Energy Assistance - Cold Weather Preparedness Tips

Overview

Be Prepared For Winter

When the weather gets cold, elders especially may develop a reduction in their body temperature more easily, as a result of decreased ability in temperature control and decrease in subcutaneous fat. Excessive drop in body temperature can lead to hypothermia. Elders with chronic illnesses, such as chronic respiratory diseases or asthma, are also vulnerable to disease deterioration in cold weather.

Cold Weather Tips

  1. Put on adequate clothing. Wear several layers of not too tight or too bulky clothing. Always wear a hat and gloves, since ears and fingertips as well as noses are extremely susceptible to frost nip and frost bite.
  2. Consume hot and easily digestible food and beverages with higher calories, like hot milk, soup, noodles and rice. Remember, alcohol actually accelerates the loss of body heat because it dilates blood vessels, so avoid alcoholic beverages.
  3. Keep the home environment warm but well ventilated. Do not overload electricity supply.
  4. Remain indoors or in places with sunlight. Continue with usual daily activities, but do more exercise to generate heat, improve blood circulation, and maintain flexibility of joints.
  5. Exercise care and concern for the elderly. If you happen to know of a single elder living alone or with chronic illnesses, give him/her a call or pay a visit.
  6. Stay off the ice. Determining the strength of ice is extremely difficult. Ice must be at least six inches thick to maintain the weight of a person and it takes weeks of freezing to get to that thickness.

Winter Heating Safety Tips

Staying Warm in an Unheated House
(The following winter heating safety tips are courtesy of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.)

During severe winter storms, your home heating system could be inoperative for as long as several days. To minimize discomfort and possible health problems during this time, conserve body heat by dressing warmly; find or improvise an alternative heat source, such as a fireplace or electric space heater; confine heating to a single room; and keep safety a foremost consideration. While chances of freezing to death in your home are small, there's a greater danger of death by fire, lack of oxygen or carbon monoxide poisoning.

 Think "Safety First"
Safety is critical in a heating emergency. Follow these precautions:

  • Do not burn anything larger than candles inside your home without providing good ventilation to the outside.
  • Any type of heater (except electric) should be vented. Connect the stove pipe to a chimney flue if at all possible. (Many older homes have capped pipe thimbles in rooms once heated by stoves.) Or hook up your stove to the flue entrance of the non-functioning furnace pipe. If no other alternative exists consider extending a stove pipe through a window. Replace the window glass with a metal sheet and run the temporary stove pipe through the metal.
  • If you chose a catalytic or unvented heater, cross-ventilate: open a window an inch on each side of the room. It is better to let in some cold air than to run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Do not use a gas or electric oven or surface units for heating. A gas oven may go out or not burn well, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. An electric oven is not designed for space heating.
  • Do not burn outdoor barbecue materials such as charcoal briquettes inside— even in a fireplace.
  • Do not try to use bottled gas in natural gas appliances unless you have converted the appliances for such use. Also, flues and piping made for gas-burning appliances may be unsafe for use with higher-temperature oil, coal or wood smoke.
  • Have one person watch for fire whenever an alternative heat source is used. One person should also stay awake to watch for fire and make sure ventilation is OK. If you feel drowsy or have a headache, it may be a sign of poor ventilation.
  • All homes should have battery-operated smoke and CO (carbon monoxide) detectors with alarms installed. Check batteries regularly.
  • Keep firefighting materials on-hand. These include: dry powder fire extinguishers, a tarp or heavy blanket, sand, salt, baking soda, and water.

Conserve Body Heat
Put on extra clothing. If cold is severe, your bed may be the warmest place. Use extra blankets and coverings to trap body heat; this is an especially good way to keep children warm. Farm families might consider taking refuge in a warm livestock barn.

Find or Improvise an Alternative Heat Source
You may have alternative heating resources around your home. Possibilities include:

  • fireplace, space heater, catalytic camp stove
  • wood, gas or oil heater
  • gas-fired hot water heater

Make sure you have a backup plan if you can’t find a safe way to stay warm. Staying with relatives or going to a designated shelter might be an option.

Provide Fuel
Some common materials that could be used for fuel in an emergency include:

  • firewood, newspapers, magazines
  • kerosene
  • woodchips, straw, corncobs

You can burn coal in a fireplace or stove if you make a grate to hold it, and allow air to circulate underneath. "Hardware cloth" screening placed on a standard wood grate will keep coal from falling through. Tightly rolled newspapers and magazines can be used as paper "logs." Stack them as you would firewood to allow for air circulation. If the heating situation becomes critical, consider burning wood, including lumber and furniture.

Select a Room to be Heated
Close off all rooms except the one to be heated. When choosing a room, consider the following:

  • If you’re using a vented stove or space heater, select a room with a stove or chimney flue.
  • Confine emergency heat to a small area.
  • Choose a room on the "warm" side of the house, away from prevailing winds.  Avoid rooms with large windows or uninsulated walls. Interior bathrooms probably have the lowest air leakage and heat loss. Your basement may be a warm place in cold weather because the earth acts as insulation and cuts heat loss.
  • Isolate the room from the rest of the house by keeping doors closed, hanging bedding or heavy drapes over doorways, or putting up temporary partitions of cardboard or plywood.

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Tips For Preventing Heat-Related Illness

(The following tips are courtesy of the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Stay Cool During The Heat

Summer brings cooling bills. High cooling bills can force people to raise the temperatures in their homes in order to save money. Also, people may try to cope with hot spells by relying on fans in a home in which the windows are closed due to fear of crime. However, indoor temperatures can be raised to unsafe levels, which can result in (heat stress or high body temperatures). Hyperthermia can cause illness or death either indoors or outdoors. Households with an elderly or disabled person, or young child are especially vulnerable to hyperthermia.

 The best defense is prevention. Here are some prevention tips:

  • Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level.  Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink.  Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
  • Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar-these actually cause you to lose more body fluid.  Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.
  • Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place.  If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library–even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area.
  • Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90’s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.
  • Although any one at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on infants, young children, the elderly and those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure.

 If you must be out in the heat:

  • Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
  • Cut down on exercise. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, nonalcoholic fluids each hour.  A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Warning: If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage. Remember the warning in the first “tip” (above), too.
  • Try to rest often in shady areas.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels).