Keeping Warm and Safe in Sub-Zero Temps

Although the below-zero temperatures we endured in early December were great for snowmaking at our local ski areas, the shock of a -17-degree readout on your car’s dashboard is enough to send even the hardiest Parkites into daydreams of palm trees and white sandy beaches. It’s important to stay safe when sub-zero temps hit.

Our abundance of sunny skies during extremely cold days can belie the actual dangers such extreme temperature drops can have on a home and on individuals, so now is a good time to take a few minutes to prepare your home against the future cold snaps we’re certain to experience as winter progresses.

According to eHow, sub-zero temps can be taxing on your home’s heating system, which has to work harder to keep the home warm, while also increasing your gas or electric bill. They recommend the following steps to prep your home and stay cozy on super cold days (these tips can be especially effective for those living in drafty 100-year-old homes in Old Town):

  • Clean your furnace filters once a month. Furnaces that use air handlers have filters that trap dust and a dirty filter reduces the air flow your air handler blows, making it harder to heat the rooms in your home.
  • Close the damper if you’re not using a fireplace during the winter. An open damper pulls the warmer air out of your home, which increases the demand for heat.
  • Close off rooms you do not need to use. If you have a craft room or hobby shop you do not think you’ll be using during the cold snap, partially close off the vents to those rooms. Shut the door and place a rolled towel against the bottom of the door to keep cold air from coming into the rest of the house.
  • Cut bubble wrap into pieces that are the same size as the glass. Use a spray bottle filled with water to moisten the windows and place the bubble wrap, bubble side facing the glass, against the windows to maintain more heat in the home. Windows are the weakest link in many homes and glass conducts heat as well as cold. The larger the bubbles in the bubble wrap the better job they do insulating the windows from infiltrating cold. Remove the bubble wrap when the temperatures rise and store it until you need extra protection from the weather again.
  • Close the drapes for the duration of the subzero temperatures to keep even more heat in the house, especially at night when temperatures fall. Opening south- and west-facing windows helps bring in natural light on a sunny day, which can increase the temperature in a room.
  • Cook your meals at home. The heat from the stove and oven add considerable warmth to the kitchen, a place many people enjoy congregating. Bake a turkey, roast a ham or make a big pot of soup to warm you.
  • Run the furnace more when you’re home and turn it down to 68˚ when you’re going to be away or at night when you’re sleeping. You can keep colder temperatures if you have electric blankets or a mattress heater. Some people can tolerate temperatures below 68˚, but temperatures too cold inside the home can cause the pipes to freeze.
  • Supplement the heat in colder rooms with portable heaters. Most space heaters have shut-off switches to prevent fires. Use the heaters only when you occupy the room to save electricity.

If the weather causes the power to go out, which isn’t as common in Park City as it is in other areas of the country such as the Northeast, be sure to heed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines when using alternative sources for heating, cooking or electricity, as these sources pose potential hazards. In light of the recent hospitalization of 40 people at a Southern Utah school due to heating system-related carbon monoxide poisoning, it’s good to keep following FEMA recommendations in mind:

  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning device 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.

Despite the extreme cold, most locals will still be sending kids to the bus stop, or hitting the slopes. Dressing a child for a morning temperature of -5˚ should include a hat, gloves, boots with good traction and very little exposed skin. Check out this Wikihow page on dressing warm, which includes pictures to help sway even those stubborn middle schoolers who try to get away with wearing shorts in the middle of February. It’s also a helpful page to prepare for upcoming outdoor nighttime events, including the Freestyle World Cup in early January, and its much-anticipated free street party and fireworks, featuring Big Head Todd & the Monsters on January 8.

Finally, don’t forget the sunscreen. Utah is among the top 10 states for skin cancer diagnosis in the country, and has one of the highest rates of skin cancer death. Many folks don’t realize the wintertime sun can be even more intense than it is in summer due to the reflection off the snow. Slather on the sunscreen even on cloudy days, including lip balm with an SPF, and be sure to wear sunglasses to protect against snow blindness. A goggle-tan might seem cool on your Facebook profile pic, but when the dermatologist has to remove melanomas in a few decades, the funny factor will be fleeting.

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