill, or a space heater that burns oil, kerosene, or propane. Only use portable heaters that are approved for indoor use.
- Be sure that an appliance that burns oil or gas (such as a boiler or furnace, stove, hot water heater, or clothes dryer) is properly ventilated. If you are not sure yours is vented correctly or working properly, contact your landlord, or contact your utility company or a licensed professional to inspect it and make any repairs.
- If you have a wood-burning fireplace, make sure the chimney is clean. Avoid burning wood that contains resin, such as pine or cedar, which may build up in the chimney and cause fires. (They can also affect breathing and cause asthma attacks.) Always use a screen and be sure the damper is open.
- If your carbon monoxide detector goes off, go outside immediately and call 911. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include vomiting, dizziness, headache, and trouble breathing.
Dry Air Safety Tips
Warm air holds more moisture than cold air. Although winters in New York are fairly humid because of the moisture from the ocean and rivers, dry air in your home can still cause health problems.
- Dry and cold air pulls moisture from your skin (including lips) and nasal passages. To protect skin from cracking (which may lead to infection), use a moisturizing soap when you bathe. After a shower or bath, pat your skin so it’s almost dry and then use a rich lotion (such as Eucerin) or oil to seal in the moisture. Use lotion after you wash your hands, too. (Tip: Corn Huskers Lotion is extremely effective on dry, cracked skin, and it’s oil-free, so your hands won’t be greasy.)
- Some heating systems kick up dust, pollen, and other allergens. If your nostrils and sinuses are already irritated from dry or cold air, this can make breathing difficult. It is particularly dangerous for people with asthma.
- As your sinuses dry out, you may become prone to sore throats or nose bleeds. And because mucus in your nose traps viruses, dry nostrils can increase your chances of catching a cold, sinus infection, and even the flu. Practice good hygiene to prevent infections.
Emergency Cold Weather Information for NYC Residents
If you lose heat or hot water:
- Call your landlord or your building’s superintendent right away. If the heat isn’t fixed, call 311 (TTY 1-212-504-4115).
- Turn on faucets so there’s a steady drip to keep pipes from freezing. (Be sure drains are clear so that water doesn’t back up and cause flooding.)
- See if you can stay with friends, family, or neighbors.
If you can’t leave home:
- Dress warmly.
- Hang blankets over doorways and windows.
- Never try to heat your home using your oven or stove!