Winter Weather Home Hazards
Winter Weather Home Hazards
When we think about winter, it is generally skiing or tubing, or that dreadful drive to work in the snow. We often forget how important it is to protect our homes.
Frozen Pipes and Prevention
One of the ways to protect against damage to your home during the winter is to makes sure your pipes and faucets are properly prepared for the colder weather. When it comes to any outdoor faucets it is important to make sure you detached any hose and apply a faucet cover. When it comes to interior pipes there are a few options; allow warm or hot water to run through the pipes by letting them drip overnight, insulate interior piping or if you are going out of town for an extended period of time, you can shut off water supply and drain the system. Frozen pipes can cause pipes to crack or burst, and this can allow up to 250 gallons of water to spew into your home causing significant water damage.
Home Fires and Prevention
Another common cause for home damage during the winter is house fires. Insurance companies and fire departments prepare for an influx of fire claims during the winter months because the number of home fires increase drastically. The leading causes are the way we heat our homes, electrical fires, and candles. The way we heat our homes are common causes of house fires. Space heaters and baseboard heaters need to be cleaned and failure to do so is the leading contributor, as well as placing objects too close to the equipment. Electrical fires are extremely common in the winters due to overloading circuits with certain appliances. Candles in the winter are commonly used and often cause fires from being knocked over or having flammable objects too close. Garage fires are a top source of house fires in the winter because the number of items stormed in the garage and they are generally highly flammable. Flammable materials should be stored in a shed away from the home.
Roof Leaks and Prevention
Leading causes for roof leaks in the winter include ice damming and loose or missing shingles. Ice damming happens when snow accumulates on the roof and begins to melt, the water runs down the source of the roof and as it hits the bottom edges of the roof the cold air causes it to freeze and build up. Once there is a build up of ice, the water has no where to go but underneath the shingles and it will trickle inside the home. To prevent ice damming, you can get an ice rake to remove the ice. Missing and loose shingles can also cause interior water damage. You can prevent water damage from missing or loose shingles by checking your roof periodically before and during the winter to make sure no shingles have become loose and brittle during the cold weather.
BE PREPARED FOR WINTER DRIVING
Before You Go
- If you must travel, make sure you share your travel plans and route with someone before you leave.
- If you become stranded in bad winter weather, do not leave your car. Don’t try to push your vehicle out of snow. Light flares in front and behind the car and make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow, mud or any object.
- Besides checking the weather, it’s important to have a mechanic check the condition of the following vehicle systems before heading out on the road.
- Make sure tires are properly inflated.
- Keep your gas tank filled above halfway to avoid a gas line freeze-up.
- Avoid driving when you have the flu, which can reduce your reaction time almost six times as much as moderate alcohol intake.
Winter Driving Tips
- Beware of black ice. Roads may look clear, but they may still be slippery.
- Stuck without traction and lacking sand or cat litter? In a pinch, you can take the floor mats out of your car, place them next to the tires, and slowly inch the car onto and across the mats.
- Make sure windows are defrosted and clear. And be sure to clear snow and ice from the top of the vehicle! Gently rub a small, moistened, cloth bag of iodized salt on the outside of your windshield to prevent the ice and snow from sticking.
- To restore proper windshield wiper blade action, smooth the rubber blades with fine sandpaper to remove any grit and pits.
- Fog-proof your mirrors and the inside of your windshields with shaving cream. Spray and wipe it off with paper towels.
- Increase following distance to 8 to 10 seconds.
- If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
- Do not use cruise control in wintry conditions.
- Look and steer in the direction you want to go. Accelerate and decelerate slowly.
- Know whether you have antilock brakes, which will “pump” the brakes for you in a skid.
- If possible, don’t stop when going uphill.
- Signal distress with a brightly colored cloth tied to the antenna or in a rolled up window.
WINTER EMERGENCY KIT
Keep the following supplies in your winter car kit. Emergencies can happen to anyone. Prepare for the worst-case scenario, especially in wintertime!
Whether you run out of fuel, puncture a tire, or slip off a snowy road, a car emergency kit can help you get back on the road safely and quickly.
In addition to the items listed below, a cell phone is highly advised. Make sure your cell phone is charged every time you get in the car and keep a cell phone charger in your car.
