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Tips to stay safe and warm inside when it's bitter cold outside

Temperatures in Houston are expected to be at or below freezing, something we're not used to around these parts.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

HOUSTON — In Houston, it's not unusual to need your air conditioner and heater in the same day. But this arctic blast is a whole new level of extreme weather.

CenterPoint Energy is offering some tips to help keep you safe and warm.

RELATED: Arctic blast update: Temps well below freezing expected in Houston area; ice, sleet and snow possible

Power outages possible

Ice on tree branches could cause downed power lines and widespread power outages. Make sure you have non-perishable food and water for a few days.

Always assume downed lines or wires are energized and potentially dangerous if contacted.

  • Do not go near downed lines or fallen wires.
  • Keep your distance from objects touching downed lines (tree limbs, vehicles, fences, etc.).
  • If someone already made contact with a power line, do not try to rescue them – you can’t help if you become a victim. Instead, call 911.
  • Report downed power lines to 713-207-2222 or 800-332-7143.
  • Sign up for Power Alert Service for information on individual outages;
  • Follow @cnpalerts and visit Outage Tracker for general outage locations; and
  • Visit CenterPointEnergy.com/StormCenter for electric and natural gas safety tips and other resources.

Natural gas safety tips

  • Make sure your heating system is working properly. Malfunctioning home heating equipment can cause a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Check that outside furnace vents aren’t blocked by snow or ice. Keep your furnace filter clean for safe, efficient operation.
  • Use space heaters safely. Use a space heater with an automatic shut-off, and keep children, pets and all items at least three feet away. A space heater that uses gas, propane or wood should be vented to the outside. Stoves and ovens should never be used for space heating. Don't use extension cords. Plug them directly into the wall.

RELATED: How to safely use your space heater during cold weather

  • Check your carbon monoxide (CO) and smoke alarms. These devices are essential to warn you of a fire or dangerous malfunction with a furnace, water heater, fireplace or stove. Test your alarms monthly and change batteries every year.
  • Immediately report a suspected gas leak. If you smell the “rotten egg” odor of natural gas, immediately leave on foot, go to a safe location and call both 911 and CenterPoint Energy at 713-659-2111 or 800-752-8036. Don’t use electric switches, phones (including cell phones), drive or start a car, or do anything that could cause a spark.

RELATED: How to prepare your car for winter weather in Houston

Money-saving tips

Cold temperatures also mean increased energy usage. CenterPoint Energy recommends the following tips for more efficient heating:

  • Set your thermostat no higher than 68 degrees. If possible, set it at 65 degrees when you are home and 60 degrees when you are away from home.
  • Lowering your thermostat can help you save on your annual heating costs. Installing a programmable thermostat can help you automatically control your heat usage. Add on extra layers of clothing to keep warm.
  • Change your air filters monthly. A dirty filter restricts airflow and can increase the operating cost of your furnace by as much as 10 percent. A good reminder is to change the filter each time you receive your natural gas bill.
  • Seal leaks around doors, windows and other openings such as pipes or ducts, with caulk or weather-stripping. The most common places where air escapes in homes are floors, walls, ceilings, ducts, fireplaces, plumbing penetrations, doors, windows, fans, vents and electrical outlets.
  • If it has been a while, consider adding more insulation in your attic.
  • Run your washing machine, dishwasher and gas dryer only with full loads.
  • On sunny days, open draperies and blinds to let the sun’s warmth in. Close them at night to insulate against the cold air outside.

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