The first winter storm of 2014 has promised brutal temperatures cold enough to cause frostbite and to freeze water pipes. A wide-spread polar vortex has threatened to deep freeze the United States. Too often people remember to protect their hands and feet from the cold but forget to secure water pipes in their homes, allowing them to become overly exposed to dangerous temperatures.
Even with the best attempts to protect body parts from freezing temperatures frostbite can still occur. Frostbite can cause permanent damage, it usually affects areas such as fingers, nose, cheeks, ears, chin and toes. Serious frostbite can even result in amputation.
It’s common for the victim of frostbite to be unaware that they have it until it’s too late because the tissues are frozen and therefore numb. If a person is wondering whether or not they are in danger they should check to see if the skin feels waxy or unusually firm and is accompanied with numbness; that’s a sign of frostbite or the onset of it.
Another danger is when the body is losing heat faster than it can produce it causing low body temperatures. This is when hypothermia becomes a concern. Warning signs of hypothermia include shivering, fumbling hands, exhaustion, memory loss, slurred speech, confusion or drowsiness. If a person’s temperature has fallen below 95 degrees it’s time to call 911.
Here are a few steps that can be taken to avoid frostbite and hypothermia:
- Wear appropriate clothing for cold weather along with the necessary accessories such as: hat, gloves/mittens, scarf and boots. If extended outdoor activity is expected one should wear layers of loose-fitting clothing.
- Stay dry while outdoors and remove any wet items immediately
- Limit the time outside
- Don’t ignore signs of frostbite or hypothermia
It’s not enough to protect the body from frostbite or hypothermia during frigid weather, pipes within the home must also be protected. Many basements and crawl spaces inside homes are not heated and with single-digit temperatures looming this has the potential to cause problems with water pipes.
With the coldest temperatures in two decades expected to hit between Monday and Tuesday it’s time to take necessary measures to protect those pipes from possibly freezing. Freezing occurs most often due to a sudden or drastic drop in temperature, when thermostats are set too low and when poor insulation is present.
When pipes freeze they usually burst and this creates more stress. Water expands when it freezes and this puts added pressure on the pipes that contain it, whether metal or plastic. The smallest crack in a pipe can cause a leakage of up to 250 gallons of water a day. This causes flooding, the potential for mold and serious structural damage.
Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that have the greatest exposure to severely cold temperatures such as water sprinkler lines, outdoor water faucets and swimming pool lines. The cold not only affects pipes that are located outside it also can cause havoc for water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements, attics, garages, crawl spaces, kitchen cabinets as well as many other pipes that run against exterior walls with little to no insulation.
In the United States alone, frozen pipes cause massive damage every year. The sad thing is too often this could have been prevented by taking a few simple steps beforehand to avoid or limit the possibility such as:
- Check the insulation of pipes in unheated places within the home
- Wrap pipes in “approved” heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables
- Seal air leaks near pipe location
- Open cabinet doors to allow heat to enter the area
- Let warm water drip from the faucet overnight
- Don’t turn down thermostat during the night-time hours in case temperatures continue to drop
- Shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside with an indoor valve
The first winter storm of 2014 is threatening brutally cold temperatures. Remember as temperatures continue to drop, especially over the next few days, frigid weather is not just a problem for the body but also for pipes. Too often people remember to protect their hands and feet from the cold but forget to secure the pipes in their homes, allowing them the risk of freezing and ultimately bursting.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)