CAR EMERGENCY KIT LIST
Keep the below items in a bag in your trunk. Ideally, we’d suggest a clear, plastic container so it’s easy to see and locate everything. You can buy a pre-packaged kit or create your own.
In an emergency situation, in addition to a full tank of gas and fresh antifreeze, the National Safety Council recommends having these with you at all times:
- Blankets, mittens, socks and hats
- Ice scraper and snow brush
- Flashlight, plus extra batteries (or a hand-crank flashlight)
- Jumper cables
- First-aid kit (band-aides, adhesive tape, antiseptic wipes, gauze pads, antiseptic cream, medical wrap). See a first-aid kit checklist.
- Bottled water
- Multi-tool (such as a Leatherman Tool or a Swiss Army Knife)
- Road flares or reflective warning triangles
- Windshield cleaner
Extra Supplies for Frigid Weather
For those in wintry snowy areas, add the below items to your emergency kit. (If it’s balmy all winter where you live, be thankful that you don’t need all of this stuff!)
- A bag of sand to help with traction (or bag of non-clumping cat litter)
- Collapsible or folding snow shovel
- Tire chains and tow strap
- Hand warmers
- Winter boots for longer trips
- Sleeping bag for longer trips
Note: Use salt for de-icing driveways and roads. (Excess salinity can damage vegetation and contaminate groundwater, however. So, with this in mind, salt your driveway only when you must, and try not to use more than necessary.)
- Small fire extinguisher (5-lb., Class B and Class C type) in case of a car fire
- Tire gauge to check inflation pressure in all four tires and the spare tire
- Jack and lug wrench to change a tire
- Rags and hand cleaner (such as baby wipes)
- Duct tape
- Foam tire sealant for minor tire punctures
- Rain poncho
- Nonperishable high-energy foods such as unsalted and canned nuts, granola bars, raisins and dried fruit, peanut butter, hard candy.
- Battery– or hand-crank–powered radio
- Lighter and box of matches (in a waterproof container)
- Scissors and string or cord
- Spare change and cash
- Paper maps
How to Prevent Your Pipes From Freezing
When temperatures plummet, the risk of your pipes freezing and bursting skyrockets. In fact, burst pipes are one of the most common causes of property damage during frigid weather and can cause thousands in water damage—easily $5,000 or more, according to the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (PDF).
How to Beat the Freeze
Once the temperature starts dropping outside, you should take measures inside to keep your pipes warm and water running. Research conducted by the Building Research Council at the University of Illinois shows that the “temperature alert threshold” is 20° F, especially if you have uninsulated pipes running through an uninsulated space.
Some of the steps experts recommend may go against your better instincts of conserving water and heat, but the extra expense is nothing compared with a hefty repair bill. Here’s what to do:
Keep garage doors closed, especially if there are water supply lines in the garage.
Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing, especially if your sinks are on an exterior wall. (If you have small children, be sure to remove any harmful cleaners and household chemicals.)
Let the cold water drip from a faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe—even at a trickle—helps prevent pipes from freezing.
Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature during day and night. Again, during a cold snap is not the time to set back the thermostat at night to save a few bucks on your heating bill.
If you plan to be away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.
For the long term, add insulation to attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in those areas. And to prevent drafts, seal cracks and openings around windows, doors, and at sill plates, where the house rests on its foundation.
How to Thaw Frozen Pipes
If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, you may well have a frozen pipe. “If you suspect the pipes are frozen, be careful when thawing them out because if the pipe has already burst, the water will come flowing out and flood your home,” says John Galeotafiore, who oversees Consumer Reports’ testing of home products and power gear.
If a pipe has broken, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve, which is usually at the water meter or where the main line enters the house. If the water is still running and no pipes have burst, you can take the following steps. (Of course, if you suspect a more serious problem, call a plumber.)
Turn on the faucet. As you heat the frozen pipe and the ice plug begins to melt, you want the water to be able to flow through. Running water through the pipe, as cold as it is, will help melt ice in the pipe.
Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, or a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. As tempting as it may be, do not use a blowtorch, a kerosene or propane heater, a charcoal stove, or any device with an open flame; the high heat can damage the pipes or even start a fire.
Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. Check all other faucets in your home to see whether you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
Call a licensed plumber if you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe.
