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Extreme Cold Survival Tips for Personal Health and Protecting Property

Sun January 26 2014 9:58 am
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When temperatures drop significantly below normal, you may have to cope with power failures, icy roads and short tempers. Although staying indoors as much as possible can help reduce the risk of car crashes and falls on the ice, some people still have to venture outside to work. Even those who can hunker down inside face indoor hazards.

The highest risks in these sub-zero conditions are …
Severe frostbite
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Trauma from falls
Trauma and exposure/hypothermia from vehicle accidents
Fires, smoke inhalation, and burns from fire hazards

A power failure or other failure of your home’s heating system can cause serious problems, especially for people who can’t seek safe refuge at a relative’s house or neighbor’s house. When people use space heaters and fireplaces to stay warm, the risk of household fires increases, as well as the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Listen to weather forecasts regularly, and check your emergency supplies whenever a period of extreme cold is predicted.

If you have pets, bring them indoors. If you cannot bring them inside, provide adequate shelter to keep them warm and make sure that they have access to unfrozen water.

If you are using your fireplace, don’t forget to open your flue. Surprisingly, people forget to open their flue quite often, which can fill the house with smoke and even cause a house fire.

If you have not used your fireplace in years, it’s probably not a good idea to use your fireplace for the first time in extremely cold weather. If there is a problem with the fireplace or flue, a fire could start. Firefighting is often hampered when weather is below zero because hydrants can be frozen or broken, and the performance of firefighters and equipment is hampered by the extreme temperatures. There is a high risk that a fire could cause severe damage or even total destruction in severely cold weather. If you plan to use a fireplace or wood stove for emergency heating, have your chimney or flue inspected each year. You may be able to ask your local fire department to recommend an inspector, or find one in the yellow pages of your telephone directory under “chimney cleaning” if they have a policy against recommending businesses.

Also, 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.
Your ability to feel a change in temperature decreases with age, and older people are more susceptible to health problems caused by cold. If you are over 65 years old, place an easy-to-read thermometer in an indoor location where you will see it frequently, and check the temperature of your home often during the winter months.

Insulate any water lines that run along exterior walls so your water supply will be less likely to freeze. To the extent possible, weatherproof your home by adding weather- stripping, insulation, insulated doors and storm windows, or thermal-pane windows.

Six Ways To Prevent Water Pipes From Freezing

Insulate any and all pipes that are vulnerable to cold air. This can be done by using standard insulation material or through the use of Underwriters Laboratories (UL listed) approved heat tapes. Wrapping your pipes helps keep the warmth in and the freezing cold out.

Insulate pipes in a home’s crawl spaces and attic because exposed pipes are more susceptible to freezing.

Keep thermostats set at the same temperature during both day and night during extreme cold. In general it is probably a good idea to set the the thermostat a little higher during the time when the weather is extremely cold. In other words it doesn’t hurt to keep your thermostat way down when outdoor temperatures are near 32 degrees or higher, but the risk to broken pipes is greater when temperatures are below 15 degrees, and especially when they’re below zero.

If you use a space heater, keep it away from drapes, bedding or stacks of paper or magazines.

Keep your heat on if you leave town. If you go on vacation or will be away, don’t turn your heat off. It’s not necessary to run it as high as you would if you were at home, but keeping the heat inside in the 60s will help you keep the pipes warm.

You can keep water moving to prevent water in pipes from freezing. Keep a faucet or faucets open slightly to keep water moving in the pipes. Ideally, the faucet(s) you leave on should be farthest from where the water main enters. That way, you keep water moving through all your pipes. Some experts also believe that keeping the indoor faucet open prevents pressure from building inside the pipes, and may prevent bursting of pipes. Experts recommend that if the dripping stops because the pipes have frozen, the indoor faucet should still be left open to relieve pressure. Do not thaw pipes with a torch. Do not pour boiling water on pipes, because that can cause them to burst.

Keep cabinet and closet doors open. When you leave your heat on to keep your pipes warm, a good way to help the interior heat reach your pipes is to leave closet and cabinet doors open. You can close the door and close heating vents to rooms that don’t have water pipes nearby, but make sure rooms that have pipes, such as bathrooms and kitchens have their heating vents fully opened.

Cut the water supply to outdoor faucets. In the colder months, it’s a good idea to cut off the water and completely drain the pipes. Of course, make sure garden hoses are disconnected.

Shut off the water if you go away for a long time period. If you’re only going away from home for a few days or more, you may want to shut off your water and drain your supply by opening the lowest faucet in the house.

Be careful where you keep electronics at work where fire suppression sprinklers are installed. You may want to turn of your computer off and cover it with a waterproof cover such as a dust cover or even a garbage bag in case sprinkler head pipes overhead freeze and burst.

