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Winter Safety Tips

January 1, 2022

Pexels pavel danilyuk 5618029

Winter brings many different celebrations and activities.  During these various festivities and social gatherings, we host dinners or get togethers that may necessitate overnight house guests.  Decorating your home can be a fun way to create a joyful atmosphere, however, many times these decrations come with no instructions or their various 'How to' booklets have been misplaced years ago.  In our overexuberance to fill every space with fun and festive decor, we may not think about how to display items safely.  If you have children, pets, house guests, or high-spirited relatives around the house this winter season, you may want to consider some general safety tips.  Even if you aren't hosting an event but will be using winter items, such as a fireplace, a simple, quick safety checklist will come in handy for your winter fun!

Safety around the home, and in general, should always be taken into consideration, especially in the winter season.  Consider these facts and figures from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA): Each year, between 2015 and 2019, an estimated average of 160 home structure fires began with Christmas trees, resulting in two civilian deaths, 12 civilian injuries, and $10 million in direct property damage; an estimated average of 790 home fires that began when decorations (other than Christmas trees) caught fire caused an average of one civilian death, 26 civilian injuries, and $13 million in direct property damage; and an estimated average of 7,400 home fires (2 percent) started by candles caused an average of 90 civilian deaths (three percent), 670 civilian injuries (6 percent), and $291 million (4 percent) in direct property damage. (Source: NFPA's One-Stop Data Shop).  Please take a moment to review our safety tips and checklist of things to think carefully about during winter activities.  Then enjoy a safe s eason!

GUESTS

  • Visiting: If visiting another home with your family, keep in mind if they don't have children, they may not have everything out of reach of little hands.  Always keep a close eye on children when visiting someone else's home.  Even if it is a familiar home, their seasonal decorations may have changed the landscape enough that it will be a whole new environment with potential hazards for children.
  • Sitters: If leaving children with a babysitter, make sure they are prepared with all the essential numbers and contacts.  Also ensure sitters are aware of any special rules for the house; i.e. no 'sledding' down the steps or lighting the fireplace.
  • Smoking: If guests will be smoking inside your house, provide them with large, deep ashtrays and check the ashtrays frequently.  Keep out of reach of children and pets.
  • Designated Driver: When attending a party, always designate a non-drinking driver or hire a driver.
  • None For The Road: If you are the host of a gathering, be sure there are non-alcoholic beverages available for guests who are driving.  Stop serving alcohol well before the party is over.  Bring out coffee, alcohol-free drinks, and more food to aid in sobriety before hitting the road.

GIFTS

  • Instructions: Read instructions for children's toys carefully before letting them run off and play.
  • Under Age 10: Choose toys appropriate for age, ability and skill level for children.  Children under the age of ten should only get electrical toys that use batteries rather than ones that plug into the wall.
  • Under Age 3: Government guidelines specify that toys for children under three years of age cannot have parts less than 1 1/4 inches in diameter and 2 1/4 inches long.
  • Choking Hazard: After gifts are opened, make sure to remove ribbons, strings, and bags from toys before giving them to young children as they can be suffocating/choking hazards.
  • Fire Hazard: Keep gift bags and wrapping paper away from the fireplace.

FIREPLACE

  • Chimney Sweep: Fireplaces should be cleaned annually, preferably by a professional chimney sweep.
  • Screen: Keep fireplace screens/doors closed when fire is lit.
  • Flue: Make sure to open the flue before lighting a fire.
  • Decorations: Make sure no decorations are near the fireplace before lighting.
  • Wood: Use only wood that is properly seasoned to reduce creosote build-up.
  • Wrapping Paper: Do NOT put wrapping paper in the fireplace; it burns fast and intense.
  • Fire Starts: Keep fire starts out of reach of children and pets as they are dangerous if ingested.
  • Artificial Logs: When burning artificial logs, burn only one at a time; they produce too much concentrated heat for some types of fireplaces.
  • Water: Don't use water to extinguish a fire; it can crack the bricks in your hearth.  Let the fire burn itself out.
  • Heaters: If using an electric fireplace or portable/space heaters, keep them at least three feet from anything that can burn.

DECORATIONS

  • Sharp Edges: Avoid sharp decorations where small children and pets may reach them.
  • Faux Edibles: Do not get decorations that look like food or candy when small children are present.
  • Children/Pets: Get down on your hands and knees and examine your decorations.  If there is too much mischief for children or pets to get into, make the room off-limits.
  • Angel Hair: If using spun glass (angel hair), follow the directions completely and make certain it is out of reach of children and pets.
  • Plants: Keep holiday plants, such as mistletoe, holly berries, Christmas cactus, etc., away from children and pets. Poinsettias can make pets very sick.
  • Combustible Materials: The following should never be used for holiday decorations because they are inherently combustible: bamboo, cedar trees/branches, corn stalks/shucks, cotton or confetti (loose, in large quantities), dry moss/leaves, flammable powders/liquids, hay/straw (loose or baled), paper streamers (serpentine), plastic sheeting/pellets, sawdust, tumbleweeds, and wood bark/shavings.

