Winter Driving Tips

Be prepared for freezing temperatures and unpredictable weather before you head out.


Before you drive

• Keep your vehicle’s fuel tank at least a quarter full at all times, but preferably at least half full. This will prevent condensation from building up and freezing in your vehicle’s fuel line. While you’re at it, keep a few bottles of dry gasoline in your vehicle and use it before particularly cold nights.

• Keep a spare winter hat, gloves and a blanket in your vehicle in case you become stuck.

• Keep a First Aid kit, flashlight, jumper cables and snow shovel handy. Make sure you know how to use jumper cables properly. Keep the instructions in your glove compartment or with the cables.

• To help your vehicle’s rear wheels grip and to prevent your vehicle from fishtailing, put a cinder block, bag of cat litter or other heavy load in the back of your vehicle.

• Keep an ice scraper handy. Better yet, have two just in case.

• A snow brush does wonders for clearing snow off your car’s windows, hood, roof and trunk.

• Clear all snow and ice off your vehicle. Snow left on your vehicle’s roof not only will hurt your vehicle’s gas mileage considerably, it is a hazard to vehicles behind you when it falls off. Be particularly thorough clearing snow and debris off windows and lights. Remember: Although you may be able to see inside your car fine, it takes only a small amount of ice to impair your vision considerably — especially at night when the ice redirects lights in all directions.

• Replace your windshield wipers every season and make sure they are not frozen to your windshield.

While driving

• To conserve fuel and to avoid losing control of your vehicle on ice, accelerate slowly.

• Anticipate sliding on ice: Brake softly well in advance of stop signs and stop lights.

• If you begin losing control of your vehicle and your vehicle is a front-wheel drive, take your foot off the accelerator and gradually turn the steering wheel in the direction you want to take the car. Do not use the brakes or accelerate. If you are driving a rear-wheel drive vehicle, gently turn your steering wheel in the direction of the skid.

• Don’t travel too fast.

• Approach bridges and overpasses with caution. Remember: They freeze before the ground does.

• Watch out for the “other guy.” You may be a conscientious driver, but that’s no guarantee others are.

Source: Bangor Info

Top Ten Blizzard Tips

It snowed and snowed, the whole world over,
Snow swept the world from end to end…

Does the news of heavy snow sound like a chance for fun? Think again. Blizzards can be the killer storms of cold weather climates.

Snow coming down at a rapid pace and strong winds blowing and drifting the snow…into piles deep enough to bury cars make for poor visibility and life threatening emergencies.

Skiers may smile at the thought of all that great powder, but the truth is blizzards are very dangerous and need to be taken seriously.

Snow can be so heavy during a blizzard that it causes a whiteout. During a whiteout, snow falling down…or being blown around by the tremendous winds…reduces visibility to the point where the sky, the air, and the ground become one white blur of snow. All you can see in any direction is white snow. The winds and snow cause disorientation and, especially in rural areas, sometimes you can wander just a few feet from your front door and not be able to find it.

What are the necessary steps that should be taken to prepare for a blizzard?

Most things are usually on hand but should be stocked up and easily accessible. If it turns out the blizzard has turned to rain or snow flurries by the time it reaches your area, at least you will have known you were ready.

If your city or town is in imminent danger of a very heavy snowfall or blizzard, most likely your local weather and news media have let you know in plenty of time. They will be issuing warnings and alerts and, again, should be taken seriously. Here are a few things to consider before the blizzard arrives:

1. Prepare for power outages and blocked roads. Winds, ice and snow tend to bring down power lines. Make sure that you have candles, matches or lighters, a flashlight, a battery-operated radio, and emergency food supplies and tons of blankets. Think about where you’ll put candles to keep them lit and safe. Have plenty of food staples like powdered milk and protein bars. If your water supply depends on an electric pump, bottled water may be a good idea.

