The Long Checklist for Living Safely Under Wind Chill Warning Conditions

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Natural gas flame in a home furnace (CARDINAL NEWS)
Natural gas flame in a home furnace working overtime (CARDINAL NEWS).

Here is a checklist when extreme cold weather strikes your area — especially when air temperatures fall below zero for extended periods. There is a lot to think about to reduce risks to health and property when a deep freeze. Surviving and staying safe in extreme cold is a big responsibility.

Fire departments are already running extra calls for incidents related to water damage and frozen pipes — especially in retail strip malls and other commercial buildings. But homes are at risk of broken water pipes and fires safety practices are ignored or forgotten.

The number one safety issue during sub-zero weather is fire safety with carbon monoxide exposure a close second place factor. Extreme cold causes a demand on heating methods. Furnaces are more likely to fail or malfunction, and people are more likely to use alternate heating methods. When safety is out of the equation fire and carbon monoxide deaths, injuries, damage and destruction occur.

Many people are extra fatigued this time of year — after the holidays, with prolonged dark nights, and extra work to do to clear snow, or to adjust for extra travel times. Deadly mistakes, such as falling a sleep while cooking, or leaving a car running unattended in the garage, are more likely when people are tired.

Fire Safety

Get a fire extinguisher. It is much better for you to extinguish a small fire, especially in winter, because fire department response times may be delayed in winter, and firefighters may be faced with a frozen fire hydrant, which can further delay getting water on the fire.

Avoid space heaters, but if you use them, make it a full time job to monitor them.

Do not place space heaters too close to couches, beds, curtains, etc. The nearest object to a space heater should not feel hot to touch.

Prevent items from falling on a space heater. Don’t place a space heater where a blanket could be accidentally thrown on top of the space heater, and don’t place the space heater where curtains could accidentally fall on the space heater.

Fire Safety advisors demand extension cords never be used with space heaters, but there are recommendations by some manufacturers that extension cords can be used if the extension cords are not too long, and consist of a heavier gauge wire rated to handle currents well above the wattage rating of the space heater. The common max watt rating of a space heater is 1500 Watts.

Don’t use the space heater at the highest setting. Many space heaters have setting at 600 Watts, 900 Watts, and 1500 Watts. Avoid using the 1500 Watts setting, or only use it for a short time to start. Then turn it down to 600 Watts, preferably. It is safer to never use the 1500 Watts setting.

NEVER plug a space heater into a surge protector, surge protector multi-outlet power strip, or regular multiple outlet power strip. Numerous fire departments have posted photos where they have responded to fires and have discovered burnt up power strips that were being used with a space heater.

Also, be extra careful that your home wiring can handle the high wattage needed for a space heater. Frequent space heater use over the years may cause cumulative damage to wiring, wiring connections, wire insulation, and outlets. Don’t share a space heater with multiple electrical items on the same circuit. For example, a toaster, a microwave, and a space heater operating at the same time on the same circuit (even on different outlets) could damage wiring, connections, and outlets. Alway inspect your outlets for signs of heat damage. You can also carefully turn off your space heater, and unplug it. Then, carefully touch the disconnected plug to see if the metal prongs are hot. If the plug is hot to touch, you can assume that the wiring is overheating. Do not use that outlet, and call an electrician to see about getting a new dedicated power outlet for the space heater (and the space heater only). Homes with aluminum wiring instead of copper wiring are at extra risk of wiring problems with space heater use because of an issue with aluminum.

If the space heater ever blows a fuse or circuit breaker, you must also consult an electrician before using the space heater.

Personal Safety & Health

In addition to smoke detectors, make sure you have functioning carbon monoxide detectors.

Make sure furnace intake and exhaust pipes are clear of snow and animal nesting materials. Blockage could cause dangerous fumes inside.

NEVER use an improper combustible heat device, such as a charcoal grill, to heat the interior of a home. It has been done, and has cause deaths or serious carbon monoxide illnesses with permanent disability.

Higher heating demands cause drier air, and low humidity (<20%) can be damaging to nasal passages and respiratory passages. Damaged or inflamed airways can increase the risk of exposure to viruses that cause colds, and other more severe illnesses (Yes THAT one, we're not mentioning to avoid triggering over-scrutiny by social media, search engines, etc.). Use a humidifier to keep a room or rooms where you spend time, higher than 25%. Having a lot of well-watered plants can also help you manage a room along with a humidifier. Have at least one high humidity room in the winter that you can count on for refuge -- preferably a bedroom where you sleep. High-rise buildings have lower humidity, and air becomes drier with every floor elevation. Take extra care to humidify your living space if you live in a high-rise. Be alert to fall hazards from icy and frosty pedestrian surfaces. Your first step off the front porch can get you right away after you're out the door. Don't forget about ice under a dusting of light snow. Wet snow on grassy slopes can get you too. Walk defensively. Prevent frostbite; don't stay out too long. If possible, cover gloves with large mittens if you have to stay out for long periods in sub-zero weather. Keep extras gloves on the defroster outlets on your dashboard your car while it is running while you are out working on the driveway for an extended period. You can rotate to the warm gloves when your hands get too cold. Use alcohol hand sanitizers with gel to reduce the amount of times you need to wash your hands with harsh water and soap, which can irritate and chap your skin. Protect your hands with hand lotion. Wear snow pants or long underwear, and dress in layers so you can control moisture from sweating. Boots are a huge help, but be prepared because extra walking on boots you're not used to wearing may cause blisters and overuse bruising to your heel or toes.

