woman in room with warm socks on bed with coffee and dog

Winter months bring cold weather and storms that can cause power outages and other emergencies. Keeping safe and warm during the winter months is easier if you take time to be prepared before extreme cold or storms cause an emergency. Even if you can’t avoid being in the cold, there are steps you can take to be safer and warmer.

Be prepared for winter cold and storms

Being ready for winter months can prevent bigger problems when the cold weather and winter storms hit. Keeping the heat flowing is all about maintenance, planning, and preparation.

Winterizing your home can help prevent unnecessary problems throughout the winter months. Keeping the cold air out is a great way to start. Check around your windows and doors for leaks. Add weather stripping and storm windows to help keep the heat in and the cold out. Closing your curtains when the sun goes down will help keep warm air in, and cold air out too.

Protecting the water lines in your home through the cold months is also important. Insulating water lines on exterior walls will help keep the water flowing. When it is cold outside, leaving cabinet doors under sinks open slightly will help warmer air circulate around water lines. Leaving your water tap open to a slow, steady drip can keep the water and sewer lines from freezing, especially overnight when we use it less and outside temperatures are at their lowest. 

Maintenance of your heating system is a great way to make sure you stay warm in winter months. The CDC recommends that you “have your heating system serviced professionally to make sure that it is clean, working properly, and ventilated to the outside.” This maintenance will help avoid unnecessary heating system breakdowns and preventable carbon monoxide poisonings. Fireplaces need to be maintained even if you only plan to use it as a backup source of heat. Keep your fireplace and chimney clean.

Heating your home does come with some risk. Keep safe by following these guidelines:

  • Make sure your smoke detector is working. Batteries in your smoke detector should be changed twice a year. If you do not have a working smoke detector, get one as soon as possible.
  • Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors also need new batteries twice a year. If you have a wired CO detector, get a battery operated CO detector in case of a power outage. 
  • Do not use charcoal or gas grills in your home for heat because the exhaust does not vent properly for your safety.
  • Do not use your stove or oven for heat. It is safer to use blankets or a space heater.
  • Keep drapes, furniture, and other flammable items at least three feet away from an electric space heater if you use one.
  • Remember to leave your wood fireplace damper open slightly for ventilation.
  • Avoid burning paper in your fireplace.

3 Steps to Being Ready for an Emergency

Did you know that fewer than 50% of people are ready for an emergency? It only takes three steps to be prepared: have a plan, be informed, and make a winter emergency kit. Having a plan and talking about what to do in an emergency with your family, friends, and neighbors is an important part of being safe in the winter. Your emergency plan will help you know that everyone is safe and knows what to do even if you can’t get in touch. Watching the news and weather reports will help you be informed if there is a winter storm or other circumstances that could cause a power outage. 

An emergency kit can save lives. It is better to be prepared and not need emergency supplies than to need them and not have them. Your winter emergency kit might have additional items based on your plan, but here is a good general list to get you started for winter safety:

  1. Food that does not need to be cooked or refrigerated
  2. Water stored in clean food-safe closed containers
  3. First aid kit
  4. Blankets
  5. Dry hats, scarves, coats, gloves, boots, and extra clothing
  6. Cell phone and portable charger
  7. Battery operated radio for news
  8. Flashlight or battery operated lamp (avoid candles and other fire hazards)
  9. Extra batteries

Protect Your Health in Cold Months

Staying healthy during cold months is an important part of being safe and warm. You can protect your health by eating healthy meals, exercising regularly, and getting a flu shot. Eating healthy meals will boost your immune system to keep you safe, and it helps keep you warm when you’re cold. Digesting food causes your body temperature to rise slightly. If you are cold, remember to eat regular meals and snacks to help you keep warm and give your body the tools it needs to help fight off illness. 

Exercising regularly will also help protect your health. During the winter, people tend to sit more because it is more difficult to get outside for exercise. Walking around your home for fifteen to twenty minutes twice a day can make a difference in your overall health throughout the cold months. Move enough to be warm and get your blood pumping to your hands and feet, but you don’t need to work so hard that you get sweaty.

If you haven’t gotten your flu shot, you’re missing the easiest way to protect your health in cold months. People over 65 are at a higher risk for complications that lead to hospitalization and even death from influenza. Getting the flu shot will not be a guarantee that you will not get the flu, but it generally means the effects are not as damaging. You can protect yourself and your loved ones from unnecessary risk with the shot. 

Going Out in the Cold

When you do need to go outside during the cold winter months, there are seven things to keep in mind.

  1. Dress for the cold. Wear layers of clothing, and remember your hat, coat, gloves, and boots. A scarf across your nose and mouth can help protect your lungs from cold air.
  2. Avoid falls by making sure you have good tread on shoes, walkers and canes. Use sand or kitty litter on icy walkways to reduce the chance of falling on an icy patch. 
  3. Go out with a friend or family member. Using the buddy system is safer for everyone.
  4. If you need to shovel snow or other work outside, work slowly.
  5. Keep dry, or get dry as soon as you can to help avoid getting ill or hypothermia.
  6. Don’t leave pets outside for long periods of time in the cold.
  7. Take an emergency kit if you are traveling by car.

What if there is a power outage in winter?

Power outages and other winter related emergencies cannot always be avoided. It is safer during power outages to avoid travelling. Focus your efforts on safely keeping warm. If you rely on power for heat, it can be tempting to look for other sources of heat. Do not use your stove, oven, any open flame or gas grills for heat. They are not fire safe and do not vent exhaust properly. Keep warm safely by using layers of clothing and wrap up in blankets. An extra pair of socks, a hat, and putting mittens over your gloves are all ways you can keep your body warm. 

Keep moving. It will help keep you warm, and help your body circulate blood to your extremities. If you are wrapped up in blankets for warmth, wiggle your hands and feets frequently to keep the blood moving. Even small movements can make a difference.

Eating regularly will also help you keep warm and stay safe during an extended outage. Food and water safety are also important. Be aware that if your refrigerator does not have power for more than four hours the food may not be safe to eat. Extended power outages are the time to make good use of the food in your emergency kit. You may want to check with the local utilities or your building manager if water is safe to drink without boiling it when the power comes back on. Some water systems fail in power outages.

Following these simple steps will help you and your loved ones stay safe and warm in the cold months. Remember to check on those you love often. Be ready, be safe, and keep warm.

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