2. Staying warm when the power goes out may be a problem. Don’t think you’re immune if you don’t use electricity to heat your home. Many people don’t realize that their heating system depends on a boiler that is powered by electricity. Electric stoves and gas stoves that depend on electricity will be powerless if the storm knocks the lines down. Be prepared with alternative heat sources and plenty of blankets.

3. Traveling in a blizzard is just not a good idea. If you are on the road during a blizzard look for a hotel or motel nearby and stay off the road until driving conditions are safe again.

4. If you get stranded in your car during a bad snow storm be prepared with plenty of warm clothes and packaged snack foods. It may seem sensible to leave the engine running to keep warm, but it isn’t. The danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is high. Snow can block your exhaust pipe and fill the car with deadly fumes. Keeping one window open just a bit will help avoid this. If you keep the engine running you may run out of gas before the storm is over.

A better idea is to run the engine in short bursts. Turn the engine on long to keep the car warm and then turn it off. Keep this routine up until the conditions are stable enough for you to get back on the road.

5. Designate a spot, in the hall closet, to keep a bag of warm clothes for each person in the household. If the lights are out, it will be hard to find that really warm turtle neck or a pair of warm socks or gloves…in the dark. Count on the power being out for at least a day or two and have some board games and a deck of cards on hand. Arts and crafts are always fun for the kids (especially if there isn’t any television to distract them) so make sure you have some of those supplies easily available.

6. Along with warm clothes and blankets, consider stocking your Blizzard Kit with the following: batteries, flash lights, battery operated radio/television, bottled water, toilet paper, nonperishable foods such as cereal or crackers, canned goods, a non electric can opener, a small cooler, candles, prescription medicines and any over-the-counter remedies you use regularly; and if you have young infants or toddlers – diapers, baby wipes, formula, baby food.

7. Stock up on shovels and snow removal equipment before the snow storm. You may also want to cover the windows and spaces around the doors to keep drafts at a minimum in the event the heat shuts off.

8. If you live in an area that gets bad storms regularly consider investing in an emergency generator. Having an alternate source of power if the main lines go down can be a life saver.

9. A cellular phone is a ‘hot’ commodity for the snowbound. If you have a cell phone, make sure it is charged and easy to find. Now is the time to add emergency numbers in your phone’s memory for easy access when you need them. Even if the phone and power lines go out you can get word out that you are stranded and need help.

10. Finally, STAY INSIDE. However tempting it may be for kids to go out and make snow angels or play in the falling snow, use caution. Those blowing winds – both before and after a blizzard – are cold enough to cause frostbite, and snowdrifts may hide dangers children might otherwise see. Stay indoors where it’s safe, and warm!

Blizzards are serious business. Weather forecasters can only predict so much. Educate yourself and stay on top of the updates in your area. There is no harm in being overly cautious. In most cases where a blizzard is concerned, it truly is better to be safe than sorry.

Source: Chiff.com

Winter Storms & Extreme Cold

While the danger from winter weather varies across the country, nearly all Americans, regardless of where they live, are likely to face some type of severe winter weather at some point in their lives. Winter storms can range from a moderate snow over a few hours to a blizzard with blinding, wind-driven snow that lasts for several days. Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and sometimes by strong winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain.

One of the primary concerns is the winter weather’s ability to knock out heat, power and communications services to your home or office, sometimes for days at a time. Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region.

The National Weather Service refers to winter storms as the “Deceptive Killers” because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. Instead, people die in traffic accidents on icy roads and of hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold. It is important to be prepared for winter weather before it strikes.

Before Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

To prepare for a winter storm you should do the following:

  • Before winter approaches, add the following supplies to your emergency kit:
    • Rock salt or more environmentally safe products to melt ice on walkways. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency for a complete list of recommended products.
    • Sand to improve traction.
    • Snow shovels and other snow removal equipment.
    • Sufficient heating fuel. You may become isolated in your home and regular fuel sources may be cut off. Store a good supply of dry, seasoned wood for your fireplace or wood-burning stove.
    • Adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm.
  • Make a Family Communications Plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.
  • Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or other local news channels for critical information from the National Weather Service (NWS). Be alert to changing weather conditions.
  • Minimize travel. If travel is necessary, keep a disaster supplies kit in your vehicle.
  • Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas with non-frozen drinking water.

