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When the temperatures drop people, property, and animals can be at risk. The weather can create health hazards like hypothermia and frostbite. It can freeze and break pipes, and even indirectly cause fires when home heating methods turn dangerous.

thermometer1Preparing your home

If freezing temps are expected:

  • Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip continuously. Since the water temp of the drips is above freezing, it helps to warm the pipe.
  • Improve the circulation of heated air near pipes. For example, open kitchen cabinet doors beneath the kitchen sink.
  • Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer’s or installer’s directions. Don’t use antifreeze, which is dangerous to humans and pets.
  • Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.

Preparing your car

In addition to regular maintenance, every fall:

  • Have the radiator system serviced, or check the antifreeze level yourself.
  • Replace windshield-wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture.
  • Replace any worn tires, and check the air pressure in the tires.

Preparing your family

Infants less than one year old should never sleep in a cold room because infants lose body heat more easily than adults. Warm clothing and temperatures are especially important for babies. If the infant must sleep near you to stay warm, take precautions to prevent rolling on the baby. Pillows and other soft bedding can also present a risk of smothering and should not be near the child.

Older adults often make less body heat because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity. If you are over 65 years of age, check the temperature in your home often during severely cold weather. Also, check on elderly friends and neighbors frequently to ensure that their homes are adequately heated.

Stay dry and warm. It’s important for everyone in order to to avoid hypothermia and frostbite. Remember to wear your hat, gloves, scarf, coat, etc. Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton. And stay dry – wet clothing chills the body rapidly.

Don’t forget about the pets. Cold temperatures can be just as dangerous for them.

Staying warm

  • If you’ll be using a fireplace, wood stove, or kerosene heater, install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near the area to be heated. Test them monthly, and replace batteries twice yearly.00-fireplace-safety
  • It’s a good idea to have your chimney inspected each year.
  • Use fireplace, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside.
  • Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
  • Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use – don’t substitute.
  • Do not place a space heater within three feet of anything that may catch on fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding, and never cover your space heater.
  • Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water.
  • Never leave children unattended near a space heater.
  • Make sure that the cord of an electric space heater is not a tripping hazard but do not run the cord under carpets or rugs.
  • Avoid using extension cords to plug in your space heater.
  • If your space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, do not use it.
  • Store a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated.

After the chill

44-homeowner-essentialsYou, your family and your animals are fine, but what about the house? Frozen pipes are a big concern now:

  • If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Locate the suspected frozen area of the water pipe. Likely places include pipes running against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt more ice in the pipe.
  • If your pipes do freeze, do not thaw them with a torch. Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, and electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
  • Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
  • If you cannot thaw your pipes, or the pipes are ruptured, use bottled water or get water from a neighbor’s home.

Sources: Red Cross, CDC, This Old House