First Person

Sierra Cain

The theme of winter temperature care continues; but instead of keeping our animals warm outside, we are going to visit staying warm and safe in our own homes.

Many of us in Valencia County use several different sources of heat to keep our house warm through the cold months. Some heat sources include fireplaces, wood/pellet stoves, furnaces and space heaters for supplemental heat. Keeping our air clean when these heaters are in use is critical to our health as malfunction can result in serious health issues and even death. Storing wood and keeping heaters that are fuel burning in safe places is important as well.

Carbon monoxide is typically known as a silent killer. This is due to the gas being colorless and odorless, making it relatively undetectable to the common nose or eye. Carbon monoxide can cause carbon monoxide poisoning through inhalation of the gas.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are flu like, causing nausea and headaches. Carbon monoxide takes away the oxygen in the blood, damaging health after exposure and even causing death if fresh air is not reached in time. This gas comes from several sources.

NMSU Extension explains it can come from poorly vented heaters, furnaces, blocked fireplaces, inadequate ventilation around operating ovens, grills and outside-only heaters.

There are ways to protect your home and family from carbon monoxide poisoning, especially when our heaters are in high use. NMSU Extension recommends combustion heating systems should be inspected by professionals each year before use.

Have the professionals check your fireplace(s) for blockages in chimneys and flue pipes, keep fireplaces and stoves clean from buildup of resins and ash, check for cracks in flue pipes, buildup of soot in odd places, exhaust or gas odors and any other areas they recommend.

Add carbon monoxide detectors into your home. These can be purchased at many common home improvement stores and are relatively easy to install. These detectors sound an alarm when carbon monoxide levels have reached an unsafe threshold in your home. Professionals should also be used to clean chimneys.

If you are using a wood stove or fireplace in your home, there are some wood choices that burn better and cleaner than other wood. In New Mexico, we typically burn pine, oak, pinon, juniper, and mesquite woods. Hard woods are typically better to burn than soft woods.

Some examples of higher heat, lower smoke, low pop/sparks woods according to the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory are pecan, oak, and mesquite. Many New Mexicans have access to pinon and juniper which are considered soft woods according to the U.S. FPL and give off medium heat, easy to burn, give off medium smoke, but can have some spark. It is also best to use wood that it not freshly cut and have wood that has been air dried for about six months.

Stacking your wood so air can circulate to keep moisture out is also important in keeping your wood at optimal performance. NMSU Extension recommends stacking wood at least 30 feet from a structure. Wood should be kept in an outside shed and be kept covered by a tarp to protect from the elements.

Wood should be stacked in a sturdy manner and be no higher than 12 layers as this can cause instability. Wood can also be stacked on a sturdy barrier to reduce rotting on the bottom later. Wood should be balanced to avoid falling over.

Outside-only heaters should be kept outdoors and have plenty of ventilation, inside portable heaters should be indoor specific. Read the back panels to understand the safety instructions and specifics of all portable heaters. In all, stay warm and safe this winter season!

Program announcements

To register for an upcoming program, call the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service at 505-565-3002.  For more information, visit

  • Valencia County 4-H Youth Open Enrollment through Jan. 31. New member registration information can be found by contacting the Extension Office at 505-565-3002 or by email to Sierra Cain at [email protected].
  • Ready, Set, GROW! Free gardening classes are being offered virtually. The 2023 schedule is coming soon. To visit the classes offered in 2022 and upcoming classes visit

If you are an individual with a disability who requires auxiliary aid or service to participate in a program, please contact the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service Office at 505-565-3002 two weeks in advance of the event.

New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and education. NMSU and the US Department of Agriculture cooperating.


(Sierra Cain is the Valencia County 4-H/Youth Development agent for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service.)

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Sierra Cain, guest columnist

Sierra Cain is the Valencia County 4-H/Youth Development agent for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service.