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Below-zero temperatures in the forecast — tips to keep yourself and your homes safe

January 3, 2014

Online Staff Report

The weather forecast for the Rockford area over the next week includes multiple days with high temperatures below zero. Following are some tips from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Home Instead Senior Care and State Farm to help keep your bodies and your homes safe from the dangerously frigid temperatures.

FEMA offers tips for staying warm and safe

“Subfreezing temperatures can be dangerous and even life-threatening for people who don’t take the proper precautions,” said Andrew Velasquez III, FEMA regional administrator. “It is important for everyone to monitor their local weather reports and take steps now to stay safe during times of extreme cold temperatures.”

During cold weather, you should take the following precautions:

• Stay indoors as much as possible and limit your exposure to the cold;

• Dress in layers and keep dry;

• Check on family, friends and neighbors who are at risk and may need additional assistance;

• Know the symptoms of cold-related health issues such as frostbite and hypothermia and seek medical attention if health conditions are severe.

• Bring your pets indoors or ensure they have a warm shelter area with unfrozen water.

• Make sure your vehicle has an emergency kit that includes an ice scraper, blanket and flashlight — and keep the fuel tank above half full.

Find more information and tips on being ready for winter weather and extreme cold temperatures at http://www.ready.gov/winter.

Home Instead Senior Care offers tips to keep seniors warm and safe

With dangerously cold temperatures in the forecast, Home Instead Senior Care says now is the time for seniors and their loved ones to brush up on cold weather safety tips.

“Winter can be a difficult time, as the harsh conditions especially impact seniors,” said Jeff Huber, president of Home Instead, Inc. “We want to make sure seniors and their loved ones are aware of simple ways they can stay safe and warm throughout the season.”

Those older than 65 account for nearly half of all hypothermia deaths. As the body ages, the ability to maintain a normal internal body temperature decreases, creating an insensitivity to moderately cold temperatures. Seniors may not realize they are putting themselves at risk until symptoms appear. Symptoms of hypothermia include: shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. If symptoms are present, immediate medical attention is necessary.

The leading reason for hypothermia in the elderly is poorly heated homes, which is entirely preventable. Following are simple tips to ensure a warm household.

Stay warm

• Keep the thermostat at 65 degrees, at least. Consistently check it to make sure your home is sufficiently warm. Even as heating costs rise, your safety should be a priority.

• Put a carbon monoxide detector near where you sleep.

• Ensure there is adequate insulation, and check and clean the fireplace and furnace. Furnace filters should be replaced monthly.

• Minimize drafts by filling old socks with sand and using them in drafty windowsills and door jams. Weather-strip around windows and doors. Keep doors to unused rooms closed and close curtains at night.

• Add an extra blanket to the bed and warm the bed in advance with a hot water bottle. Never use an electric blanket — it may be difficult to operate the controls if the temperature needs to be adjusted in the night.

• Dress in layers of loose-fitting clothing. If you go outside, make sure your head is covered.

Every year, more than 1.6 million seniors end up in the emergency room because of a fall. With icy conditions, the chances of falling are even greater.

Preventing falls

• Take a couple minutes per day and stretch your limbs to loosen muscles.

• Stay inside — make arrangements for someone to shovel and salt driveways and walkways. Professional caregivers can assist with to-do items, such as bringing in the mail and/or picking up groceries.

• Wear shoes or boots with a non-skid sole.

• Have handrails installed on outside walls for frequently-used walkways.

• If you use a cane or walker, check the rubber tips to make sure they are not worn smooth.

Winter weather can take a toll on everyone, especially seniors. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can occur in seniors and impact their emotional health. Some signs to watch for with SAD include: a loss of energy, an increased appetite and an enhanced feeling of lethargy and tiredness. If symptoms are present, talk to your medical provider about treatment options.

Additionally, winter storms can be unpredictable. It is important to be prepared in case of an emergency.

Build a network

• Stay in touch in with family, friends and neighbors. Schedule phone calls, or enlist the help of a professional caregiver to come in for an hour a week.

• Make arrangements for assistance in case of a blizzard or power outage. Keep important numbers in an emergency kit, along with non-perishable foods, water and medications.

• Be familiar with local resources. Visit www.ready.gov/seniors, www.noaa.gov or www.redcross.org for more about cold weather.

To learn how Home Instead Senior Care can assist in the cold weather, visit www.homeinstead.com.

State Farm offers tips to keep your homes safe from cold

Mother Nature has blasted the area with cold and snow, and it’s only going to get colder by Monday. State Farm is already receiving claims on frozen pipes, but there is still time to prevent others from getting hit with damage. Below are facts and tips for prevention.

The snow and cold can also bring ice dams to a home. An ice dam forms when the temperature in your attic is above freezing, causing snow on the roof to melt and then refreeze in dropping temperatures. The pools of water behind those dams can cause leakage then into your home. See tips about how to prevent this below.

Frozen pipes:

One-eighth-inch (3 millimeters) crack in a pipe can spray more than 250 gallons of water a day — ruining floors, carpets, furniture and irreplaceable personal belongings.

Pipes can freeze anywhere as a result of exposure from cracks or holes in siding or because of pipes being placed in outside walls with inadequate insulation.

When it’s especially cold where you live, let the hot and cold faucets drip overnight and open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to uninsulated pipes under sinks on exterior walls.

Insulate pipes in your home’s crawl space or attic.

Seal leaks that allow cold air inside.

Disconnect garden hoses and, if practical, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets.

If you are going away for an extended period of time, be sure to maintain adequate heat inside your home … no lower than 55 degrees.

Ice dams:

Prevent warm, moist downstairs air from infiltrating the attic by appropriately insulating your attic’s floor and using a dehumidifier to control water vapor. Seal all openings that would allow vapor to rise into the attic.

Research shows keeping the attic air temperature below freezing when the outside air temperature is in the low 20s can reduce the occurrence of ice dams. Provide good attic ventilation to replace warm air in the attic with cold outside air. Consult a professional for the best way to avoid ice dams and water damage in your home.

Do not routinely remove snow from the roof or attempt to “chip away” the ice of an ice dam. It will likely lead to shingle damage.

Do not install large mechanical equipment or water heaters in attics, especially in cold climates. Not only do they present an unwelcome fire hazard, but they’ll also increase the temperature in your attic.

Do not use salt or calcium chloride to melt snow on a roof. These chemicals are very corrosive and can shorten the life of metal gutters, downspouts, and flashings. Runoff that contains high concentrations of these chemicals can damage nearby grass and plants.

Posted Jan. 3, 2014

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