Firing up your heater? Here's some cold-weather safety tips to know

Protect your pets, homes, plants from freezing temps

By Sophia Beausoleil - Reporter

HOUSTON - It’s been a while since Houston has experienced cold weather, so here’s a reminder of what you need to know as we enter freezing temperatures. 

HVAC systems

As the temperature drops, the number of calls for HVAC technicians has increased as people start to use their heaters. 

David Bedingfield with Air Specialist Inc. said there are multiple reasons why units fail. 

“A lot of it is lack of maintenance; also, dirty filters or anything like that can contribute to a failure at that point in time," Bedingfield said. 

He said because dirty filters can disrupt air flow, it can cause carbon monoxide to be released into the house, which is itself a danger. He also said it can cause the motor to not operate, which can cut the system off. 

“Just because it’s working doesn't mean it’s safe; safety is a No. 1 factor on a gas furnace,” Bedingfield said. 

He said as people turn on their heaters for the first time this season, they may notice a burning smell, but said It’s dust that’s accumulated over the summer. 

“You get dust across the heat exchangers when the blower is running with the AC, so you’re actually burning ... dust,” Bedingfield explained. “You’ll get that first smell usually for about  first 10 or 15 minutes, but usually that will go away for you.”

“Electric, you’re going to get a really good smell off of those when they first start up, they actually collect more dust on the heating strips, it actually smells like it’s on fire,” Bedingfield said. “My wife turned mine on yesterday and ... I could smell it from the back of the house.”

He said if people’s heaters do not work, make sure they have it checked out and do not rely on the stove. 

"Gas or electric, get it checked. No matter what, make sure it’s safe. You want to be warm, but do not turn your stove on to stay warm. Put on a jacket. The stove will kill you, gas leaks will kill you. That’s carbon monoxide, you’ll die. Honestly,” Bedingfield said.

Space Heaters

Always plug a space heater into the wall outlet.  Never plug it into an extension cord, because it can overload it and cause a fire. 

“You’ll see people put them in their bedrooms and there’s stuff around them like clothes or kids toys and that has the potential for combustion and that will start a fire,” said Amy Ramon, fire chief at Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department. 

She said it’s important to make sure that space heaters are approved and to check the cords to make sure they’re not tattered.  

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Ramon said people need to check their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they work.

“With the first cold snap, we see a lot of problems where a lot of people don’t have their heaters checked out or haven’t had the chance to have them checked out and they’ll turn on their heaters in their house.  There’s a buildup in dust or a crack in their heater and a chance of carbon monoxide and fires,” said Ramon. 

The three P's

The chief said it’s important to remember to wrap pipes, protect plants and bring in pets. 

“The three Ps, if you can remember that. You want to wrap your pipes. If you have a sprinkler system, you want to drain the water out of it. You want to protect your plants,  cover up the ones that can’t take the cold and you want to especially put your pets inside,” said Ramon.

Pets

Julie Kuenstle with the Houston SPCA said it’s important to remember that if you’re cold, that means so are your pets. 

“Your pet’s age and health breed certainly give an indication on how they can handle the weather.  We recommend indoors on a soft bed or a crate, away from draft areas and especially floor and space heaters because that can present a danger,” explained Kuenstle. 

She also said if people have to keep their dogs outside, make sure their shelter is wind and water proof, along with elevated.  

“Also keep in mind that outdoor dogs in this kind of weather eat up to 50 percent more because they’re burning energy to stay warm,” said Kuenstle.  “You want to stay away from metal bowls because if the water freezes, they can actually get their tongue stuck to the metal bowl.” 

Even though it may not be hot, Kuenstle said cars can become freezers just as much as they become ovens during the summer.  She suggested avoiding leaving pets in the car. 

“If you’re cold, then more than likely your pet is cold,” said Kuenstle. “This week we’re getting close to freezing temperatures. It’s always a good idea to bring them into the laundry room, or garage.”

She said they also have a 24/7 injured animal ambulance for a stray animal that may be in distress and not doing well in the freezing cold.  

According to the Houston SPCA website, call 713-869-SPCA (7722) seven days a week between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. After hours and holidays, please call 713-880-HELP (4357).

As for livestock, Kuenstle suggested people make sure barns have enough hay and horses have blankets and water troughs don’t freeze.

Tire pressure

All day long drivers waited in lines at Discount Tire in Southwest Houston along I-59  to have their air-pressure checked.

“I came out to go to the gym and it’s almost flat,” said Lazarick Hogan about his tire.

His Tire Pressure Monitoring System symbol showed up on his dashboard earlier Tuesday morning. 

According to Discount Tire’s website, for every 10 degrees drop in the temperature, tire pressure will go down by 1 pound per square inch, PSI.

"If you have the wrong air pressure, then you don't get good mileage with your gas just a lot of different reasons for safety,” said Justeen Wedlaw who also had her tires checked. 

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