Animal Health and Safety

Protect animal paws from cold temperatures and harsh surface treatment chemicals, when walking your dog.

Smaller dogs should wear a coat in extreme cold.

Don’t leave your pets out alone in the cold. Predators, such as coyotes, and hawks may be hungrier and more likely to go after a small dog in sub-zero weather.

Coyotes can jump over tall fences, so it is best to never leave a small dog out alone, but if do leave a larger dog out unattended, set a timer (on your iPhone, for example), so you don’t forget your dog outside, overnight in subzero weather.

Barns and Garage Structures

(SOURCE: Iowa State University Extension and Outreach)

First, take steps to prevent barn fires and garage fire is to minimize fuel and ignition sources.

Store hay and organic bedding materials in a separate section of the barn or in another building.

Buy hay at the correct moisture (<17% moisture) and check its condition frequently. Store fuel and other combustible material in a separate building Keep the barn clean and free of cobwebs, chaff and dust Do not leave space heaters unattended Use lightning protection systems Use of electrical equipment should be monitored regularly because fires can start from malfunction of improper use of such items. Fires can start from single pail water heaters that short out. Lights, lamps & household appliances containing heating elements, such as coffeepots, stoves, heating plates, etc. should be maintained & unplugged according to manufacturer instructions. Evaluate electrical cords for faults of wear and age. Older cords can crack and expose metal that could arc and ignite hay, etc. Replace extension cords with new ones, use the correct cord length and gauge for the job, and only use heavy-duty 3-prong cords. Do not cover cords with rugs or mats, anywhere. Stepping on a cord can damage it, and the mat can help contain heat generated from a damaged electric cord, and then the rug or mat can be a source of ignition material for a fire.

Real Estate Property Protection

Don’t forget to open your flue if you light a fire in the fireplace.

Make sure your garden hoses are disconnected from the water spigots.

Protect your water spigots with insulator covers.

Run interior water faucets at a trickle to keep water from freezing interior pipes.

Keep cabinet doors open under kitchen and bathroom sinks so that pipes are not isolated from warmer air that is heating the kitchen and bathroom.

Don’t forget to open your vents in your basement heating ducts in severe cold. This will help prevent freezing of the water pipes that supply your spigots.

Close off heating duct vents to rooms you aren’t using, as long there are no water pipes in the vicinity of rooms that you might shut down. You may save energy costs, and you might take a load off your furnace so that more heat is available where you need it — protecting kitchen plumbing and bathroom plumbing.

Be especially careful of second floor bathrooms. These areas seem to be vulnerable in new homes that are not adequately insulated.

Make sure fire hydrants are accessible.

Make sure you street address numbers are visible from the street (not burried or caked in ice or snow).

Vehicle Safety

Keep food in your car that is easy to eat in sub-zero weather. Nuts are good, but some protein bars become too hard to chew in sub-zero or even temperatures near freezing.

Keep a shovel in your car.

Keep an extra coat, and extra gloves in your car.

Make sure your tires are properly inflated before the cold snap hits, but beware that cold weather can cause tires to deflate. Get to know your tires so you know what normal inflation looks like. A tire gauge is the best, but visual inspection works, too.

Don’t fall asleep in your car with the engine running in a garage. Carbon monoxide could kill you, and the people who live with you.

Don’t warm up your car in the garage, because dangerous carbon monoxide can accumulate in the living space of your home.

If you don’t use your car often, start it and run it more frequently in sub-zero weather (e.g., every 2-4 days), especially if it is parked outside. Before you start a vehicle in sub-zero weather, turn off all accessories (radio, dome lights, heater fan, etc.).

Don’t drive with a lot snow on your vehicle. Snow on the vehicle’s roof can slide down and cover the windshield and block your view while driving.

In sub-zero weather, roads can be so cold that road treatment is not as effective. Don’t drive too fast, and allow plenty of space from other vehicles. If you witness a crash in front of you, watch your rear view mirror, but slow down and stop if you can. You would be surprise how many people continue their forward motion toward the crash scene, not expecting the crashed vehicles to spin into their path, or for the crashed vehicles to be hit by additional vehicles that spin into their path and eventually make them a part of a multiple vehicle crash scene.

Step up your defensive driving. Other drivers might be miserable and driving erratically or carelessly. Be especially alert for snow hills that obstruct your view of cross traffic. Be careful of “snow ramps” on bridges. If you skid into a bridge wall on the right shoulder, that snow ramp can launch your vehicle off the edge of the bridge.

Don’t leave a car running unattended to warm it up. There are criminals out looking for the jackpot of an unattended car running with a Key FOB or keys inside.

If you must leave a car running, consider getting a steering wheeling locking device, and apply it while your car is running. Don’t leave your key FOB in the car. If your car uses a key for ignition, just use a spare key — not a full set of house keys. And don’t forget to apply the steering wheel lock, and lock your car doors, which can be unlocked by your other keys you keep in your pocket.

In cold weather, you might be prone to walk to your vehicle with your head down — bundled up to endure the cold. However, you should remain alert to carjackers who count on you being distracted by the extreme cold. Stay alert, and don’t be weak prey in the cold.

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