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— When severe winter storms put home heating systems out of commission, families should be equipped to stay warm — safely, said Doug Petty, Miller County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

During severe winter storms, the power could be out for days or weeks. That makes conserving body heat very important, said Petty. It’s timely advice. Arkansas is less than a year removed from devastating winter storms that killed at least 10 people and left more than 80,000 without power.

The easiest way to stay warm is by bundling up. “If cold is severe, your bed may be the warmest place,” said Petty. “Use extra blankets and coverings to trap body heat — this is an especially good way to keep children warm,” he said. Farm families have another option: taking refuge in a warm livestock barn.

Don’t spread the heat around — try to keep it in one location, said Petty.

Choose a room on the “warm” side of the house, away from prevailing winds, and avoid rooms with large windows or uninsulated walls. “Interior bathrooms probably have the lowest air leakage and heat loss,” said Petty. “Your basement may be a warm place in cold weather because the earth acts as insulation and cuts heat loss,” he added. Isolate the room from the rest of the house by keeping doors closed, hanging bedding or heavy drapes over doorways or putting up temporary cardboard or plywood partitions. This will concentrate the heat in one location and make it easier to stay warm.

Any alternative heat source can be dangerous if not properly monitored.

“While chances of freezing to death in your home are small, there’s a greater danger of death by fire, lack of oxygen or carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Petty.

The key lies in making sure alternative heat sources are safe. “Safety is critical in a heating emergency,” said Petty.

Follow these precautions:

• Do not burn anything larger than candles indoors without providing good ventilation to the outside.

• Any non-electric heater should be vented. In the case of un-vented heaters, open a window an inch on either side of the room. This helps lower the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

• Do not use gas or electric ovens for heating, or burn outdoor barbecue materials (such as charcoal briquettes) inside, even in a fireplace.

• Do not try to use bottled gas in natural gas appliances unless they have been converted for such use. In addition, flues and piping made for gas-burning appliances may be unsafe with wood heaters.

• Watch for unintentional fires whenever an alternative heat source is used. One person should stay awake to watch for fire and adequate ventilation.

• Make sure battery-operated smoke and carbon monoxide detectors with alarms are installed, and keep firefighting materials on hand.

Have a backup plan if there aren’t any safe ways to stay warm, said Petty. “Staying with relatives or going to a designated shelter might be an option,” he said.

News, Pages 20 on 12/16/2009

Print Headline: Staying warm and safe in case of a heating emergency

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