Winterize Your Vehicle

Check or have a mechanic check the following items on your car:

  • Antifreeze levels – ensure they are sufficient to avoid freezing.
  • Battery and ignition system – should be in top condition and battery terminals should be clean.
  • Brakes – check for wear and fluid levels.
  • Exhaust system – check for leaks and crimped pipes and repair or replace as necessary. Carbon monoxide is deadly and usually gives no warning.
  • Fuel and air filters – replace and keep water out of the system by using additives and maintaining a full tank of gas. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Heater and defroster – ensure they work properly.
  • Lights and flashing hazard lights – check for serviceability.
  • Oil – check for level and weight. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well.
  • Thermostat – ensure it works properly.
  • Windshield wiper equipment – repair any problems and maintain proper washer fluid level.
  • Install good winter tires – Make sure the tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require that to drive on their roads, vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.

Update the emergency kits in your vehicles with:

  • a shovel
  • windshield scraper and small broom
  • flashlight
  • battery powered radio
  • extra batteries
  • water
  • snack food
  • matches
  • extra hats, socks and mittens
  • first aid kit with pocket knife
  • necessary medications
  • blanket(s)
  • tow chain or rope
  • road salt and sand
  • booster cables
  • emergency flares
  • fluorescent distress flag

Winterize Your Home

  • Winterize your home to extend the life of your fuel supply by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows, and installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic.
  • Winterize your house, barn, shed or any other structure that may provide shelter for your family, neighbors, livestock or equipment. Clear rain gutters; repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on a house or other structure during a storm.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.
  • Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing. Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear.
  • Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use them. House fires pose an additional risk, as more people turn to alternate heating sources without taking the necessary safety precautions.
  • Learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts).
  • Insulate your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
  • Hire a contractor to check the structural ability of the roof to sustain unusually heavy weight from the accumulation of snow – or water, if drains on flat roofs do not work.

Know the Terms

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a winter storm hazard:

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.

Winter Weather Advisory – Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening.

Winter Storm Watch – A winter storm is possible in your area. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for more information.

Winter Storm Warning – A winter storm is occurring or will soon occur in your area.

Blizzard Warning – Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour or greater and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile) are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.

Frost/Freeze Warning – Below freezing temperatures are expected.

Carbon Monoxide

Caution: Carbon Monoxide Kills

  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal¬ burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
  • The primary hazards to avoid when using alternate sources for electricity, heating or cooking are carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock and fire.
  • Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide.
  • If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds, move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door.
  • Call for help from the fresh air location and remain there until emergency personnel arrive to assist you.

During Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

  • Stay indoors during the storm.
  • Walk carefully on snowy, icy, walkways.
  • Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack—a major cause of death in the winter. If you must shovel snow, stretch before going outside.
  • Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite. These include loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia. These include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, get the victim to a warm location, remove wet clothing, warm the center of the body first and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages if the victim is conscious. Get medical help as soon as possible.
  • Drive only if it is absolutely necessary. If you must drive: travel in the day; don’t travel alone; keep others informed of your schedule; stay on main roads and avoid back road shortcuts.
  • Let someone know your destination, your route, and when you expect to arrive. If your car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.
  • If the pipes freeze, remove any insulation or layers of newspapers and wrap pipes in rags. Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they were most exposed to the cold (or where the cold was most likely to penetrate).
  • Maintain ventilation when using kerosene heaters to avoid build-up of toxic fumes. Refuel kerosene heaters outside and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects.
  • Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping your residence cooler than normal. Temporarily close off heat to some rooms.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55ºF.

Dress for the Weather

  • If you must go outside, wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
  • Wear mittens, which are warmer than gloves.
  • Wear a hat. A hat will prevent loss of body heat.
  • Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.

