According to CDC statistics, thousands of people die each year from weather related factors. The majority of these die due to cold related ailments, such as hypothermia.
Weather related dangers can be particularly dangerous for the elderly. Physical decline can mean that in the case of an emergency, the elderly have little recourse. If their power goes out, they might struggle to escape in snowy conditions. Secondly, things like dementia can make it less likely that they realize there is a problem at all.
Even if you are not elderly, your family can be vulnerable to cold. Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to prepare your home for winter conditions. Ensuring that your home is ready for the winter is a multi-step process which should not be avoided.
First, you should ensure that your electrical system is in good condition. The most obvious problem you might experience is a simple electrical failure. While it can be annoying to lose electricity in the summer, electrical loss in the winter can lead to a rapid decrease in indoor temperature. We rely on heating elements to stay within an acceptable temperature range. Humans have little blubber or fur, and are poorly adapted to freezing conditions.
Second, you should check on the conditions of your heating unit. While many heating units use natural gas, another substantial portion of them use electricity. Figuring out what yours uses can be helpful in making contingency plans for poor conditions. But even if your heater uses natural gas or other non-electric energy sources, losing electricity can still be dangerous. Communication with the outside world largely relies on electricity, and in the case of a medical emergency, being able to quickly call for help can be critical.
If your heating unit does use electricity, it is doubly important that you ensure your electrical system is functioning well. If your heating unit or electrical system is not functioning properly, consult with an expert asap to determine what can be done. Winter is just starting, and you will certainly be much safer and more comfortable if you are able to reliable adjust the temperature inside of your home.
A third thing to consider in winter conditions is that backup generators can be lifesavers. Obviously, these can be incredibly useful for heating, cooking, and communication, but there are other ways in which they can serve to give you peace of mind.
Heating and Health
More and more commonly are Americans becoming reliant on medical technology to survive. If you or your relatives have a health condition, you may have in your home a medical device which serves to help keep you alive. While these typically have some backup power themselves, this will not last forever. Installing backup generators is one of the best things you can do to make sure these essential machines keep running. Medical devices can take a lot of power, and some of them MUST be kept running to ensure the health of the individual.
If you (or an elderly family member) is reliant on home medical devices for survival, it might be worth it to consult an electrician about the costs of installing backup power or generators. Power is frequently less reliable in winter, with extreme conditions and storms potentially causing damage to electrical distribution systems. Additionally, extreme weather can limit the ability of workers and civil engineers to find and fix any damage which does occur. Add in slowed communication, icy unsafe roads, and a decrease in visibility due to earlier sunsets, and you have a perfect environment for a medical emergency.
Temperature regulation is particularly important not only for the elderly, but for children as well. Children often suffer first when temperatures drop, as their decreased body mass means they lose more of their heat quickly. With young children, it can be particularly dangerous. Not only are they much smaller, but they also might not be able to effectively communicate that they are cold. While being cold has not been shown to increase their chances of contracting illness (despite conventional wisdom), many other things associated with winter can certainly increase chances of disease. For example, in winter, people generally spend more time cooped up inside, in close proximity to one another. This creates situations where disease can more easily spread from person to person. Additionally, cold temperatures can put stress on your body’s systems, potentially leading to noninfectious medical issues, such as cardiovascular and respiratory problems.
If you or your loved ones are living in an older home, or one with insufficient heating, you should take steps now to prepare for the cold winter ahead. Check on the electrical and heating systems, and make sure that your family has emergency supplies in case of a power outage. Stay safe, and have a great season.