CANDLES

  • Tree Branches: Do not use candles on Christmas trees or evergreen trimmings.
  • Non-flammable: Use non-flammable holders and make sure they are placed where they cannot be knocked over easily.
  • Supervision: Do not keep candles lit in rooms that are not occupied/supervised.
  • Hot Wax: Check your candles as they burn. Some will burn unevenly and may finish sooner than you expected or break open drip streams of hot wax.
  • Igniters: Do not leave children unattended around candles and matches/lighters.

LIGHTS

  • Turn off all holiday lights before going to bed or leaving the home. It is an even better idea to turn lights off when leaving the room unoccupied.
  • Whether new or old, always check lights before hanging them anywhere. Check that bulbs are working well and not cracked. Also look for damage to wires or socket connections.
  • Turn off lights before replacing bulbs or fuses.
  • Do not put indoor lights under carpets or behind curtains; make sure they are away from foot traffic and are not stepped on.
  • Keep cords and lights away from small children and pets.
  • Make sure to only use lights certified for outdoor use outside! If using lights from last year, make a habit of storing outdoor items together so you know which is which in the event labels are lost.
  • String lights through hooks or insulated staples. Do not use nails or tacks.
  • Outdoor lights should be plugged into circuits with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) to avoid shocks.
  • Where lights are connected together outdoors, keep the connections dry by wrapping them with friction tape or plastic.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets. Look for the manufacturer's recommendation. General rule is no more than 3 strings of lights for each extension cord.
  • Do NOT use electric lights on a metallic tree.
  • When removing lights, never tug! Remove them as gently as they were strung up!

TREES & EVERGREEN TRIMMINGS

  • If purchasing a live Christmas tree, check to see that the tree is fresh. The tree should be green, the needles should not break off easily, you should have to pull the needles to remove them. When you tap the tree against the ground it shouldn't be shedding needles. Also, there will be resin visible on a fresh tree bottom.
  • When you bring your tree home cut the bottom so that fresh wood is exposed. This will allow for better water absorption and keep the tree from drying too quickly. Also make certain to keep the tree stand basin filled with water; something that can be easy to forgot since it is not part of your normal routine!
  • Choose a sturdy tree stand designed not to tip over.
  • If purchasing an artificial tree look for one labeled "Fire Resistant." Note the resistant, artificial does not mean fire proof! Place your tree away from heat sources such as fireplace or space heaters.
  • Don't place your tree in high traffic space. You don't want someone to trip and topple over the tree!
  • Trim your tree with non-flamable decorations, such as tinsel or plastic ornaments. However, watch tinsel as cats like it, but it is not at all good for them! Be very careful if your pets have access to the tree that decorations are not tempting to them.
  • Keep green trimmings away from heat sources. They are great for railings or doorways, but not good for table center pieces if there are candles there as well!
  • Tree and trimmings should be removed as soon as able once the holiday season is over. You don't want a pile of dry evergreen sitting in a corner waiting to ignite!

FOOD

  • Thoroughly cook all meat products.
  • Thaw meat in the refrigerator - not on the counter.
  • Thoroughly wash all raw vegetables and fruits.
  • Keep raw and cooked foods separate. Make sure to use different utensils when preparing them.
  • Wash your hands frequently. If working with "little chefs" making holiday treats, make sure they wash their hands often as well.
  • Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S. When cooking for holiday visitors, remember to keep an eye on kitchen projects.
    If you are faced with a grease fire, remember, put a lid on it, and turn the heat source off!
  • Foods that require refrigeration should never be left out more than two hours.
  • Do not add new food to a serving dish that h0as been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Dry foods such as nuts, crackers, baked goods, breads, hard cheeses and candy don't support bacterial growth. Fruits, pickles, jams and jellies are too acidic for most bacteria.
  • Clean up early after a party. Plates left out and around may have bad food that can make children sick or can become a chocking hazard.
  • If you choose to make eggnog with whole eggs, heat the egg-milk mixture to at least 160°F. Refrigerate at once, dividing large amounts into shallow containers so that it cools quickly.
  • Use ciders labeled as pasteurized, or bring unpasteurized cider to a boil before serving. This is especially important when serving cider to people with weakened immune systems.
  • Use leftover turkey meat, bones, stuffing, gravy and other cooked dishes within two to three days.

SNOW

  • Clothing: If you must be outside, wear plenty of layers.  Ensure that each member of your household has a warm coat, gloves or mittens, hat, and water-resistant boots.  A hat is a must because the largest amount of body heat is lost through the top of the head.  The rule of thumb for older babies and young children is to dress them in one more layer of clothing than an adult would wear in the same conditions. 
  • Sunscreen: The sun's rays can still cause sunburn in the winter, especially when they reflect off snow!
  • Cold Weather Injuries: Recognize the early symptoms of winter weather related injuries and take precautions.
    Hypothermia Symptoms: Complaints about being cold and irritability.  Uncontrollable shivering.  Impaired or slurred speech.  Clumsy movements.  Blurred vision.  Severe symptoms can include stiff muscles, dark and puffy skin, irregular heart and breathing rates, and unconsciousness.
    Snow Blindness Symptoms: Eyes become sensitive to light.  Pain in eyes or forehead.  Gritty feeling in the eyes.

