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By Jennifer Nuhfer
Special to The SUN
Home heating is a saving grace this time of year. One of the best feelings during the dead of winter is coming home to a warm house after spending time in the biting cold. But, for as much comfort as home heating provides us, it also exposes us to certain safety hazards.
According to the American Red Cross, home heating is one of the leading causes of house fires in the U.S. We at LEAP, the Colorado Department of Human Service’s low-income energy assistance program to help people pay winter home heating costs, understand the importance of keeping warm during these next few months. We want to make sure you keep warm safely.
“There are several easy steps people can take to make sure they’re using home heating equipment in a safe way this winter,” LEAP Manager Aggie Berens said. “We encourage everyone to pay attention to their home heating this time of year so they can avoid any accidents or safety risks.”
The following are tips for safe home heating during winter months, compiled from the American Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Fire Protection Association:
• Keep anything flammable at least three feet away from heating equipment, like the furnace, fireplace, wood stove or portable space heater.
• Never leave portable heaters or fireplaces unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any fireplace embers are extinguished before going to bed or leaving your home.
• Place space heaters on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (like a ceramic tile floor). Keep them off of carpets or rugs and away from bedding or drapes. Also keep children and pets away from space heaters.
• Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
• Use a glass or metal fire screen to keep fire in your fireplace and catch sparks and rolling logs.
• Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys and furnaces professionally inspected and cleaned once a year. Ensure that these devices are properly vented.
• Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use. Don’t substitute.
• Protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation by installing battery-operated detectors. Test these alarms regularly.
• Defer to skilled professionals to install permanent heating equipment, water heaters and central heating units to ensure code and manufacturer’s instructions are properly followed.
Home heating help
Heating your home during wintertime is expensive. If you’re struggling to pay your heating bills, LEAP can help.
LEAP provides cash assistance to help hard-working families and individuals pay winter home heating costs or help with broken furnaces or wood stoves. This year, the average benefit for people who qualify is expected to be $425 per household.
“We don’t want anyone in Colorado to be left out in the cold this winter,” Berens said. “We’re here to support those people who are working hard to make ends meet.”
The program has several eligibility requirements. Applicants must be Colorado residents and U.S. citizens or legal aliens. They also need to provide a copy of a valid identification and a completed affidavit to comply with Colorado Revised Statutes regarding documentation of lawful presence. Valid forms of I.D. include a Colorado driver’s license or I.D. card; a U.S. Military I.D. card or Military Dependent’s I.D. card; a U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner card; or a Native American Tribal document. Other forms of I.D. may be accepted, as well.
Applicants also must be responsible for paying heating costs, either directly to a utility company or to a landlord as part of rent. Applicants’ income cannot exceed 150 percent of the federal poverty index.
People interested in applying can call (866) HEAT-HELP [(866) 432-8435] to order a mailed application. Alternatively, applications are available at every county department of social or human services, most utility companies and many community agencies. Applications also can be downloaded from www.colorado.gov/cdhs/leap.
Applicants may fax the completed application to their appropriate county office or mail it to the county at the address available on the website.
LEAP accepts applications from Nov. 1 through April 30. To date, LEAP has received 63,795 applications, 43,597 of which have been approved.
People eligible for LEAP may also qualify for other benefits, like the Crisis Intervention Program, which helps repair or replace the home’s primary heating system, or the Weatherization Program, which improves energy efficiency in homes.
Colorado also offers a rebate of property tax, rent and heat expenses to low-income seniors and disabled persons. Known as the Property Tax/Rent/Heat Credit (PTC) rebate, the maximum property tax rebate is $660 and the maximum heat expenses rebate is $192. The Colorado Department of Revenue administers the rebate.
Please visit http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/Revenue/REVX/1216116072809 for more information and the rebate application booklet.
To find out if you qualify for LEAP, call toll free (866) HEAT-HELP (866) 432-8435 or visit www.colorado.gov/cdhs/leap to view the most current program application requirements.