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Extreme Cold Weather at Home

Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

By

Updated January 23, 2014

When winter temperatures drop significantly below normal, staying warm and safe can become a challenge. Extremely cold temperatures often accompany a winter storm, so you may have to cope with power failures and icy roads. Although staying indoors as much as possible can help reduce the risk of car crashes and falls on the ice, you may also face indoor hazards. Many homes will be too cold — either due to a power failure or because the heating system isn't adequate for the weather. When people must use space heaters and fireplaces to stay warm, the risk of household fires increases, as well as the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Exposure to cold temperatures, whether indoors or outside, can lead to hypothermia, frostbite, and other serious or life-threatening health problems. Infants and the elderly are particularly at risk, but anyone can be affected. To keep yourself and your family safe, you should know how to prevent cold-related health problems and what to do if a cold-weather health emergency arises.

Prepare for extremely cold weather every winter — it’s always a possibility. There are steps you can take in advance for greater wintertime safety in your home.

Emergency Supplies List:

  • an alternate way to heat your home during a power failure:
    • dry firewood for a fireplace or wood stove, or
    • kerosene for a kerosene heater
  • furnace fuel (coal, propane, or oil)
  • electric space heater with automatic shut-off switch and non-glowing elements
  • blankets
  • matches
  • multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher
  • first aid kit and instruction manual
  • flashlight or battery-powered lantern
  • battery-powered radio
  • battery-powered clock or watch
  • extra batteries
  • non-electric can opener
  • snow shovel
  • rock salt
  • special needs items (diapers, hearing aid batteries, medications, etc.)

Winter Survival Kit for Your Home

Keep several days’ supply of these items:
  • Food that needs no cooking or refrigeration, such as bread, crackers, cereal, canned foods, and dried fruits. Remember baby food and formula if you have young children.
  • Water stored in clean containers, or purchased bottled water (5 gallons per person) in case your water pipes freeze and rupture.
  • Medicines that any family member may need.
If your area is prone to long periods of cold temperatures, or if your home is isolated, stock additional amounts of food, water, and medicine.

Prepare Your Home for Winter

Although periods of extreme cold cannot always be predicted far in advance, weather forecasts can sometimes provide you with several days’ notice. Listen to weather forecasts regularly, and check your emergency supplies whenever a period of extreme cold is predicted.

If you plan to use a fireplace or wood stove for emergency heating, have your chimney or flue inspected each year. Ask your local fire department to recommend an inspector, or find one in the yellow pages of your telephone directory under “chimney cleaning.”

Also, if you’ll be using a fireplace, wood stove, or kerosene heater, install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near the area to be heated. Test them monthly, and replace batteries twice yearly.

Your ability to feel a change in temperature decreases with age, and older people are more susceptible to health problems caused by cold. If you are over 65 years old, place an easy-to-read thermometer in an indoor location where you will see it frequently, and check the temperature of your home often during the winter months.

Insulate any water lines that run along exterior walls so your water supply will be less likely to freeze. To the extent possible, weatherproof your home by adding weather-stripping, insulation, insulated doors and storm windows, or thermal-pane windows.

If you have pets, bring them indoors. If you cannot bring them inside, provide adequate shelter to keep them warm and make sure that they have access to unfrozen water.

Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Winter Weather Guide

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