Thursday, February 27, 2014

Commerce Department Reminds Minnesotans to Stay Safe About Heating

SAINT PAUL, MN – With continued bitterly cold weather – the coldest winter three decades – not only has it taken a toll on home budgets, but also homeowners may look to alternate heat sources to stay warm.  The Minnesota Department of Commerce, however, urges Minnesotans to be safe about space heaters and carbon monoxide as the deep freeze continues across the state.

“We are reminding everyone to stay safe during Minnesota’s extreme cold weather,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman.  “The sub-zero temperatures and high heating costs have created very hard times for many Minnesotans.  Now is the time to review safety to protect families and seek financial assistance which is available for many eligible households struggling to make ends meet.”  

Use Alternative Heat Sources Safely
The State Fire Marshal (SFM) reminds residents to use caution when using alternative heating sources such as space heaters.

·         Keep anything flammable -- including pets and people -- at least three feet away from heating equipment.

·         Make sure portable space heaters have an automatic shut-off.

·         Turn portable heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.

·         Space heaters need constant watching. Never leave a space heater on when you go to sleep. Never place a space heater close to any sleeping person.

·         Make sure all cords on electric heaters are in good shape and checked periodically for any frays or breaks in the insulation surrounding the wires.

·         Check the cord and outlet occasionally for overheating; if it feels hot, discontinue use.

·         Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes.

·         Use a heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up to date safety features; older space heaters may not meet the newer safety standards.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

·         Make sure CO detectors are working throughout your home; Minnesota law requires CO alarms in every single family and multifamily dwelling.

·         Have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances each year to ensure they are adequately vented and properly maintained. CO testing should be part of the inspection.

·         Make sure furnace exhaust vents, air intake hoods, and chimneys are clear of snow and ice in order to keep the heat on and prevent carbon-monoxide poisoning.

·         Do not idle cars in garages, either attached or unattached, for any length of time. In both cases, start your car and exit the garage immediately. Dangerously high levels of CO will accumulate even if the garage door is open.

·         Provide adequate ventilation when using a fireplace, wood stove or space heater.

·         Portable propane camping equipment and gas barbecues are approved for outdoor use only. Never use them inside cabins, tents, fish houses, or other enclosed shelters.

·         If your car is stuck in snow, make sure that the tail pipe is cleared before starting the engine.

·         During power outages, do not use gasoline engines or burn charcoal in enclosed spaces, including garages, even if the door is open.

·         Never use kitchen stoves, gasoline heaters, or other alternative methods to heat your home if running into financial hardship.  Please contact the Department of CommerceEnergy Assistance Program to learn how you can apply for assistance to pay home heating costs.

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program

Minnesotans who need financial assistance to pay heating bills may find help through the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The Department of Commerce administers LIHEAP in Minnesota, which helps low income households, especially those with seniors, children, veterans and people with disabilities with their heating bill.

Earlier this month, Governor Dayton increased the eligibility for LIHEAP assistance.  Minnesota households earning less than 60% of the state median income are eligible for energy assistance.  The expansion of the program now means that, for example, families of four earning less than $52,370 a year or a home of two earning less than $35,612 are now eligible.

In addition, the Commerce Department increased Crisis Benefits from $500 to $1,000 for Minnesotans heating their homes with propane and heating oil and changed the eligibility requirement from a propane tank at less than 20% full to less than 30% full to ensure timely delivery of fuel before tanks reach critical levels.

To apply for energy assistance, visit the Energy Assistance section of the Department of Commerce Division of Energy Resources website or by calling 1-800-657-3710.  Consumers will be connected to the local service provider in their community for additional information and the energy assistance application.

Propane Assistance

Minnesotans affected by the propane shortage in need of financial assistance or concerns about pricing can call the Propane Emergency Hotline at (800) 657-3504 in Greater Minnesota or (651) 297-1304 in the Twin Cities.