Keep Your Home Warm and Safe During the Winter
Sara Croymans and Lori Hendrickson, Extension Educators — Family Resiliency
December 2012; revised October 2016 by Lori Hendrickson.
English | español
As we think about winter weather, we think about increased utility costs, but we may need to consider additional measures to stay warm and safe at home. Staying warm can be much more challenging if the heat goes out in your home. Community resources may be available to help those who need assistance heating their home.
Keep Warm and Reduce Costs
Both homeowners and renters can save on heating costs and help keep their homes warm by taking simple steps.
- Set your heat at 68 degrees or lower. To save on heating bills, close off rooms you are not using and turn down the thermostat when you are not home or are sleeping.
- Keep extra blankets, sleeping bags, and warm winter coats available if the power goes out.
- To keep warm at home, wear socks and slippers, and long underwear under your clothes. Throw a blanket over your legs when you are sitting.
- Do not use the stove for heat. This is not safe. Besides posing a fire hazard, turning on stove burners or your oven to provide additional heat can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. If appliances using these fuel sources are maintained and used correctly, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless. At high levels, it can kill a person in minutes.
- Portable space heaters are a good choice as an additional heat source. When using an electric space heater, make sure it has an automatic shut-off switch and non-glowing element. Remember, never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water and keep it at least three feet away from furniture and drapes. Never leave children unattended near a space heater.
For more information, see:
- Fall and Winter Energy Saving Tips — U.S. Department of Energy — These simple and inexpensive actions can help you save energy and money during the cool fall and winter months.
- Put a Freeze on Winter Fires — United States Fire Administration — Practical tips to reduce your risk of fires.
- Keep your home safe from fire — Follow these nine tips to keep you and your home safe from electrical fires and other types of fires. English | español
- Carbon monoxide — Your safe home — Information about the risks, detection and prevention of carbon monoxide problems in the home. español | English | Lus Hmoob | Soomaali
Stay Safe during Winter Storms
Winter storms are considered a natural disaster. They can have a devastating effect on families and their homes. Here are some things to be aware of:
- If you lose power and resort to using alternative heating equipment or other heat sources (ovens, grills, etc.), you could be facing a winter fire or carbon monoxide issues if the equipment is used incorrectly. Follow the operating instructions for all heating equipment and use only in locations they were intended for.
- Generators, often used during power outages, may be hazardous if not properly used and maintained. Follow the operating instructions as listed in the owner’s manual.
- Damaged utility lines not only present a fire hazard, but can also be life threatening.
- Water damaged appliances and utilities may still be electrically charged. Unplug damaged appliances, turn off electrical breakers (or switches), and contact your utility company as needed.
- Frozen water pipes can burst and cause home damage and safety hazards. If possible, drain and shut off water pipes that are not used frequently in the winter, especially those that lead outside.
- Gas lines, gas propane containers, and vehicle gas tanks may explode or ignite if they are leaking. If you smell gas, exit immediately and call for help.
Reduce the probability of becoming a fire casualty by identifying potential hazards and following the safety tips outlined in U.S. Fire Administration and FEMA’s Winter Storm Fire Safety (42 K PDF).
Energy Assistance Program
The Energy Assistance Program, funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, helps pay home heating costs and furnace repairs for income-qualified households. Both renters and homeowners are eligible for the program based on income, household size, fuel type, and usage. Learn more about the Energy Assistance Program on the Minnesota Department of Commerce website.
Center for Disease Control (2014). Winter Weather Checklists.
Ready.gov (2014). Winter Storms and Extreme Cold.
Winter impacts — Online resources for protecting your home and property from winter damage.
Tips for Surviving Severe Cold Weather — Insurance Information Institute — Tips and steps you can take to keep your home safe and make insurance losses less likely during extended severe weather.
Home Energy Squad — Center for Energy and Environment — If you are in the metro area, schedule a visit with the Home Energy Squad. They will help you understand your home's energy use and save money on your utility bills.