    Frostbite Symptoms: Superficial frostbite looks like gray or yellowish patches on the skin, especially fingers, toes, face, and ears but can occur on any exposed skin.  The first symptoms are usually numbness or itching and prickly pain.  The skin remains soft but becomes red and flaky after it thaws.  Severe frostbite looks like waxy, pale skin and feels cold, hard and solid to the touch.  The areas turn blue or purple when thawing and large blisters may appear when the area warms up.
  • Shoveling Snow: If you have a history of heart trouble, check with your doctor before grabbing that snow shovel and clearing the driveway or sidewalk.  Don't shovel snow just after you eat.  Don't smoke while shoveling.  Pace yourself.  Snow shoveling is a strenuous exercise that raises both your pulse and blood pressure.  Treat shoveling like an athletic event: warm up before you start and stretch during and after shoveling.  Concentrate on using your legs instead of your back.  Bend your legs and keep your back straight. Take breaks.  Don't over-exert yourself or work until you are exhausted.  If your chest feels tight, stop immediately!
  • Cold Metal: Teach children to never touch metal during cold temperatures, and resist the dares and/or urges to place your tongue on metal posts, railings, etc. 
  • Streets/Parking Lots: Children should never play on snow piles near parking lots or on the road side.  Make sure children never go near snow plows or areas being plowed.
  • Sledding: Keep sledders away from motor vehicles.  Children should be supervised.  Keep young children separated from older children.  Sledding feet first or sitting up, instead of lying down head-first, may prevent head injuries.  Use steerable sleds, not snow disks or inner tubes.  Sleds should be structurally sound and free of sharp edges and splinters, and the steering mechanism should be well lubricated.  Sled slopes should be free of obstructions, such as fire hydrants or fences, and they should be covered in snow - not ice.  Sled slopes should also not be too steep (slope of less than 30º) and they should end with a flat runoff.  Avoid sledding in overcrowded areas.
  • Skiing/Snowboarding: Never ski or snowboard alone.  Young children should always be supervised by an adult.  Older children's need for adult supervision depends on their maturity and skill.  If they are not with an adult, they should at least be accompanied with a friend.  Consider wearing a helmet.  Equipment should fit.  Skiers should wear safety bindings that are adjusted at least every year.  Snowboarders should wear gloves with built-in wrist guards.  Slopes should fit the ability and experience of the skier or snowboarder.  Avoid overcrowded slopes.
  • Weather: If weather warnings suggest a severe wind chill or extremely low temperatures, consider avoiding outdoor activities until the weather improves.
    A winter STORM WATCH means a winter storm is possible in your area.
    A winter STORM WARNING means a winter storm is headed for your area.
    A BLIZZARD WARNING means strong winds, blinding wind-driven snow, and dangerous wind chill are expected. Seek shelter immediately!

TRAVEL

  • Extended Trip: When leaving for a long time, make certain to get your mail held by the post office.  Also get your paper temporarily stopped.  Have a neighbor or family member stop by and check your house once a day.  Set timers on lights, indoor and outdoors.  Make sure your outdoor sensor lights are in working order.
  • Security: If you have a security system, make sure it is fully armed.  Remember to show anyone checking on your house how to unarm and reset it if they will be entering your home.  Check all windows to make certain they are locked. 
  • Safety: If traveling out of state, make certain to review weather reports and construction reports before starting your trip.  Keep car windows up and doors locked at all times.
  • Gas: Keep a half a tank of fuel to be prepared in case you run into heavy traffic or weather delays.
  • Winter Driving Kit: Put together a winter-driving kit, including gloves, hat, coat, blankets, shovel, ice scrapper/brush, flag or bright cloth.
  • Blizzard: If a blizzard traps you in your car, pull off the road, set hazard lights to flashing, and hang a distress flag from the radio aerial or window.  Remain in your vehicle; rescuers are most likely to find you there.  Conserve fuel, but run the engine and heater about ten minutes each hour to keep warm, cracking a downwind window slightly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.  Exercise to maintain body heat but don't overexert.  Huddle with other passengers and use your coat for a blanket if you don't have one.  In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, floor mats, newspapers or extra clothing for covering - anything to provide additional insulation and warmth.  Turn on the inside dome light so rescue teams can see you at night, but be careful not to run the battery down.  In remote areas, spread a large cloth over the snow to attract the attention of rescue planes.  Do not set out on foot unless you see a building close by where you know you can take shelter.  Once the blizzard is over, you may need to leave the car and proceed on foot.  Follow the road if possible.  If you need to walk across open country, use distant points as landmarks to help maintain your sense of direction. (Tips provided by FEMA)


Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

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