Stranded in a Vehicle

If a blizzard traps you in the car:

  • Pull off the highway. Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio antenna or window.
  • Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you. Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Be careful; distances are distorted by blowing snow. A building may seem close, but be too far to walk to in deep snow.
  • Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers and use your coat for a blanket.
  • Take turns sleeping. One person should be awake at all times to look for rescue crews.
  • Eat regularly and drink ample fluids to avoid dehydration, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs – the use of lights, heat, and radio – with supply.
  • Turn on the inside light at night so work crews or rescuers can see you.
  • If stranded in a remote area, stomp large block letters in an open area spelling out HELP or SOS and line with rocks or tree limbs to attract the attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane.
  • Leave the car and proceed on foot – if necessary – once the blizzard passes.

After Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

  • Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold. TextSHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
  • Continue to protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in several layers. Stay indoors, if possible.

Source: Ready.gov

Winter Storm Preparedness

Winter storms can range from a moderate snow over a few hours to a blizzard with blinding, wind-driven snow that lasts for several days. Some winter storms are large enough to affect several states, while others affect only a single community. Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and sometimes by strong winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain.

Regardless of the severity of a winter storm, you should be prepared in order to remain safe during these events.

Know the Difference

Winter Storm Outlook – Winter storm conditions are possible in the next 2 to 5 days.

Winter Weather Advisory – Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening.

Winter Storm Watch – Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 36 to 48 hours. People in a watch area should review their winter storm plans and stay informed about weather conditions.

Winter Storm Warning – Life-threatening, severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours. People in a warning area should take precautions immediately.

How to Prepare for a Winter Storm

  • Winterize your vehicle and keep the gas tank full. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Insulate your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

Put Together a Supply Kit

  • Water—at least a 3-day supply; one gallon per person per day
  • Food—at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Medications (7-day supply) and medical items (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.)
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
  • Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
  • Tools/supplies for securing your home
  • Sand, rock salt or non-clumping kitty litter to make walkways and steps less slippery
  • Warm coats, gloves or mittens, hats, boots and extra blankets and warm clothing for all household members
  • Ample alternate heating methods such as fireplaces or wood- or coal-burning stoves

Remaining Safe During a Winter Storm

  • Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or other local news channels for critical information on snow storms and blizzards from the National Weather Service (NWS).
  • Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas and make sure that their access to food and water is not blocked by snow drifts, ice or other obstacles.
  • Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear.
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold.
  • Avoid driving when conditions include sleet, freezing rain or drizzle, snow or dense fog. If travel is necessary, keep a disaster supplies kit in your vehicle.
  • Before tackling strenuous tasks in cold temperatures, consider your physical condition, the weather factors and the nature of the task.
  • Protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in several layers. Stay indoors, if possible.
  • Help people who require special assistance such as elderly people living alone, people with disabilities and children.

Caution: Carbon Monoxide Kills

  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
  • The primary hazards to avoid when using alternate sources for electricity, heating or cooking are carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock and fire.
  • Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide.
  • If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds, move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door.
  • Call for help from the fresh air location and remain there until emergency personnel arrive to assist you.

Cold-Related Emergencies

  • Frostbite and hypothermia are two dangerous and potentially life-threatening emergencies. Learn how to care for these emergencies by taking a first aid class.

Source: American Red Cross

Home Fire Prevention and Safety Tips

Working Together for Home Fire Safety

More than 3,400 Americans die each year in fires and approximately 17,500 are injured. An overwhelming number of fires occur in the home. There are time-tested ways to prevent and survive a fire. It’s not a question of luck. It’s a matter of planning ahead.

Every Home Should Have at Least One Working Smoke Alarm

Buy a smoke alarm at any hardware or discount store. It’s inexpensive protection for you and your family. Install a smoke alarm on every level of your home. A working smoke alarm can double your chances of survival. Test it monthly, keep it free of dust and replace the battery at least once a year. Smoke alarms themselves should be replaced after ten years of service, or as recommended by the manufacturer.