Space Heaters to Warm a Room
If you need supplemental heat, you can add a space heater to a room where pipes might be at risk. And though we don’t recommend using a space heater in a bathroom, if you really need one, make sure it’s plugged into an outlet with a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) and do not use an extension cord. Some space heaters have GFCI plugs, but only two in our ratings have this feature, the small DeLonghi HVF3555TB, $80, and the radiator-style DeLonghi TRN0812T, $60.
If you want to add a little extra warmth during a cold spell, here are three affordable space heaters that excel at heating a room.
Winter Weather Tips for Pets
- Know your dog’s limits! Some dogs are more susceptible to the cold than others. Short-coated, thin, elderly, or very young dogs get cold more quickly – so adjust the amount of time they stay outside! If your dog enjoys being outdoors and you will be outside longer than a few minutes, consider outfitting it with a sweater or coat to keep it warm. Hypothermia and frostbite pose major risks to dogs in winter, so remember, if it is too cold for you, it is probably too cold for your dog!
- Check the hood! Cats often sleep in the wheel wells of cars during the winter months to keep warm. If you start your car and a cat is sleeping on your tire, it can be severely hurt or even killed by moving engine parts. Prevent injuries by banging loudly on your hood or honking the horn before starting your car. This will wake up the cat and give it a chance to escape before starting the car.
- Wipe their paws! During winter walks, your dog’s paws can pick up all kinds of toxic chemicals – salt, antifreeze, or de-icers. Be sure to wipe off your dog’s paws when you return from walks to prevent him from licking it off and becoming sick. Purchase pet-safe de-icers for your home for an extra level of safety. And when wiping off your dog’s paws, remember to check for signs of injury, such as cracked or bleeding paws.
- Keep them leashed! More pets become lost in the winter than any other season because snowfall can disguise recognizable scents that would normally help them find their way home. Prevent your pets from becoming lost by keeping dogs leashed on walks and, just in case you are separated from your pets, make sure their collars have up-to-date contact information and they are microchipped.
- Avoid the ice! When walking your dog, be sure to avoid frozen lakes and ponds. Your dog could be seriously hurt or even killed if the ice breaks.
- Leave them home! Just as hot cars are dangerous for pets in the summer, cold cars pose a threat as well! Only take your pets in the car if it is necessary, and never leave them unattended.
- Be seen! Due to Daylight Savings, many of us are relegated to walking our dogs in the dark. Keep yourself and your dog are safe by wearing reflective gear (clothing, leash, collar, etc) and keeping your dog close when walking on the street.
- Give them shelter! Ideally, all pets should live inside. If your pets live outdoors primarily, bring them indoors during sub-zero temperatures. For the rest of the winter, provide them with a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow them to sit and lay down comfortably, but small enough to conserve body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. Turn the shelter so it faces away from the wind and cover the doorway with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic. Also, pets who spend a lot of time outside need more food to replace energy lost from trying to stay warm. Use plastic food and water dishes instead of metal – when the temperature is low enough, your pets’ tongue can become stuck to metal.
- Avoid spills! Antifreeze attracts cats and dogs because it is very sweet to taste, but it is extremely poisonous and can cause serious illness or death when ingested. Be sure to clean up any antifreeze that spills in your garage, and keep the bottle somewhere your pets cannot access.
- Be prepared! Winter brings extreme weather that can cause power outages. Have an emergency plan and make sure they include your pets! Have an emergency kit with enough food, water, and medication to last your pets at least five days. Most likely you will never need it, but if you do, you will be thankful you planned ahead!
Important Winter Car Care Tips
Important Winter Car Care Tips
Keep your car running smoothly in the winter months.
From low tire pressure to frozen fuel lines to road salt damage, winter can take its toll on your vehicle. Here are five car care tips to prevent long-term damage:
- Swap out regular tires for winter tires. Snow or not, if you live in an area where temperatures regularly fall below 45 degrees, winter tires are recommended. They're made to give you better traction while turning or stopping on cold pavement.
- Check tire pressure weekly. Driving on underinflated tires can cause them to wear down prematurely and lose traction on icy or slippery surfaces. Your tires lose a pound of pressure with every 10-degree drop in temperature.
- Keep your fuel tank half full. During winter weather, it's a good idea to keep at least half a tank of fuel in the vehicle in the event of an emergency or if you get stuck in the snow and need to wait for rescue. For longer road trips, plan stops for gas in advance.
