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Autumn is a busy and beautiful time of year, but it also can be deadly. That's why MidAmerican Energy is urging customers to take the time this fall to ensure that their homes are safe.

A particular danger in the home-heating season is carbon monoxide poisoning. Approximately 200 people in the U.S. die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with fuel-burning heating equipment in the home, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Any fuel that is incompletely burned produces carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas. The gas can leak from faulty furnaces or fuel-fired heaters or can be trapped inside by a blocked chimney or flue. Burning charcoal inside the house or running an automobile engine in an attached garage also will produce carbon monoxide in the home.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to flu-like illnesses. They include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea and irregular breathing. 

To guard against carbon monoxide poisoning, consumers should have their home-heating systems (including chimneys and flues) inspected each year for proper operation and potential leakage. Inspectors should check all heating appliances and their electrical and mechanical components, thermostat controls and automatic safety devices.

In addition, properly working carbon monoxide detectors can provide an early warning before the deadly gas builds up to a dangerous level. Exposure to a low concentration over several hours can be as dangerous as exposure to high carbon monoxide levels for a few minutes. Newer model sensors will detect both conditions. 

The devices are relatively inexpensive and every home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector on every level. 

Carbon monoxide isn't the only danger associated with autumn, which is also a peak period for fires and some types of injuries. To simplify home safety measures this season, MidAmerican offers its customers the following fall safety tips:
  1. GET A SENSOR: During cold weather, your furnace will be running and your windows will be closed, so you should install a carbon monoxide detector near your home's bedrooms.

  2. SERVICE FURNACE: Before the heating season, a qualified heating technician should service your furnace to ensure that it will operate safely and efficiently.

  3. CHECK THE CHIMNEY: Inspect your chimney to make sure it is unobstructed. Because many furnaces vent into the chimney, it must be free of debris to allow products of combustion to vent to the outside atmosphere. If you will be burning wood in a fireplace, have the chimney inspected to make sure it is in good condition and free of creosote buildup.

  4. CLEAR THE AREA: Make sure the area around your furnace is clear for good air circulation. Keep all flammable materials, such as clothing, cardboard boxes, paint thinners, fuels and solvents, far away from the furnace.

  5. NEVER HEAT WITH AN OVEN: On chilly autumn mornings, avoid the temptation to warm the kitchen with a gas range or an open oven door. The unvented products of combustion can quickly build to toxic levels.

  6. WATCH SPACE HEATERS: Be cautious with portable heaters or space heaters, making sure to follow manufacturer instructions for safe venting and use. Place them at least three feet away from any combustibles, such as wallpaper, bedding, draperies, clothing and furniture. Never leave them operating when you are away from the room or asleep. Don't leave children or pets unattended with space heaters, and never use them to dry clothing, shoes or mittens.

  7. LOOK UP: When cleaning gutters, installing storm windows, picking apples, or harvesting fall crops, avoid overhead power lines. Before you work, look up from your work area to inspect for overhead power lines. Then make sure to stay clear of electrical lines when working with ladders, pruning poles, tractors, grain augers, equipment with antennas, etc.

  8. STAY ABOARD: If your tractor or other moving equipment contacts an overhead power line, stay on the vehicle, and get someone to contact MidAmerican immediately to remove the danger. Stepping away from the vehicle can cause you to become the path for the electricity to follow and result in electrocution.

  9. DIAL BEFORE DIGGING: Anytime you plan to dig, whether as part of a construction job or homeowner project (such as putting up a fence or basketball hoop, planting trees or shrubs, installing a pool, building a home addition, deck, etc.) please call your state’s One Call system at least 48 hours prior to the excavation — it's a free service and it is the law. In Iowa, call 800-292-8989; in Illinois, 800-892-0123; in South Dakota, 800-781-7474; in Nebraska, 800-331-5666. One Call will contact MidAmerican locators, who will mark MidAmerican-owned underground gas and electric utility locations within 48 hours of your call. Customer-owned wires and piping, including those running to grills, yard lights or outbuildings will not be marked. The services of a plumbing and heating dealer or qualified private contractor should be sought for locating customer-owned gas piping or electric lines.

  10. LIGHT FOR SAFETY: As days grow short, make sure outdoor lighting is in good working order. Good lighting can protect you against crime and falls or accidents caused by darkness. Inspect fixtures and outlets for weather damage and replace burnt-out bulbs.