Indoor Safety

Heat Your Home Safely
If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and remember these safety tips:

• Use fireplace, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space.
• Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
• Ensure adequate ventilation if you must use a kerosene heater.
• Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use—don’t substitute.
• Do not place a space heater within 3 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.
• Protect yourself from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning by installing a battery-operated CO detector and never using generators, grills, camp stoves, or similar devices indoors.

Light and Cook Safely
If there is a power failure:
• Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns rather than candles, if possible.
kerosene heater.
• Never leave lit candles unattended.
• Never use a charcoal or gas grill indoors—the fumes are deadly.

Never use an electric generator indoors, inside the garage, or near the air intake of your house because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning:
• Plug in appliances to the generator using individual heavy-duty, outdoor-rated cords.
• Do not use the generator or appliances if they are wet because of the risk of electrocution.
• Do not store gasoline indoors where the fumes could ignite.

Conserve Heat
You may need fresh air coming in for your heater or for emergency cooking arrangements. However, if you don’t need extra ventilation, keep as much heat as possible inside your home. Avoid unnecessary opening of doors or windows. Close off unneeded rooms, stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors, and close draperies or cover windows with blankets at night. Remember you can close off rooms and closets, and shut off heat vents in rooms that don’t have water pipes in their walls.

Keep several days’ supply of these items:
• Food that needs no cooking or refrigeration, such as bread, crackers, cereal, canned foods, and dried fruits. Remember baby food and formula if you have young children.

• Water stored in clean containers, or purchased bottled water (5 gallons per person) in case your water pipes freeze and rupture.

• Medicines that any family member may need.

If your area is prone to long periods of cold temperatures, or if your home is isolated, stock additional amounts of food, water, and medicine.

Clothing that adults and children should wear …
• a hat
• a scarf, ear muffs or knit mask to cover your face, neck and mouth
• sleeves that are snug at the wrist and turtle neck or at least mock turtle necks shirts
• long underwear
• mittens (they are warmer than gloves) … even better? thin gloves under mittens. For example, cotton non-winter garden gloves make a great liner for mittens and keep hands and fingers remarkable warm.
• water-resistant coat and boots
• several layers of loose-fitting

If you’re going to be inside for a long time strip down some of your layers. Clothing does not do much good if you are so hot that your clothes get drenched with sweat. Even low amounts of moisture buildup can cause more evaporative loss of heat when you return outside.

Eating well-balanced meals will help you stay warmer. Avoid drinking alcoholic or caffeinated beverages because they your body to lose heat more rapidly. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages or broth to help maintain your body temperature. If you have any dietary restrictions, ask your doctor.

Prepare for extremely cold weather every winter—it’s always a possibility. There are steps you can take in advance for greater wintertime safety in your home and in your car.
• an alternate way to heat your home during a power failure:
– dry firewood for a fireplace or wood stove, or
– kerosene for a kerosene heater
• blankets
• matches
• multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher • first aid kit and instruction manual
• flashlight or battery-powered lantern
• battery-powered radio
• battery-powered clock or watch
• extra batteries
• non-electric can opener
• snow shovel
• rock salt
• special needs items (diapers, hearing aid batteries, medications, etc.)

Keep several days’ supply of these items:
• Food that needs no cooking or refrigeration, such as bread, crackers, cereal, canned foods, and dried fruits. Remember baby food and formula if you have young children.
• Water stored in clean containers, or purchased bottled water (5 gallons per person) in case your water pipes freeze and rupture.
• Medicines that any family member may need.
If your area is prone to long periods of cold temperatures, or if your home is isolated, stock additional amounts of food, water, and medicine.

Frostbite [See more on]
Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing tissue. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas, and most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin — frostbite is probably beginning to affect tissue. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:

• a white or grayish-yellow skin area
• skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
• numbness

Before medical attention or if medical attention is not available or refused …

Get into a warm room immediately
• Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes — walking can increase the damage.
• Immerse the affected area in warm—not hot—water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
• Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
• Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
• Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned because of lack of local detection of heat.
• Get medical attention as soon as possible.

Hypothermia [See more on]
Victims of hypothermia are often (1) elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; (2) babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; (3) people who remain outdoors for long periods—the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.; and (4) people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

Recognizing Hypothermia
Warnings signs of hypothermia:
• shivering, exhaustion
• confusion, fumbling hands
• memory loss, slurred speech
• drowsiness

• bright red, cold skin
• very low energy

Take Action
If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95°, the situation is an emergency—get medical attention immediately. Heart muscle with hypothermia is more susceptible to irregular rhythm that could be deadly.

If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:
• Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
• If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
• Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
• Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
• After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
• Get medical attention as soon as possible.

A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.


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