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Winter Safety 101

Winter Safety 101

January opened with a winter pounding across much of the United States. New England was slammed with snow.  Midwesterners in Chicago saw the lowest temperatures they’d experienced in at least a decade, and Minnesota and the Dakotas experienced bone-chilling cold. 

Along with such weather comes winter dangers that many shrug off with a casual, “Really, how often does that happen?”

But the dangers are real. For instance, 905 people die in winter home fires each year, according to Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA).  And says the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were 1,536 hypothermia-related deaths during 2010, a year that saw the highest U.S. yearly deaths from that condition.

By simply taking some commonsense steps and following some basic safety checklists, you can protect yourself from an array of winter perils. 

Odorless, invisible killer

Carbon monoxide is known as the odorless, invisible killer. So recognize the symptoms of CO poisoning and keep in mind that they tend to mimic the flu.

Early signs include headache, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness.

Next come mental confusion, vomiting, and loss of muscular coordination.

The Red Cross and the CDC offer up some basics to avoid CO danger.

  • Never be tempted to use a gas oven to warm up your house or apartment.
  • If you’re using generators, grills, or camp stoves, keep them outside and away from doors, windows and vents that could let carbon monoxide seep inside. Never use such gear inside a house or in a garage or basement. 
  • Don't run cars or trucks inside a garage that’s attached to your house, even if you leave the overhead door open.
  • Install battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors on all levels of your house and outside all sleeping areas.
  • If the carbon monoxide alarm goes off, don’t ignore it. Head for fresh air outside and call the fire department.

Fire prevention

Cooking is the primary cause of home fires, so take extra care in the kitchen.

  • Don’t leave cooking food unattended, even for a short time.
  • Move anything that can catch fire—utensils, towels, potholders, and so forth--away from your stove.

Other fire prevention basics:

  • Place candles on a sturdy, uncluttered spot and keep them at least 12 inches from anything that catch on fire.
  • Use flashlights, not candles, during power outages.
  • If your pipes freeze, don’t thaw them with a torch.
  • Plug appliances—refrigerators, dryers, and stoves, for example—directly into outlets and not into extension cords.
  • Don’t run electrical cords under carpets or across doorways.
  • Have your furnace inspected and serviced by a professional, rather than taking a do-it-yourself approach.
  • Develop and practice an escape plan and establish an outdoor meeting spot for your family. Identify two ways to get out of each room, if possible.
  • Install and test smoke detectors. For those with hearing difficulties, install detectors with alternate alerts, such as strobe lights or those that vibrate. For more information, see www.lifetonesafety.com, www.safeawake.com, and www.silentcall.com.


Snow load

Shoveling snow can spike your heart rate and blood pressure, so those who are typically sedentary and those over the age of 40, should be particularly careful when clearing sidewalks and digging cars out of the snow. 

Here are some ways to lighten the load.

  • If you have heart trouble, first ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to shovel at all.
  • If possible, time your shoveling so that you’re moving fresh powdery snow that is lighter and much easier to manage than wet, heavy snow.
  • Don’t fill the whole shovel. Either use a small shovel or only fill a large one part of the way.
  • Try to push the snow, rather than lifting up a shovel and hoisting the snow behind you or over your shoulder.
  • Don’t exhaust yourself. Take a break when you get winded, and stop shoveling if you get tightness in your chest. 

Hypothermia and seniors

Recognize the signs of hypothermia. Often the condition emerges slowly and a person suffering from hypothermia doesn’t know something is happening. The elderly are especially susceptible and they don’t need to be in extreme outdoor temperatures to suffer from hypothermia.

Here are the signs to watch for:

  • Shivering, exhaustion, and drowsiness
  • Confusion, fumbling hands
  • Memory loss, slurred speech

For more advice, see http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypothermia/basics/definition/CON-20020453

Minimize Fido’s suffering

The winter chill also is tough on pets, so take some steps to ease their seasonal suffering.

The APSCA suggests:

  • Trimming long-haired dogs, including hair between toes, to limit clinging ice balls, salt crystals and de-icing chemicals. All dry out and can irritate dogs’ skin. 
  • Massaging petroleum jelly into paw pads before going outside to protect them from salt and chemicals.
  • Keeping your dog on a leash during a snowstorm. Even though they enjoy romping in the snow, they can lose their scent and get lost.
    • Wiping off your dog's legs and stomach after a walk because salt, antifreeze and other chemicals can adhere to their bodies and they can lick those substances and get sick.
  • Protecting outdoor cats who sometimes sleep under car hoods. They can get injured when you start the car, so if there are outdoor cats in your neighborhood, bang on your car hood before starting the engine so cats can escape.


For more about winter pet safety, see http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cold-weather-tips and http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/top-ten-winter-skin-paw-care-tips


Consumer Newsletter – January 2014


By Elyse Umlauf-Garneau

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