Prevent Electrical Fires

Never overload circuits or extension cords. Do not place cords and wires under rugs, over nails or in high traffic areas. Immediately shut off and unplug appliances that sputter, spark or emit an unusual smell. Have them professionally repaired or replaced.

Use Appliances Wisely

When using appliances follow the manufacturer’s safety precautions. Overheating, unusual smells, shorts and sparks are all warning signs that appliances need to be shut off, then replaced or repaired. Unplug appliances when not in use. Use safety caps to cover all unused outlets, especially if there are small children in the home.

Alternate Heaters

  • Portable heaters need their space. Keep anything combustible at least three feet away.
  • Keep fire in the fireplace. Use fire screens and have your chimney cleaned annually. The creosote buildup can ignite a chimney fire that could easily spread.
  • Kerosene heaters should be used only where approved by authorities. Never use gasoline or camp-stove fuel. Refuel outside and only after the heater has cooled.

Affordable Home Fire Safety Sprinklers

When home fire sprinklers are used with working smoke alarms, your chances of surviving a fire are greatly increased. Sprinklers are affordable – they can increase property value and lower insurance rates.

Plan Your Escape

Practice an escape plan from every room in the house. Caution everyone to stay low to the floor when escaping from fire and never to open doors that are hot. Select a location where everyone can meet after escaping the house. Get out then call for help.

Caring for Children

Children under five are naturally curious about fire. Many play with matches and lighters. Take the mystery out of fire play by teaching your children that fire is a tool, not a toy.

Caring for Older People

Every year over 1,000 senior citizens die in fires. Many of these fire deaths could have been prevented. Seniors are especially vulnerable because many live alone and can’t respond quickly.

Source: U.S. Fire Administration

Preventing Frozen Pipes

When water freezes, it expands. That’s why a can of soda explodes if it’s put into a freezer to chill quickly and forgotten. When water freezes in a pipe, it expands the same way. If it expands enough, the pipe bursts, water escapes and serious damage results.

Why Pipes Burst

Surprisingly, ice forming in a pipe does not typically cause a break where the ice blockage occurs. It’s not the radial expansion of ice against the wall of the pipe that causes the break. Rather, following a complete ice blockage in a pipe, continued freezing and expansion inside the pipe causes water pressure to increase downstream — between the ice blockage and a closed faucet at the end. It’s this increase in water pressure that leads to pipe failure. Usually the pipe bursts where little or no ice has formed. Upstream from the ice blockage the water can always retreat back towards its source, so there is no pressure build-up to cause a break. Water has to freeze for ice blockages to occur. Pipes that are adequately protected along their entire length by placement within the building’s insulation, insulation on the pipe itself, or heating, are safe.

Regional Differences

Generally, houses in northern climates are built with the water pipes located on the inside of the building insulation, which protects the pipes from subfreezing weather. However, extremely cold weather and holes in the building that allow a flow of cold air to come into contact with pipes can lead to freezing and bursting.

Water pipes in houses in southern climates often are more vulnerable to winter cold spells. The pipes are more likely to be located in unprotected areas outside of the building insulation, and homeowners tend to be less aware of freezing problems, which may occur only once or twice a season.

Pipes in attics, crawl spaces and outside walls are all vulnerable to freezing, especially if there are cracks or openings that allow cold, outside air to flow across the pipes. Research at the University of Illinois has shown that “wind chill,” the cooling effect of air and wind that causes the human body to lose heat, can play a major role in accelerating ice blockage, and thus bursting, in water pipes.

Holes in an outside wall where television, cable or telephone lines enter can provide access for cold air to reach pipes. The size of pipes and their composition (e.g., copper or PVC) have some bearing on how fast ice forms, but they are relatively minor factors in pipe bursting compared with the absence of heat, pipe insulation and exposure to a flow of subfreezing air.

When is it Cold Enough to Freeze?

When should homeowners be alert to the danger of freezing pipes? That depends, but in southern states and other areas where freezing weather is the exception rather than the rule (and where houses often do not provide adequate built-in protection), the “temperature alert threshold” is 20°F.

