Brrr! Winter has come calling with a vengeance! While many of us can still look out and see snow on the ground, we thought this would be a good time to provide some winter weather safety tips on how you and your home can stay safe and healthy all winter long.
Preventing frozen pipes
If your home was built on a slab, or you do not have a finished basement, it’s always a good idea to allow a little trickle of water to run from your faucets, especially at night, when the temperatures dip down even lower. This is an easy way to prevent costly and inconvenient water line breaks. How? When water freezes, it expands. This puts tremendous pressure on the pipes underneath and inside your home. Sometimes, that pressure is enough to cause damage to even the strongest water lines, resulting in a mess, and possibly even water damage, in your home.
It is also a good idea to drain the water from swimming pools and sprinkler systems before the cold weather hits. Remove hoses from outdoor spigots, as well. Check around your home to determine the locations of unheated water lines. Possible places include crawl spaces, basements, garages, underneath kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and sometimes even attics. Insulate these pipes using a pipe sleeve, which can be found easily at your local building supply store. If you’re in a pinch, wrapping newspaper around the pipes can work as a short-term solution.
Thawing frozen pipes
If you do suspect that your pipes have frozen, there are some things you can do to help minimize water issues. If you turn on a faucet and only see a trickle flowing out, chances are you have a frozen pipe. Leave the water running to the faucet while you gently apply heat to the pipes. As the pipes begin to thaw, the water will begin to run faster from the faucet. There are several ways to heat your pipes: wrap them in a heating pad, wrap them in warm towels, use a hair dryer or a space heater. Do not use a blowtorch or other device with an open flame. Continue to thaw your pipes until full water pressure has been restored.
Around the house preventative measures
- Keep garage doors closed as much as possible. This will decrease the amount of heat that escapes your home and will also help to protect water lines that may be in the garage.
- Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow heat to get to the pipes underneath.
- People often set their thermostats lower at night. It is best to keep your thermostat set to the same temperature both day and night. This may slightly increase your utility bill for the month, but just this little bit of extra night-time heat could prevent water lines from freezing.
- Keep a supply of rock salt and sand handy in the winter. The rock salt works to melt ice off porches, decks, and walkways, and the sand further improves traction on these slippery surfaces.
- Create a back-up heating plan. If your power goes out for an extended period of time, you will want to have a plan already in place to combat the cold temperatures. If you have a fireplace, make sure you have a good supply of logs ready to be used. If your fireplace uses propane, check your tank to ensure you have enough for an emergency. If you choose to use kerosene heaters during power outages, make sure the area is well ventilated to avoid toxic fumes.
You and your family
Try to stay indoors as much as possible during the coldest parts of the winter. Accidents due to cold temperatures or icy surfaces can happen in an instant, and the last thing you want is to try to get to a hospital on treacherous roads.
If you do need to go out, here are some tips to remember:
- Walk carefully on walkways, driveways, porches, and decks. Slippery areas can sometimes be undetectable until you’re right on top of them. It is best to sprinkle some rock salt onto these surfaces and allow it to work before venturing out.
- Avoid overexertion and sweating while shoveling snow. We know how it is: you want to get the job done as quickly as possible. However, overexertion can lead to pulled or strained muscles or, worse, a heart attack. Don’t overdo it! If you begin to sweat, this can lead to a loss of body heat, which can ultimately result in frostbite. Change into dry clothing if you begin to sweat.
- While outside, watch for these signs of frostbite and hypothermia:
- Loss of feeling in extremities
- A white appearance to the skin
- Uncontrollable shivering
- Incoherence or drowsiness
- Slurred speech
- Extreme exhaustion
- If any of these signs are seen, go inside immediately, remove any wet clothing, and warm yourself, using both blankets and warm liquids. Seek medical help, if necessary.
It is always advisable to keep an emergency kit handy. Make sure everyone in your household knows where the kit is located and how to use the items inside the kit. These are some items to include in your emergency kit:
- Water (one gallon per person per day)
- Food (Nonperishable items, such as protein bars, canned meats and fruits, nuts, dried fruit, peanut butter, canned drinks, chocolate)
- Battery-powered radio
- Battery-powered flashlight
- Extra batteries
- Toilet paper and trash bags for sanitation
- First aid kit
- Can opener
- Disinfectant wipes for cleaning
- Hand sanitizer
- Extra clothing and blankets or sleeping bags
- Pet food
- Matches in a water-proof container
- Plates, napkins, cups, and silverware
Other items to add at the last minute include:
- Prescription medications
- Infant needs
- Important documents, such as identification and insurance policies
Keep in mind that you will want to have enough supplies to last for at least 72 hours. Also, plan on adding items to your kit to help pass the time, such as games, books, paper, and pen or crayons, etc.
Of course, the best way to prevent driving accidents is to stay home. However, there are times when driving is necessary. If you must drive, here are some tips to consider to help you get to your destination safely:
- Make sure your vehicle is winter ready BEFORE the bad weather hits. This means checking fluid levels, maintaining good tires, checking headlights and brake lights, and keeping at least a half tank of gas in your vehicle at all times.
- Try to drive in the middle of the day. This can allow time for some of the ice to melt, and it keeps you off the roads at night, when temperatures dip back down and roads can freeze again.
- Do not drive alone unless absolutely necessary. The buddy system can save your life.
- Let your family or friends know where you are going, approximately what time you should arrive, and what route you plan to drive. Let them know when you arrive at your destination safely.
- Call your family or friends before you begin your drive back home. Again, let them know approximately what time you expect to arrive and which roads you plan to take.
- Stay on main roads; avoid back roads, as they are more likely to be icy.
- Keep your cell phone charged and with you at all times. It is a good idea to purchase a car charger in case your cell phone battery begins to fail.
- Keep extra clothing, including a coat, hat, gloves, scarf, and boots, in your vehicle. Throw in at least one blanket, too.
- It is advisable to pack an emergency kit to keep in your car. Items to include are:
- Non-perishable food and water
- First aid kit
- Flashlight and batteries
- Ice scraper
- Tools to change a tire (jack and lug wrench)
- Pocket knife
- Roadside flares
- Matches in a water-proof container
- Jumper cables
- Road maps
- If you become stranded, don’t panic. First, call for help. Be able to tell them where you are and what road conditions they should watch out for. It is typically best to remain in your vehicle until help arrives.
One final note: remember our furry friends during these harsh winter months. Winter can be brutal not only for humans, but for animals as well. Bring pets inside. Move livestock to sheltered areas. Ensure all animals have non-frozen drinking water at all times. Also, remember that antifreeze can kill your pets, so clean up any spills immediately.
Being proactive can keep you, your loved ones, and your home safe even during the coldest snaps. Preparedness can also safe you money and time by preventing hazards and hardships before they can occur. We hope you all stay safe, happy, and WARM all winter long!