The “Stay Warm” Winter Guide for Canadian Newcomers (Part 4): healthy home and family

Keeping your home and family safe in winter weather
 There’s plenty you can do to make sure you and your family stay safe and warm in any winter situation. These easy-to-do tips and hints will only take a few moments of your time, but they could help you get through potentially difficult bad -induced situations.

Preparing your home for bad winter weather
The first place to start is your home. Depending on the province you’re in, the winter weather will vary. If you’re in a colder-climate province, you’ll want to prepare your home by doing the following:
Make sure your house is properly insulated; weather-strip your doors and windowsills.
Check your heating system and water heater on an annual basis.
Clean out your gutters to ensure proper drainage when snow melts.
Make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly and have fresh batteries.
Figure out how to shut off your water valves.
Only use appropriate sources for alternative heat, such as a fireplace, if you have one, and small, portable space heaters.
If a storm does hit, you may find yourself dealing with the following situations in your home. Here’s how to tackle them:
 Your home’s heating stops working
Contact your power provider immediately or a service technician.
Bundle up in several layers of light clothing and be sure to put on a hat and mittens. Keep your boots on indoors.
Light candles — they can generate some heat in a room.
Close off doors to rooms you are not using and try to keep your family in one room. Staying close together, by sitting all on the couch, for example, will help keep you warm.

When the power and lights go out
If your electrical goes out, you’ll want to call your utility company immediately to find out when they will be fixing the problem.
Turn off and unplug any appliances and lights. This will help prevent a circuit overload from occurring when the electricity does come back on. You can leave one light on in the house, so you’ll know when the power’s come back on.
Do not use a power generator, a portable gas oven or charcoal indoors — this can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Close your fridge and open it sparingly to prevent food from spoiling.

Your home’s pipes freeze or burst
Before the winter hits, make sure your pipes are insulated if necessary.
Find out how to shut off your water. If the pipes do burst, you’ll want to shut water off immediately to help prevent water damage.
Never attempt thawing a water pipe by using a torch or open flame.
Removing excessive snow from your roof
Always work with a partner who is watching you from below to ensure you are safe.
Use long-handled tools.
If you use a ladder, have your partner hold it for you to make sure it is secure.
Figure out where you’ll have the snow fall before getting started (away from the house, your driveway, electrical wires and your neighbour’s property, for example).
Be sure to stay clear of any electrical, phone or cable wires overhead and do not hit them with your tools.
Wear good, sturdy boots, gloves and protective goggles.
Prepare for major storms
There are several easy things you can do to make sure you get through a winter storm safely. Here are a few helpful tips:
Prepare a winter storm kit. This should include the following: 1) a first aid kit and essential medication, 2) a battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries, 3) a can opener and canned food, 4) three-days’ worth of bottled water and 5) warm blankets, one for each family member.
Prepare a “family disaster plan.” Map out how you and your children will deal with a storm before one happens. Make sure your children understand fully what they are to do.
Ensure each family member can easily access warm blankets, hats, mittens and water-resistant coats.
Listen to the radio in the morning when you’re getting ready. Knowing the forecast will help you dress and prepare for any potential bad weather.
Don’t underestimate the weather. This is important: it may look mild in the morning, but a storm can come on fast and hard. Take forecasts seriously and prepare accordingly by dressing well and making any alternate work or school arrangements.
Always keep your cell phone charged and on hand; make sure you have all the necessary emergency phone numbers stored in it.
Always keep your house key with you at all times; ensure your children do the same.
Know the difference between a winter watch and a winter warning. A watch means that a storm is possible for your region; a warning means a storm is coming to your region.
Know the difference between a winter storm and a blizzard. A winter storm can bring extra snowfall that lasts for an indeterminate (potentially long, for several hours) amount of time, whereas a blizzard can bring extremely strong winds, wind-driven snow that reduces or decimates visibility and extremely low temperatures. If a blizzard hits, you’ll need to seek shelter right away.

Keep your children safe in stormy weather
Winter storms can come on fast, so you’ll want to ensure your children are educated on what to do if they are away from home. Walk your children through the following:
Stay inside during a storm. Don’t let your children go outside and play.
Have your children keep a house key with them at all times. In case you are not home, they will be able to come in from the cold.
Understand the warning signs of frostbite and hypothermia and teach them to your children. If they feel extremely cold and fatigued, and lips appear blue or grey, they may have hypothermia. If their skin goes cold, pale or numb, make sure they tell you right away, as these are early warning signs of frostbite.
Listen to any radio announcements about school closures — you’ll want to avoid sending your children to school in a bad storm, especially if school’s closed.
Set up a “safe house” arrangement with close neighbours. If, for whatever reason, your children can’t get into your home, speak with your neighbour and ask if they can stay in their home in the event of an emergency. Offer the same courtesy to your neighbour’s children as well.
Speak to your children’s school. In case of a storm or emergency, what is their policy? Do they send children home? Will they inform you if they do so? Find out what happens and create a plan to prepare for a potential situation.
Make sure your children are always properly dressed. The day may start out with mild weather, but as any Canadian will tell you, this can change quite rapidly. Always make sure your children carry mittens, a hat, scarf in their schoolbag and, even if they protest, send them to school in good boots and a proper winter coat, such as a parka.
In a storm, you may not be able to pick up your children if they are at school or at an after-school activity. This is why it’s always key to know where your children are at all times and to speak with the supervising adults about being prepared for a potential snowstorm situation. If your child needs to stay at a friend’s home or sport club, for example, knowing that there’s an adult present will make the situation easier for you to handle, especially if phone calls can’t be made while a storm is happening.
See Parts 1 “Bundle Up“, 2 “Have Fun in the Snow,” 3 “Prevent Colds and Flus” of this series.

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