Winter Weather Safety

by Connie Neal, Housing and Environmental Design Specialist

During the winter weather season, there are some issues that the cold weather brings with it that can jeopardize our safety.  Knowing what to do to keep yourself and your family safe is very important. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are some indoor safety tips that will ensure your safety.  Many of these you may already be familiar with, but it never hurts to revisit them.

  • Use fireplace, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space.
  • Never use a charcoal or gas grill indoors as the fumes are deadly.
  • Never leave lit candles unattended.
  • Keep as much heat as possible inside your home.
  • Check the temperature in your home often during severely cold weather.
  • Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip continuously.
  • Eat well-balanced meals to help you stay warmer.

If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful.  The CDC recommends that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and remember these additional safety tips:

  • Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation if you must use a kerosene heater.
  • Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use – don’t substitute.
  • Do not place a space heater within 3 feet of anything that may catch on fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding, and never cover your space heater.
  • Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water.
  • Make sure that the cord of an electric heater is not a tripping hazard but do not run the cord under carpets or rugs.
  • Avoid using extension cords to plug in your space heater.
  • If your space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, do not use it.
  • Store a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated.
  • Protect yourself from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning by installing a battery-operated CO detector and never use generators, grills, camp stoves or similar devices indoors.

We see an increased use of portable generators in winter weather.  Never use a generator inside homes or garages even if doors and windows are open.  Do not use them in crawlspaces, sheds or similar areas or near the air intake of your house.  Deadly levels of carbon monoxide (CO) can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urges consumers to use generators only outside, and at least 20 feet from the home, away from windows and vents to allow proper ventilation.  It is important to follow the instructions that come with your generator.  The CPSC warns other hazards to avoid when using a generator is electric shock or electrocution, fire and burns.  Every year, people die in incidents related to portable generator use.  Most of the incidents associated with portable generators reported to CPSC involve CO poisoning from generators used indoors or in partially-enclosed spaces. 

The CPSC notes that when used in a confined space, generators can produce high levels of CO within minutes.  When using a portable generator, you cannot see or smell CO.  Even if you do not smell exhaust fumes, you may still be exposed to CO.  If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away, DO NOT DELAY!  The CO generators can rapidly kill you. 

Proper usage of CO-emitting tools is just one vital safety tool.  For this reason, the CPSC strongly advises installing battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home on each level of the home and outside sleeping areas following the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Energy Efficient Cellular Shades

Heating and cooling your home uses more energy than any other system in your home.  Heat lost through windows can account for 20% to 25% of your heating bill.  According to one of the leaders in the  window treatment industry, without energy efficient window treatments, as much as 50% of a home’s heating and cooling energy can be lost through its windows.   Energy efficient window treatments can help your home by reducing energy consumption, thus saving on heating and cooling costs while enhancing the comfort of the room(s).   They also provide your home with increased protection against heat loss during the winter and minimize the sun’s heat during the summer.  

R-value measures a window’s resistance to air flow.  The higher the R-value, the more effective the window is in reducing heating and cooling costs.  Cellular shades can increase the R-value of a window by adding insulation created by the dead air space.  They are designed to trap air within the honeycomb pockets, therefore, less air escapes through the glass and window frame.   The type of glass, frame and window sash can also affect the R-value of the overall window. 

When installed properly, window treatments such as cellular shades can be a simple, yet effective  treatment for saving energy.  It is important to mount shades as close to the glass as possible with the sides of the shade held close to the wall or window frame to establish a sealed air space.  To conserve energy, you should lower shades on sunlit windows in the summer and raise them on southern exposures in the winter during the day.  Dual shades that are highly reflective or white on one side and heat absorbing (dark) on the other side can be reversed with the seasons.  The reflective side should always face the warmest side:  outward during the cooling season and inward during the heating season.  To be effective, they should be drawn all day.  

There are several window treatment manufacturers who have designed one, two or three cell cellular shades which feature dead air spaces thus increasing their insulating value.  These shades provide only slight control of air filtration. Many manufacturers also offer specialty shapes and options available for unique window designs.  There are many features available such as top down, bottom up which allows one to adjust the top independently from the bottom.  Cellular shades also come in light filtering fabric as well as room darkening fabric which offers optimal thermal insulation.   Using a reputable manufacturer for custom shades assures consumers of a quality product for many years. 

If you desire further information on this or any other topic, contact Nodaway County Extension center, Connie Neal, Housing & Environmental Design Specialist, 660-582-8101 or email NealCa@missouri.edu.

 

IS DECLUTTERING YOUR HOME A PART OF YOUR NEW YEARS RESOLUTION?

By Connie Neal, Housing and Environmental Design Specialist

 

If you made a new year’s resolution to be more organized and decrease household clutter, perhaps this article will be of interest to you.   Clutter can accumulate anywhere in your house, starting in a small space on a counter, in a corner or on a table and eventually spread to take over a whole room, or even a whole house.  Some prime sources of clutter include paper, books, magazines, hobby materials ,toys, games, clothes, shoes, tools, hardware, cleaning supplies and laundry. 

According to the University of Georgia Extension, household clutter has a big impact on your health and quality of life.  Out of control clutter can cause people to fall and injure themselves trying to maneuver around the piles of junk.  It can be especially hazardous for elderly people or those with limited mobility.  We spend 90% of our time indoors, a lot of which is spent at home.  Research has indicated that a clean house can positively affect your mental and physical health.  By decreasing clutter, you make room to socialize with the people who matter most to you.

Household clutter can also affect indoor air quality.  Piles of clutter that are left undisturbed for long periods of time can accumulate dust, dirt and allergens, including pet hair and dander, pollen, dust mites and other pests.  Mold can also develop if the area is damp.  If someone smokes in a cluttered home,  furnishings and walls can become tinged with yellow and smell of smoke which is especially hazardous for people with asthma, children and the elderly.

The first thing to determine is if you have a problem with clutter.  If you think you may have a problem with household clutter, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension has put together the following questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have to move things around or step over things to get around your house?
  • Are tables and counters filled with so many items that you have few (if any) free spaces?
  • Are your drawers, closets and other storage areas overflowing with “stuff”? 
  • Do you have piles of papers that you plan to sort through but never do?
  • Do you lose things and have to search for them several times a week?
  • Do you keep things in a storage facility on an ongoing basis?
  • Are dirty dishes and empty drink cans left out for more than 24 hours?
  • Are you ashamed to invite company over to your house because of clutter?
  • Are your closets full of clothes and shoes that you no longer wear?

If you can relate to any of the above, it is time to take charge and clear your clutter.  Begin by putting together a kit to clean the newly exposed surfaces when you are finished sorting.  You will also need trash bags and containers to help with sorting.  Start by sorting items into separate piles: keep, trash or recycle, donate, sell or uncertain.  Experts estimate that people only use about 20% of the items in their home.  Be honest with yourself about what you really use.  Only keep things that you need and will use or that have a strong personal meaning to you.  Don’t confuse things with memories because our memories of people and events in our past will be with us long after those “things” are gone.   It is also important to deal with sorted items as soon as possible after de-cluttering.

To maintain a clutter free home, it takes everyone to understand that they need to pick up after themselves.  Doing a little cleaning and straightening every day can save you the hassle of going through this whole process again.    Make and use a chore chart by assigning age appropriate jobs for everyone in the house.  Stay firm and don’t do anyone else’s share of the work or you will always do their share and you don’t want the clutter to slowly build back up.  It only takes two weeks for a new chore to become a routine.