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gear up for winter

Depending on where you live, winter weather takes on different forms. From severe cold snaps to polar vortexes and blizzards, there's a lot to consider. This MasterKit will help you prepare for winter in all its forms, so you can keep your home, car and family protected.
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How to Keep Your Family Warm When the Heat Goes Out

Even during a prolonged power outage, these clever tips will help you conserve the heat in your home and keep your family safe and warm.

Power outages aren't just inconvenient, they can also be deadly. This is especially true during the winter months, when many homes rely on electricity for heat. The same blizzards and ice storms that knock down power lines can also keep people from retreating to somewhere warmer. Here are some clever techniques to conserve warmth, and in some cases, add heat to your home.
Mitigate Heat Loss
grabbing towels for warmth
The first step to staying warm during a power outage can be summed up in a single word: conservation. Trap the heat in your home by blocking drafts.

  • Roll up a towel and place it at the base of exterior doors, and then hang blankets over those doors for additional protection from the cold. The blankets can also remind everyone to keep the door closed, as an open exterior door can quickly drop the inside temperature by up to 10°F. If you have to go outside, try to use a door that goes through a garage or enclosed porch.

  • You can open the curtains on south-facing windows to bring in a little heat if it's sunny, but otherwise, keep curtains closed to cut down on heat lost through the windows.

  • If a power outage is lengthy, move all your activities into one room. The living room is usually a good candidate since you'll have the most space there. Keep all other interior doors closed so you can retain some of the room's heat. Gather flashlights, blankets, sleeping bags, and extra layers of clothing, particularly if you have insulated clothing or winter sports gear. Put on gloves and wear a hat.

  • If you have a tent and enough space, you may want to consider putting it up inside. The tent will protect you from the cold air in your home just like it does when you're camping, and it will make it easier to capture and share body heat.

Pro Tip: When the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed, unless you briefly open them to grab perishable food. Eat foods from the refrigerator first, since they will be the first to go bad. Items in the refrigerator will stay cold for about four hours if the refrigerator is unopened. A freezer will maintain its temperature for 48 hours if it is full, but only about 24 hours if it is half full.
Put the Generator in Gear
plugging into a generator
The moment the temperature starts to drop in your home, you may be tempted to start a generator. Some homes have standby generators that are professionally installed by a licensed electrician and run on the home's natural gas or propane supply, and they come on automatically when the power goes out. More common (and less expensive) are portable backup generators, which are gasoline-powered tools you can use in an emergency.

If you're using a backup generator, you'll need to exercise a few precautions:

  • Never run the generator inside the garage, house, or any other enclosed area.
  • Station the generator outside in a well-ventilated area with its exhaust directed away from your home.
Using heavy-duty extension cords rated for outdoor use, temporarily connect the generator to electric space heaters and any other electrical appliances you need to power.

ProTip: If your home's wiring includes a transfer switch, you can plug the generator into it and power your whole home, including your furnace blower or electric baseboard heat. A transfer switch is the only safe way to connect a generator directly to your home's wiring. If your home doesn't have a transfer switch, do not attempt to connect the generator to your home’s electrical wiring by plugging it into an outlet. Not only will you put yourself at risk, but the generator could send power back into utility lines, which could injure or kill workers.
Fire Up the Fireplace
placing wood on the fireplace
A wood or gas fireplace is an obvious way to warm a room when the heat is out. Gas fireplaces that are equipped with a battery backup for the ignition will continue to work even if there is no electricity. For wood fireplaces, have your chimney cleaned and inspected before winter, and make sure you have enough wood to carry you through an emergency. You can conserve wood by using the fireplace intermittently, allowing the room to cool a little between fires. Whether you're using wood or gas, keep flammable items well away from the fireplace.
Use a Portable Heater (But Crack Open a Window)
opening a window for ventilation
Portable, nonelectric space heaters are another option to warm a room. Make sure propane heaters are indoor-safe because many propane heaters designed for outdoor use can cause a deadly carbon monoxide buildup if used in an enclosed space. Kerosene heaters also produce carbon monoxide, but when operated properly do so at a minimum. It's a good idea to crack open a window for ventilation when you use a space heater, and keep it at least 3 feet from anything flammable.

Pro Tip: Generators, fireplaces and non-electric space heaters can all produce dangerous carbon monoxide gas, as can any furnace that burns fuel. Always make sure to have working carbon monoxide detectors in your home, and check their batteries periodically through winter.
Home (Safety) Away From Home
checking into a hotel room
Hunkering down at home isn’t always best. When it’s safe to drive, consider heading to a hotel to weather a lengthy power outage.

Before you leave, take some steps to protect your home while you’re gone.
  • Unplug electronic devices in the event of a power surge when the electricity comes back on.
  • Shut off the main water valve to your home and drain the water from the faucets to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.
  • If your alarm system is still functioning, set it before you leave. Home alarm systems that rely on Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or the Internet probably won’t work during a power outage. However, some home alarm systems don’t need electricity to function. For example, alarm systems that operate over traditional telephone lines or cellular signals are designed to work on backup battery power.
  • Make sure all doors and windows are locked, as well as garage doors, before you head to a hotel to keep warm.
Pro Tip: If your power company doesn't send alerts to let people know their power has been restored, leave the lights on in a room that is visible from the street so you can tell at a glance if the power has returned.

Power outages can be frustrating and stressful, but for some they can also be deadly. Elderly people are especially vulnerable to heat loss. When room temperature falls below 65°F, it can cause confusion, sleepiness, slurred speech, and a weak pulse - all signs of hypothermia. Be sure to check on older family members, friends, or neighbors, and call 911 if they exhibit a change in behavior or any of these symptoms. Check in again once the power comes back to make sure everything has returned to normal.
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