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Winter weather safety tips for you, your home and your pets

More winter weather is on its way. Here's how to keep you, your pets and your home safe.
Image: A pedestrian walks through snow-covered McPherson Square in Washington on Feb. 20, 2019.
When it’s cold, it’s important to layer up — but what types of layers you use are also critical. Eva Hambach / AFP - Getty Images

If you woke up to landscape filled with ice or snow, travel during inclement weather is only one of the potential issues to be aware of. We’ve compiled a list of tips to ensure that you, your family (pets, too!) and home are safe and warm in any harsh weather situation be it rain, snow, wind — or just that dreadful teeth-chattering cold.

Ensure carbon monoxide detectors are operating has a trove of helpful pointers for home safety during winter blasts, reminding folks that carbon monoxide leaks are a higher risk during winter storms and arctic blasts.

Take a minute to ensure that your carbon monoxide detector is working, and pick up a spare set of batteries just in case. Do the same for your smoke alarm.

Tend to outdoor appliances — they’re prone to damage in the cold

If you have a fridge, washer and dryer or other home appliance outdoors (or in any unheated part of the home), you’ll want to take extra measures to protect them.

Refrigerators and cooling related components:

“Understanding that a refrigerator is a ‘humidity/heat removing’ device and not a cooling device will allow you to better understand its needs in freezing environments,” says Bob Tuck, franchise owner of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly Company. “When the ambient conditions prevent it from running as designed, challenges occur. If you suspect your refrigerator is having an issue, hold off on calling for service as its performance is directly related to the temperature of the incoming water to the appliance. Also, avoid storing fluids in glass containers during these periods. You can also contact your manufacturer and ask them if your specific model is prone to challenges during these conditions.”

Washing machines and dishwashers:

“Add a solution of non-freezing automotive windshield washing fluid,” says Tuck, noting that this is not anti-freeze as used in radiators. “You can purchase non-freezing automotive windshield washing fluid in most retail stores. Drain the appliance reservoirs and add 1 gallon of the solution. Then begin operating the appliance for 10 seconds to include a partial drain, as the drain pump and hoses are most vulnerable.”

Warm up those pipes

Pipes are also prone to damage in the cold, so keep them warm by doing the following, as recommended by Gary Findley, CEO of Restoration 1 and bluefrog Plumbing + Drain.

  1. Blow hot air from a hair dryer against the pipe.
  2. Position a heat lamp or portable space heater next to the pipe.
  3. Wrap hot towels around the pipe.
  4. Apply electrical heating tape directly to the pipe.

Get a spare car battery and an engine heater

Cars also need a bit of extra love during the cold season.

“This super cold weather can cause car batteries to fail, jumping a dead battery is a temporary fix, [but] a replacement may be needed,” says Lauren Fix, automotive expert, “Don’t wait on this.”

Additionally, keep in mind that sub-zero temperatures can freeze the fluids in your car.

“If your vehicle has frozen fluids, you are stranded,” says Fix. “Buying an engine heater or blanket is your only solution if you park outside. Garages are your best bet.”

Keep pets indoors always — and have extra food and meds on hand

Certainly you do not want to leave your pets outdoors at all in extreme cold or a bad storm — as they, too, are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia. Keep them indoors where it is aptly heated, and always remember that if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them.

Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinary health expert with Rover, recommends setting up a temporary bathroom area in the garage or elsewhere if it’s literally too cold to safely walk your dog.

If you can go out, you should put your pups in a sweater and/or coat, but even more importantly, tend to their their paws.

“Pets are more well designed to resist frostbite than people, but they can get it if they are out for too long,” says Dr. Richter. “Try to use booties if your dog is going to be out for more than a few minutes and they are not used to the cold. Also, road salt can be very drying to pets. You can buy or make a balm to put on pads to protect them from the elements.”

If your dog refuses to wear booties (as one of mine does), towel off their paws during walks, inspect for irritation after and keep an eye out for limping. Pro tip I learned from past work as a vet tech in NYC: Make sure to clean your pups’ paws after a walk with warm water — you don’t want them licking that harsh salt which is definitely not made for ingesting.

Richter adds that if your pet is on medication, make sure to have enough on hand in case you have to bunker down for a while. It can also be helpful to talk to your vet about anti-anxiety medications if your pet gets agitated during storms.

Layer up

When it’s cold, it’s important to layer up — but what types of layers you use are also critical.

“To survive in the cold, I apply lessons I learned in becoming an Eagle Scout which I honed in the Himalayas and sailing in freezing weather,” says powerlifter Robert Herbst. “The thing to remember is 10 below zero is as dangerous on a city street as it is on a mountain so you need to treat it with the same seriousness. Wear layers to trap heat with the outer layer being a wind resistant shell. Mountaineers have a saying that ‘cotton kills.’ One should avoid cotton socks or a tee shirt as they will trap moisture against your skin. Don't wear cotton pants because if you walk in snow, they will wick water right up your legs. Mittens are better than gloves and you should cover your face.”

“There are a number of synthetic fabrics made by sporting and outdoor companies that wick water away from the skin to the next layer,” Herbst continues. “Polypropylene is good for underwear. Wool is great for socks (with a synthetic under layer if it is really cold).”

An underlayer of tights or pantyhose are also a good idea — for men and women, Herbst notes.

Frostbite and hyperthermia can happen quicker than you may think

In arctic cold, frostbite can occur in as little as 5 minutes. Extremely cold weather can also cause hypothermia, which is potentially fatal, in as little as 30 minutes of extreme exposure (even quicker if you’re submerged in freezing water).

All the more reason to bundle up wisely and limit your time outdoors.

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