This threshold is based upon research conducted by the Building Research Council at the University of Illinois. Field tests of residential water systems subjected to winter temperatures demonstrated that, for un-insulated pipes installed in an unconditioned attic, the onset of freezing occurred when the outside temperature fell to 20°F or below.

This finding was supported by a survey of 71 plumbers practicing in southern states, in which the consensus was that burst-pipe problems began to appear when temperatures fell into the teens. However, freezing incidents can occur when the temperature remains above 20° F. Pipes exposed to cold air (especially flowing air, as on a windy day) because of cracks in an outside wall or lack of insulation are vulnerable to freezing at temperatures above the threshold. However, the 20°F “temperature alert threshold” should address the majority of potential burst-pipe incidents in southern states.

Mitigating the Problem

Water freezes when heat in the water is transferred to subfreezing air. The best way to keep water in pipes from freezing is to slow or stop this transfer of heat.

Ideally, it is best not to expose water pipes to subfreezing temperatures, by placing them only in heated spaces and keeping them out of attics, crawl spaces and vulnerable outside walls. In new construction, proper placement can be designed into the building.

In existing houses, a plumber may be able to re route at-risk pipes to protected areas, although this may not be a practical solution. If the latter is the case, vulnerable pipes that are accessible should be fitted with insulation sleeves or wrapping (which slows the heat transfer), the more insulation the better. It is important not to leave gaps that expose the pipe to cold air. Hardware stores and home centers carry the necessary materials, usually in foam rubber or fiberglass sleeves. Better yet, plumbing supply stores and insulation dealers carry pipe sleeves that feature extra-thick insulation, as much as 1” or 2” thick. The added protection is worth the extra cost.

Cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations near water pipes should be sealed with caulking to keep cold wind away from the pipes. Kitchen and bathroom cabinets can keep warm inside air from reaching pipes under sinks and in adjacent outside walls. It’s a good idea to keep cabinet doors open during cold spells to let the warm air circulate around the pipes. Electric heating tapes and cables are available to run along pipes to keep the water from freezing. These must be used with extreme caution; follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to avoid the risk of fire, and check to make sure the product conforms to UL 2049. Tapes and cables with a built-in thermostat will turn heat on when needed. Tapes without a thermostat have to be plugged in each time heat is needed, and may be forgotten.

Letting the Water Run

Letting a faucet drip during extreme cold weather can prevent a pipe from bursting. It’s not that a small flow of water prevents freezing; this helps, but water can freeze even with a slow flow.

Rather, opening a faucet will provide relief from the excessive pressure that builds between the faucet and the ice blockage when freezing occurs. If there is no excessive water pressure, there is no burst pipe, even if the water inside the pipe freezes.

A dripping faucet wastes some water, so only pipes vulnerable to freezing (ones that run through an unheated or unprotected space) should be left with the water flowing. The drip can be very slight. Even the slowest drip at normal pressure will provide pressure relief when needed. Where both hot and cold lines serve a spigot, make sure each one contributes to the drip, since both are subjected to freezing. If the dripping stops, leave the faucet(s) open, since a pipe may have frozen and will still need pressure relief.

If You Suspect a Frozen Pipe

If you open a faucet and no water comes out, don’t take any chances. Call a plumber. If a water pipe bursts, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve (usually at the water meter or where the main line enters the house); leave the faucet(s) open until repairs are completed. Don’t try to thaw a frozen pipe with an open flame; as this will damage the pipe and may even start a building fire. You might be able to thaw a pipe with a hand-held hair dryer. Slowly apply heat, starting close to the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open. Work toward the coldest section. Don’t use electrical appliances while standing in water; you could get electrocuted.

Going on a Trip

When away from the house for an extended period during the winter, be careful how much you lower the heat. A lower temperature may save on the heating bill, but there could be a disaster if a cold spell strikes and pipes that normally would be safe, freeze and burst.

