Winterizing: Time To Stoke The Fire

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on December 08, 2015

Winter is coming, and in many parts of the world it has already arrived. There is nothing we can do to prevent that, but some of us hope that it will be a mild winter with heavy snowfall in the mountains for the skiers and whatever amount of moisture is needed to fill the reservoirs so farms, and our yards, can be watered in the summer. Unfortunately such winters are few and far between.

When snow falls in the lowlands (where most people live), and temperatures drop well below freezing, that is when the real problems occur. At this moment there are many communities where snowplows already roam the streets and wintry winds make moving around outside an ordeal, rather than a pleasurable experience.

Schools, government offices and businesses may be forced to close due to inclement weather, and roads can become impassable quickly when covered with ice and snow. Compounding the problems, combinations of wind, ice and heavy snow can wreak havoc on the electrical power grid as trees and branches collapse onto power lines, causing prolonged power outages. When that happens, pipes may freeze and burst in frigid homes or frozen food can thaw in the freezer. For those of us with sensitivity to cold, especially people who are elderly, prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can be life-threatening.

The only surefire way to avoid wintry weather is to spend winter someplace warm, like Hawaii or the Caribbean. Many of my friends own, or rent, second homes in Arizona or the deserts of Southern California for that very reason. For the rest of us, those who cannot afford that vacation home, there are things that we can do to survive the season without running from it.

Plan for what's coming, far ahead of time, and set a timetable for getting prepared. Reflect back on past winters in your area, especially those that were more severe than most. Local television stations, the National Weather Service or the Weather Channel have charts detailing temperature and snowfall for past years, which also helps identify the time periods when it is important to be prepared for the worst. If there is a pattern of temperatures dipping below freezing, or even below 0°, during January and February, it is likely to happen again this winter. Fortunately there are some things we can do to be better prepared for those conditions.

If a disability requires you to have assistance with the activities of daily living, it will probably be necessary to have a caregiver or volunteer help with the following steps. Winterize your home. While it may not be feasible to put another layer of plastic wrap on your windows, keeping exposed pipes from freezing is very important. Drain and store outside hoses before the water turns to ice. Cover faucets with the Styrofoam insulating covers that are available in most hardware stores. In subfreezing temperatures, leave the cabinet doors under sinks open at night to help keep pipes from freezing. During extreme cold snaps, leave cold water faucets slightly opened, just so the water trickles; that will help prevent the water inside from freezing.

Make sure all radios, flashlights and lanterns have fresh batteries, and that you have a few spare batteries as well. Small cellphone portable chargers that can be pre-charged in advance to use in emergencies are relatively inexpensive, and will help assure that you can maintain contact with the outside world even if the outage lasts a few days. There are also hand-cranked chargers that will do the same.

Keeping a supply of candles on hand is a good idea, but be sure that they are always burned in a holder or container that will keep them from starting a fire if they burn all the way down or get knocked over. There are far too many residential fires caused by misuse of candles or different types of space heaters each winter.

Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors should have fresh batteries, especially if there are gas appliances or fireplaces in the house. If a wood-burning stove or fireplace is available to use in emergencies, be sure that there is some firewood stored in a dry location.

There are some extra precautions that can be taken by those who use mobility devices or have different types of disabilities. If you have trouble retrieving things from high places, make sure that a couple of blankets are moved to lower shelves in the linen closet or placed where they are readily available if the temperature in the home drops quickly.

Set up a safety net in advance. Get to know your neighbors. Having someone check in with you during extreme conditions or extended outages is a good idea, even if you don't need any help at the time. If you have a generator, be sure the fuel is stored in a safe location and that there is someone recruited and qualified to set it up and start it for you during a prolonged power outage.

If your disability would prevent or delay you in evacuating to a shelter or nearby hotel in the event of a longer power outage and inclement weather, be sure to get registered with the local emergency response agency in your city. Simply call the non-emergency number for the local police or fire department, explain your needs, and assure that they have your correct telephone number and other contact information available.

The same goes for the local transportation network, especially if you are qualified to use paratransit service. While driving a car or van may be hazardous, the local transit agency's equipment should be ready to tackle snow, ice and hills even when driving might be unsafe for smaller vehicles.

Be prepared to shelter in place for a few days, even with the power off. Non-perishable foods and snacks, especially those that will not freeze under normal circumstances, will come in handy when the stove doesn't work. If there are canned goods in those food items, be sure that a manual can opener is readily available as well. Don't forget the needs of pets or service animals. They also suffer from the cold, and there is increased stress on them when the power is out for prolonged periods

Keep a three day supply of water for everyone who might be in the house during a storm, but don't store it in the garage if that or any similar storage space is not heated or insulated. Suggestions for storing that water safely, and how often to change it or replace it, as well as the items which can be stored safely for eating, meeting medical needs or other purposes can be found at the website.

Pack a "go bag" in case you need to leave the house and stay in a warmer environment until conditions improve. A suggested list of contents can be found on the FEMA website. Most shelters will be equipped to handle routine medical or personal care needs. Those items related to more complex needs, like a five-day supply of prescription medication (plus copies of those prescriptions) and urological supplies, should travel with you whenever you leave home in an evacuation.

Since hauling your computer out of the house would be a cumbersome and challenging undertaking, periodically back up your hard drive onto a thumb drive that can be placed in your go bag so that you will have all of your personal information and addresses with you if you have to leave for a few days.

For those of you who ski, I hope you have the deepest powder in recent memory. If you need me, I will be home and hoping that the snow remains confined to the ski slopes.

© 2015 Michael Collins | Like Mike on Facebook

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.