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As much of the country is experiencing double-digit sub-zero temperatures, setting records in some areas, thoughts turn to keeping families, pets, homes, and vehicles safe. Here are some “how to protect” tips gathered from online experts.

Protecting your home:

Keep doors and windows closed. Keep fireplace dampers closed when not in use.  Keep your drapes and blinds closed to reduce heat loss.  During the day, open those facing the sun to allow for natural warmth.

Keep the thermostat set at the same temperature day and night; it is less expensive than repairing a burst pipe.  Turn down your thermostat before leaving your home for extended periods.

Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows, and install storm windows or cover windows with plastic.

Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic.

Keep dryer vents clear of snow and ice.

Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to let warm air circulate around plumbing and prevent pipes from freezing. Run a small stream of lukewarm water from each faucet including the tub or shower to help prevent pipes from freezing.

If pipes freeze, keep the faucet open. Apply heat to the pipe using a hair dryer set on low or rags soaked in hot water to try to thaw the lines.  Blow the air stream back and forth until the water starts flowing again. Never thaw a pipe with a torch or open flame.

Locate the main water shut-off valve in your home and mark it for quick identification. If a water pipe bursts, shutting your home’s main valve quickly will minimize flooding and property damage.

Keep a fire extinguisher on hand if you use an alternate heating source such as a wood-burning fireplace.  Never use a stove or oven to heat a home.  Use candles only as a last resort, and never leave candles unattended.

Be extremely careful if using a space heater. Place space heater on level, hard surfaces, and keep anything flammable at least three feet away. Turn off when unattended including when going to bed.

Install carbon monoxide detectors on every level and near sleeping areas. If alarm sounds, move quickly to fresh air locations or open a window and call emergency personnel.

Have an emergency kit on hand stocked with flashlights, extra batteries, blankets, prescription medications and first aid supplies, and a battery-powered radio or TV.  Stock up on nonperishable foods.  Keep cell phones charged.

Keeping pets warm and safe:

Pets, like humans, can suffer from hypothermia, with symptoms including sluggishness, intense shivering, and shortness of breath. If it’s below 30 degrees, pets should not be outside for longer than 20 minutes.

If your pet must remain outside, provide a sturdy dog house  elevated off the ground and facing away from the wind. Although it should be large enough for a dog to stand and turn around comfortably, the smaller the house the better to hold in heat.  Hay, blankets, or towels will keep in heat and keep moisture out.

Use plastic water dishes and refresh water daily so it does not freeze. Give your pet more food than normal because they burn more calories to maintain body heat.

When your pet is outdoors, be mindful that substances, such as salt, on the ground used to melt ice can get trapped in paws and cause irritation.  Ice-melting agents and antifreeze can be toxic if ingested.

Protecting your vehicle and keeping you safer if stranded on the road:

Keep the gas tank filled to prevent the fuel line from freezing.

Stock an emergency kit for your vehicle with jumper cables, flashlights and batteries, snow brush, ice scraper, small shovel, first aid supplies, cell phone and charger, blankets, extra clothing, nonperishable food, energy bars and bottled water.

Make sure your battery is strong and connections are secure.  If the battery is over four years old, you could have problems starting your vehicle in frigid temperatures.   A poor connection can prevent the battery from getting fully charged.

Keep tire pressure at the proper level.  When the temperature drops below 0, tires can lose up to a pound of pressure, making them unsafe and causing unnecessary wear and tear.

If doors or locks become frozen, use an alcohol-based spray made specifically to open frozen cars; do not use hot water.

Extreme weather can freeze washer fluid.  Set  the car defroster on warm at the highest speed to keep the windshield as warm as possible.

Staying safe when you must be outdoors:

Try to stay indoors and reschedule activities.  If you must go out, even a short walk to the mailbox, dress appropriately.  Watch for patches of ice.

Keep head and face covered, wear mittens rather than gloves, and wear layers of loose-fitting clothing to keep trap heat.

Do not touch metal surfaces with uncovered hands – flesh will freeze immediately to the surface.

Avoid drinking alcohol, as it lowers the body’s ability to keep warm.

Know the signs of frostbite – numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, or waxy feeling skin.  Do not massage frostbitten areas which can cause more damage. Do not use a heating pad or heat from another source as affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.  Know the signs of hypothermia – confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering.  Seek medical care immediately.

Mark Bello has thirty-six years’ experience as a trial lawyer and fourteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Member of Public Justice, Public Citizen, the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.


Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Red Cross.

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