A solution is to drain the water system. This is the best safeguard. With no water in the pipes, there is no freezing. This remedy should be considered even when the homeowner is not leaving but is concerned about a serious overnight freeze.

To drain the system, shut off the main valve and turn on every water fixture (both hot and cold lines) until water stops running. It’s not necessary to leave the fixtures open, since the system is filled mostly with air at that point and not subject to freezing. When returning to the house, turn on the main valve and let each fixture run until the pipes are full again.

Source: Institute for Business and Home Safety. IBHS is a national nonprofit initiative of the insurance industry to reduce deaths, injuries, property damage, economic losses and human suffering caused by natural disasters.

Source: The Weather Channel

Maine fire officials press importance of working smoke detectors as Maine plunges into deep freeze


Two sisters, ages 6 and 11, in March. A 30-year-old husband and father and his three children — ages 4, 8 and 9 — in November. And last month, two brothers described as best friends.

These are the eight people in Maine who died in 2012 in fires that occurred in homes that lacked working smoke detectors, according to the results of investigations by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

The fires that claimed the lives of Natalie Hogan, 11, and Kelsey Hogan, 6, of Lisbon, Ben Johnson III and children Ben IV, Ryan and Leslie of Orrington, and Cris Davis, 49, of Milford and his brother Randy Davis, 47, of Orono were not isolated incidents.

And with the current cold snap and high fuel costs, struggling homeowners and renters will be turning to alternative heating sources, elevating the risk of fires. Most fire deaths in Maine occur in December, January and March.

Statistics provided by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) show that in 2011, home structure fires caused 84 percent of that year’s 3,005 civilian, or non-firefighter, fire deaths.

Fire deaths disproportionately affect older adults, who typically account for 32 to 40 percent of the total, according to the fire marshal’s office.

Cooking, especially unattended cooking and frying, was the No. 1 cause of house fires from 2006 to 2010, according to the NFPA. Smoking was the leading cause of house fire deaths over the same period.

From 2005 to 2009, nearly two thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no working smoke detectors. In 2010, the most recent year for which national data is available, the total was 62 percent, according to Richard Taylor, senior research and planning analyst for the State Fire Marshal’s Office, on Thursday.

The NFPA further noted that in 80 percent of the cases nationally in which smoke alarms failed to operate, the cause usually pointed to batteries that were missing, disconnected or dead.

Smoke alarms were absent in the Lisbon and Orono fires. State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said that while a smoke detector was found in the rubble of the Orrington fire, the safety device lacked a battery.

Fire officials say the deaths could have been prevented had there been functioning smoke detectors in the homes.

“It’s crazy to think that for $20 [a typical cost for a smoke alarm], this might have been prevented,” Orrington Fire Chief Michael Spencer said this week.

On Wednesday, Spencer said the November fire in Orrington that left 31-year-old Christine Johnson the sole survivor — the deadliest in Maine since December 1992 — hit the community and his department hard.

Though it was not the first fatal fire in Orrington during Spencer’s tenure as fire chief, it was the first that involved children and the first that involved multiple victims, he said.

Among Spencer’s fears was that firefighters, who were mostly volunteers, would risk their lives knowing that a father and his children were inside the burning house. Afterward, the banter that firefighters sometimes engage in as a way of coping with tragedies was totally absent, he said.

“It was complete silence. You could have heard a pin drop,” said Spencer, who personally removed the bodies of the three children from the house to spare his firefighters the task.

Thomas said this week that because fire officials lack the statutory authority to enter private homes to make sure they are equipped with smoke detectors, his office is reaching out to those who do — including social workers, police and medical professionals — to make sure that the needed life-saving devices are present, despite the fact that Maine law does not require them in private homes.

He’s also applying for a roughly $225,000 grant from the U.S. Fire Administration to fuel a fire safety public education blitz.

“I’m tired of having to put people in body bags,” Fire Marshal Thomas said candidly during a telephone interview last month.

Veazie fire Capt. Peter Metcalf, who in the past has taught fire safety in Bangor and Orono and still does a lot of behind-the-scenes work, agrees.

