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Staying Safe At Home In Winter

Don't let Old Man Winter catch you unprepared.

Get your home ready!

The Early Show's resident handyman, Danny Lipford, has practical tips on making your home safe for the season.

It doesn't really take a lot of effort to put these rules into practice, and when you consider the value of the lives and property they can save, it's well worth it! Stay safe!

Ice Safety

One of the most common causes for winter injuries is a fall that results from slipping on an iced sidewalk or driveway. There are several methods to get rid of ice or, even better, prevent it from forming in the first place. Sodium chloride (salt!), has long been used as the means to remove ice. While this is, indeed, an effective method, it does have a few drawbacks. First of all, as the ice melts, the salt will run off into the ground, killing surrounding plants. It also absorbs into the water table. In many Northern states, sodium chloride levels have risen dramatically over the past few years. If you prefer to use salt, use it sparingly and salt only the areas needed. Avoid areas where shrubs, plants or grass will be affected.

Another method for ice safety is to add an abrasive to the horizontal surface areas where you could slip and fall, such as steps and porch stoops. Something as simple as spreading economy-grade kitty litter across the sidewalk and drive can help prevent falls by creating traction on the icy surface. For a more permanent solution, a simple paint additive can be used in porch and deck paint. The additive is like pouring in a cupful of sand into a gallon of paint and thoroughly mixing it. When you paint the area, you are adding a grittiness that helps maintain footing in icy weather.

If you don't want to paint the surface, you can use a peel-and-stick product that adheres to steps. It's a lot easier to install and very effective, though it will begin to wear thin over time. Depending on how well-traveled the area is, you may need to re-apply a non-skid pad if it wears too thin to be useful.

The best way to keep ice from becoming a safety hazard is to prevent it from forming. Pre-treating an area one-to-two hours before a storm hits will eliminate any ice concerns. Again, you have to be careful to use a product that won't harm surrounding vegetation or water tables. One such product, IceClear +, is biodegradable, non-toxic, and won't damage your lawn, shrubs or concrete. Pre-treating the driveway or sidewalk just before a storm will prevent ice formation and bonding. You can pick up a gallon for $13.95 directly from the manufacturer by clicking here.

Space Heaters

Portable space heaters can be very convenient for keeping a room warm and comfortable, but every year you hear reports of fires starting from improper use of these appliances. If you plan to use a space heater, strictly follow these tips compiled by the Home Safety Council:

  • Only purchase space heaters that have been tested by an independent laboratory, such as UL, ETL and CSA.
  • Keep space heaters a minimum of three feet away from anything that can burn. This includes furniture, pets, people and window treatments.
  • Turn off the heater before leaving a room.
  • Do not keep a space heater running while you sleep.
  • Supervise children and pets at all times when a space heater is in use.
  • Never use space heaters as a means to dry clothing or blankets.
  • Never place the cord of an electric space heater beneath the carpet or
    a rug. Overheating can occur and that can possibly lead to a fire.
  • If possible, never use extension cords to operate a space heater.
  • Smoke Detectors

    Smoke detectors are one of the most inexpensive insurance policies you can buy. Because they are mass-produced, you can pick one up for as little as $7. All new homes are required by local building codes to have smoke detectors hard-wired, but many older homes don't have a detector. You can buy a battery-operated unit. They can be easily installed in less than 15 minutes. You want to have one in or near every sleeping area, as well as on every level of your home, including the basement. You want to mount the units high on the wall or on the ceiling, because smoke rises. But don't mount one near an outside door or a window or air duct where a draft might interfere with its operation.

    You should also test your smoke detector at least once a month. Also, be sure to replace your batteries once a year. Most alarms will "chirp" to warn you of a low battery. Replacing them is very simple, but often overlooked. It's also a good idea to periodically vacuum or dust your detector to keep it working properly.

    Carbon Monoxide Detectors

    Second to the smoke detector of "must-have" items for the home is the carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced whenever any fuel, such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. So, if you use a kerosene space heater or wood-burning fireplace to help heat your home, you are at risk. This is especially true when winter snows are abundant. Drifts can build enough to block exhaust vents which, in turn, will force carbon monoxide gas to back-up into your home. Carbon monoxide is the No. 1 cause of poisoning deaths in America, so proper use of a carbon monoxide detector is paramount.

    As with a smoke detector, make sure the unit you purchase is one that has been approved and certified by a nationally recognized testing institute, such as Underwriters Laboratory.

    Locate carbon monoxide detectors near bedrooms. Don't place them in a garage, furnace room, near the stove or fireplace, open windows, doors, or vents.

    Also, learn to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. They are similar to flu, without the fever. They include headache, nausea, dizziness, confusion and fainting. If you suspect carbon monoxide exposure, get out of the house immediately and get fresh air; call the fire department from a neighbor's house and seek medical attention.


    By now, you have, hopefully, had your fireplace and chimney inspected by a certified chimney sweep. If not, make that call today. A certified sweep will make sure your fireplace is in top shape. They frequently use video surveillance cameras lowered into the fireplace flue to inspect the inside for damage or creosote buildup.

    Once your fireplace passes inspection, you can help maintain the safety by following a few simple rules:

  • Avoid "roaring" fires. They can start a chimney fire from the soot and creosote deposits in the flue.
  • Never burn Christmas tree greens. They cause a lot of sparks and can cause a chimney fire.
  • Remove the colored comic sections before rolling newspapers into logs. The inks used for these cartoons contain lead and can produce toxic gases.
  • Don't treat artificial logs the same as you do real, wood logs. Use only one at a time. If you use more than one, they can produce too much heat for some fireplaces to withstand.
  • Keep all combustibles a minimum of three feet away from the fire.
  • Make sure the damper is open before starting the fire. And, when the fire is completely extinguished and the embers cold, close the damper.
  • Make sure there is a safe supply of air. A fireplace fire requires about five times as much air as most houses need for liberal ventilation. With today's tightly-constructed homes with ample weather-stripping, caulked windows and self-closing exhaust vents, a fireplace can set up a reverse draft easily, bringing carbon monoxide fumes into the living area. It may be in your best interest to crack open a window whenever the fireplace is in use.
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