Winter tips for home, car and yourself

It is cold outside. With highs in the teens and single digits and lows well into the negatives this week, there is little use pretending otherwise: Winter is here, and it has come with a vengeance.

Much of New England enjoyed unseasonably warm temperatures throughout the fall, and with little to no snowfall until Christmas, many were unprepared for the sudden drop in temperature.

As you defrost you windshields, crank your thermostats and don your thickest wool hat, here are a few tips for staying warm and safe wherever you are:

CAR …

Before heading out of state to visit family or friends for the New Year (or for driving in cold weather at all), Arthur from Steve King’s Auto in Nashua said the most important precautions are to have car batteries checked and charged and to make sure tire pressure, which tends to go down in the winter, stays where is it supposed to be.

Warming up your car before getting in is perfectly fine, he said, as long as it’s for personal preference: the engine does not need to “warm up” before driving, and leaving it idling for too long can cause carbon buildup.

Another note of caution for driving in the winter, is to make sure your car is completely cleared of snow before driving, including the roof.

The state of New Hampshire passed Jessica’s Law in 2001 in response to the death of Jessica Smith, a 20-year-old Manchester woman who was killed when a large chunk of ice flew off the top of a truck and hit a second truck, which then hit Smith.

Driver’s can be fined up to $500 for the first offense and can lose their licenses for multiple offenses.

It also is a good idea to keep an emergency kit in case your car breaks down, including but not limited to a blanket, shovel, warm packs, a flashlight and snacks. Arthur also suggested flares.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that if you become stranded in you car, stay with your vehicle unless help is within 100 yards, run the engine and heater only 10 minutes every hour, keep a downwind window open and make sure the tailpipe is not blocked.

HOME …

This week, as temperatures outside continue to creep downward, it is likely you’ll turn up the heat when you’re home.

According to Shaun Dougherty, co-owner of Joyce Heating and Cooling in Nashua, after you turn that dial up, leave it there.

“Set it and forget it,” he said. Many people set their thermostats back to save on the energy bill when they aren’t home, but in sub-zero temperatures, this is the opposite of what you want to do, and it will take longer and use more energy to get back up to the regular temperature, he said.

If you’re worried about pipes freezing, Dougherty said to leave the faucet on a slow drip during the day and to leave cabinet doors open to allow the warm air to circulate around the pipes.

If they do freeze, he said, use a hair dryer or call a plumber, but do not try to heat it up too fast, as that can cause the pipe to burst. Never attempt to do so with an open flame.

Dougherty also said to keep outdoor exhaust pipes clear of snow and frost, as a buildup can shut down your heating system.

With space heaters, furnaces and fireplaces running to help keep the house warm, Adam Pouliot, fire marshal, said to be aware of fire hazards.

When using wood stoves and fireplaces, make sure that your chimney is cleaned and safe for use. Also make sure to have a mesh screen in front of the fireplace to prevent sparks or ash from escaping.

With space heaters, Pouliot said, make sure there are two to three feet of clearance from anything combustible. It also is never safe to use space heaters as a drying rack, which he said he sees often with kids’ mittens or hats

It also is never safe to heat your home with the oven, he said, which happens frequently if someone’s gas gets shut off “for lack of payment.”

The most common cause of fire at this time of year is cooking, he said, so never leave food cooking on the stove unattended.

However, whether through negligence or not, sometimes fires do occur, and Pouliot said to make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working.

You also should be sure to shovel around your fire hydrants and clear pathways to all doors, even the ones you do not use often, in case fire fighters need to enter your home.

SELF …

Aside from being chilly and uncomfortable, there are real dangers associated with such cold temperatures.

Justin Kates, director of emergency management, said to limit outdoor exposure as much as possible.

“If you can, stay inside,” he said.

For those who have no other choice and have to work or be out for an extended period, he said to make sure you are bundled up in warm clothing and to put warm packs in your pockets and shoes. If possible, take frequent breaks inside to warm up.

According to the Red Cross, when temperatures drop below freezing, there is an increased risk for hypothermia and frostbite.

Symptoms of hypothermia include confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering.

Signs of frostbite include numbness, flushed grey, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration and waxy looking skin.

People exhibiting these signs should seek medical attention immediately.

The city has designated several warming centers for this weekend.

“These are locations for folks that don’t have the ability to stay indoors,” Kates said. Locations and hours are the following:

Nashua YMCA Branch: 24 Stadium Dr. Monday through Friday 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Pheasant Lane Mall: 310 Daniel Webster Hwy. Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Nashua Senior Activity Center: 70 Temple St. Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Nashua Public Library: 2 Court St. Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., closed Dec. 31 and Jan 1.

Pets too, get cold in the winter, so bring them indoors if you can. If not, make sure they have shelter and access to unfrozen water.

It also is wise in cold, dry air to make sure you drink lots of water and moisturize often to prevent painful, cracked skin.

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com.