“Working smoke alarms are really your first defense in knowing there’s a fire in your house. Whether it’s 3 o’clock in the morning or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, without that working smoke alarm, you may not know until it’s too late that there’s a fire in your home.”

According to estimates by the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration, the use of smoke alarms in U.S. homes rose from less than 10 percent in 1975 to at least 95 percent in 2000, while the number of home fire deaths was cut nearly in half, the U.S. National Institute on Standards and Technology notes.

“Thus the home smoke alarm is credited as the greatest success story in fire safety in the last part of the 20th century, because it alone represented a highly effective fire safety technology with leverage on most of the fire death problem that went from only token usage to nearly universal usage in a remarkably short time,” the institute said.

While early alert to a fire can save lives when minutes matter, Metcalf said that having — and practicing — a family escape plan and designating a meeting place also are critical keys to surviving a house fire. Also important are to have chimneys and heating systems checked before each year’s home heating season gets under way, he said.

“Smoke disorients you. Where you thought things were is all changed around because you’re disoriented by the smoke. When families practice a home escape plan, it almost becomes routine. It becomes second nature.”

Taylor said that NFPA statistics show that nuisance alarms — namely those set off by cooking or steam — are the leading reasons why people remove the batteries from or disconnect smoke alarms. As a result, he said, one in every five homes in the United States lacks a functioning smoke alarm.

Metcalf agreed that this is a problem.

“We teach so much on smoke alarms and the need to change the batteries on a regular basis — change your clock, change your battery,” he said. “The downside is many times, people have nuisance alarms.

“So what’s the normal reaction? They turn the alarm off because they don’t want to bother anybody. They take the battery out, they forget [to replace it] and they go back to their routine, finishing supper or finishing up the kids’ baths or showers. You forget about the smoke alarm and if it’s battery-operated, it’s not going to work. And then you forget and then you go to bed and then you’re vulnerable. That’s when the risk happens.”

Metcalf and Spencer are among the Maine fire officials who say that neither cost nor lack of education should be deterrents to equipping homes with smoke alarms.

“There now are models that cost from $5 to $30 or $40, depending what kind you buy,” Spencer said. Some are equipped with a reset button that briefly disarms the alarm — without disconnecting the battery or electrical power — should they be inadvertently set off by cooking or bathing, he said.

“If a homeowner cannot afford a smoke alarm for whatever reason, they can always check with their local fire department to see what types of programs they offer. Many fire departments will keep smoke alarms on hand to help residents that are in need,” Metcalf added.

The tragic fire in Orrington prompted the Pine Tree Burn Foundation last month to donate $500 worth of smoke detectors to the Orrington Fire Department.

“One of the foundation’s missions is to provide assistance with fire and life safety material,” said President Janet Metcalf, who is Pete Metcalf’s wife and a teacher, when the donation was made. “We felt this was an opportunity for our organization to assist this community with purchasing smoke alarms.”

The fire department now has a supply of detectors to give out to residents who cannot afford or do not otherwise have them.

Spencer said that since the fatal fire in Orrington, his department has been approached by residents who are taking the lesson learned to heart. Families have told him that they are checking their smoke detectors to make sure they are in working order and are practicing their escape plans.

He said the fire department this month is launching a monthly discussion on fire safety for interested residents.

Spencer said many fire departments, including Orrington’s, offer help with checking or installing detectors and reviewing escape plans. Homeowners and renters interested in such services should contact their local fire departments or town offices.

While fire officials do what they can to provide fire prevention and safety education, the final responsibility is in the hands of homeowners, Metcalf said.

“Tragedies such as Orrington and Orono will stick in people’s minds, especially those close to the families,” he said. But in some cases, only for so long.

“Over the next several days, several months, people will be diligent about remembering to check their smoke alarms, but as the months go on, we tend to get back into our normal routine and the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We forget about some of the small things that keep ourselves safe, like checking our smoke alarms.”

Source: Bangor Daily News