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Prepare for the cold weather ahead
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Red Cross
October 24, 2008

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts home heating fuel costs will go up 15 percent this winter from what they were last year. Those who use heating oil and natural gas face the biggest increases, but double-digit increases are also ahead for those who heat with propane and electricity.


This may force many to use alternative heating sources this winter, increasing the risk of home fires. According to a recent survey by the Red Cross and the National Fire Protection Association, 79% of people are concerned about the rising costs of heating their home and nearly half (48%) of all U.S. households are planning to use an alternative heat source like space heaters, stoves, ovens, and fireplaces to heat their homes because of the rising cost of fuel. Because home heating is a leading cause of home fires, the Red Cross is asking people to take special precautions this winter.

To help cut down on the expense of keeping your house warm this winter, the American Red Cross offers these suggestions on getting your home ready for the cold weather. If you plan to use a space heater or alternate source of heat, follow the tips below to prevent home heating fires.


  • Change the filters on your furnace and if possible, have it cleaned by a professional.
  • Make sure heat vents aren't blocked by furniture.
  • Turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater. You'll be surprised at the savings on your heating bill.
  • Close off any rooms you aren't using and close heat vents or turn off radiators in those rooms.
  • Drafts mean cold air is leaking into your home. Use either insulating tape or caulking strips to surround your windows and door moldings. You can cover your windows with plastic sheeting. If you have storm windows or storm doors, use them to keep cold air out.
  • If you can, buy heavy curtains to prevent cold drafts, even in the kitchen. Open them during the day to let the sun help warm your house, and close them at night. Use "fabric snakes," or old rugs in front of windows and doors to help eliminate drafts.
  • Insulate your light switch and outlet plates with foam pads. Cold air can seep into the house through them.
  • Cover your hot water heater with insulating material. You'll use less energy to heat the water.
  • If your home sits above-ground and some of your pipes are exposed, wrap them to save on energy and prevent freezing.
  • Turn off any outside faucets, drain your hose, and cover the faucets. Use caulking or weather stripping around all pipes where they enter your home - yet another way to eliminate drafts.
  • If you plan to use a wood burning fireplace, to cut down on your heating bill, first get your chimney cleaned and inspected by a professional. Close the damper when the fireplace is not in use to keep heat from escaping through it.
  • Remember, heat rises. Block off rooms upstairs you don't use during the day to keep the heat downstairs.
  • Turn off vent fans in the kitchen and bathroom as soon as the job is done.
  • Use your ceiling fans and re-set them to blow warm air down in the winter.

Install smoke alarms on every floor of your home and outside sleeping areas.

  • Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
  • Keep fire in the fireplace by using glass or metal fire screens. Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended, extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house and provide constant adult supervision in rooms with fires lit.
  • Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces and chimneys inspected annually by a professional and cleaned, if necessary.
  • Appliances are for cooking, not heating: never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
  • Keep all flammable materials and potential fuel sources - including but not limited to newspapers, matches, bedding, clothing, carpets and rugs - at least three feet away from heat sources such as space heaters, fireplaces and stoves.
  • Space heaters: Whether operating on electricity, gas, kerosene, coal or wood, read and follow the manufacturer's instructions on how, when and where to safely use them. Place space heaters on a level, hard and nonflammable surface such as ceramic tile floor not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep. Keep children and pets away from space heaters. Do not use space heaters to dry wet clothing.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers those in need help with their utility bills through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). To find out if you qualify and learn how to apply for this assistance contact your LIHEAP State grantee, Indian Tribe or Tribal Organization grantee, or Insular Area grantee. You can also contact the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) project at 1-866-674-6327, or by emailing them at energy assistance@ncat.org.
Visit www.RedCross.org for additional fire prevention and safety tips.

About the American Red Cross:
All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year, disasters like the Hurricanes of 2008, by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disaster. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster please do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-RED-CROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.


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