- Add a protective layer. A coat of polymer wax can create a barrier against road salt, grime, snow, sleet and more. Couple that with high-pressure car washes after winter storms to rinse away buildup in hard-to-reach areas such as wheels, wheel wells and underbody.
- Protect your windshield wipers. If you park outdoors, leave the wipers in the raised position to prevent them from freezing to the windshield. Never use your wiper blades to remove ice, snow or frost from the windshield; use an ice scraper instead.
What's the Difference Between Snow, Sleet, and Freezing Rain?
As we make it through the winter, meteorologists in many parts of the country are predicting all sorts of cold-weather precipitation: snow, sleet, freezing rain. But what's the difference?
All precipitation falls through the atmosphere on its way to the Earth's surface. Imagine a drop or flake falling through a long tube that contains the air between the clouds and the Earth.
The air inside the imaginary tube is the atmosphere. Differences in temperatures in different parts of the atmosphere account for the differences we see between snow, sleet, and freezing rain.
The liquid precipitation that falls to Earth's surface is rain. Rain can begin as snow, but by the time it reaches the Earth's surface, it has melted because the temperature closer to Earth is warmer.
If you've ever thought it strange that it's raining when the temperature outside is below freezing, it's probably because the temperature higher up in the atmosphere is still above freezing.
Snow forms in clouds at temperatures below freezing. As snow falls through the atmosphere, the air remains at least 32° F or colder. In order for a snowflake to reach Earth, it must remain frozen from cloud to surface.
But can it be too cold to snow? Sometimes! The colder it gets, the less water vapor there will be in the air…and less water vapor in the air means less chance of snow.
Sleet occurs when a snowflake falls through the atmosphere and warms up a bit before refreezing. The snowflake begins its journey frozen. As it passes through a thin layer of warm air in the atmosphere, it melts a bit.
It then re-enters another pocket of cold air before reaching the surface. The snowflake refreezes and becomes an ice pellet we call sleet. Sleet typically bounces when it hits the ground.
Freezing rain follows a similar journey as sleet, but instead of a thin pocket of warm air, freezing rain falls through a larger pocket of warm air in the middle of its journey. Freezing rain begins as snow, but when it reaches the warm pocket, it melts and becomes rain.
Before hitting the ground, it passes through a very shallow pocket of cold air, which cools it some but not enough to turn it into sleet. Instead, when the water droplet reaches the surface of the Earth and comes in contact with cold objects (such as cars, streets, or trees), it freezes immediately and turns into ice.
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Winter Weather Alerts, Watches and Advisories
Winter weather related Warnings, Watches and Advisories are issued by your local National Weather Service office. Each office knows the local area and will issue Warnings, Watches or Advisories based on local criteria. For example, the amount of snow that triggers a “Winter Storm Warning” in the Northern Plains is typically much higher than the amount needed to trigger a “Winter Storm Warning” in the Southeast.
Warnings: Take Action!
Watches: Be Prepared
Advisories: Be Aware
Here are some more key terms to understand:
- Freezing Rain: Rain that freezes when it hits the ground; creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.
- Sleet: Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.
- Wind Chill: A measure of how cold people feel due to the combined effect of wind and cold temperatures; the Wind Chill Index is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin. Both cold temperatures and wind remove heat from the body; as the wind speed increases during cold conditions, a body loses heat more quickly. Eventually, the internal body temperature also falls and hypothermia can develop. Animals also feel the effects of wind chill; but inanimate objects, such as vehicles and buildings, do not. They will only cool to the actual air temperature, although much faster during windy conditions.
What is a Lake Effect Snow?
Lake effect snow is common across the Great Lakes region during the late fall and winter. Lake Effect snow occurs when cold air, often originating from Canada, moves across the open waters of the Great Lakes. As the cold air passes over the unfrozen and relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes, warmth and moisture are transferred into the lowest portion of the atmosphere. The air rises, clouds form and grow into narrow band that produces 2 to 3 inches of snow per hour or more.
Wind direction is a key component in determining which areas will receive lake effect snow. Heavy snow may be falling in one location, while the sun may be shining just a mile or two away in either direction. The physical geography of the land and water is also important. National Weather Service meteorologists consider these factors as well as others when forecasting lake effect snow.