It finally feels as though summer has gone, and the chill in the air reminds us that winter is just around the corner.
Which means it’s time to think about preparing your home for worsening weather. Here are some tips for keeping safe and warm:
If you can’t heat all your rooms, make sure you keep your living room warm throughout the day and heat your bedroom before going to bed.
A balanced diet will help keep you warm and healthy in the winter. Make sure you and your family eat at least one hot meal a day. Soup is nutritious and warming, and inexpensive to make or buy.
Wearing the right kind of clothes can help keep you much warmer. Layers are best, T-shirts and under clothes to keep the base of your back warm will heat you from the core.
Staying active is good for your health. If the weather prevents you from getting outside, stay active indoors – catch up on all the household tasks you’ve been putting off.
Talk – especially if you’ve been stuck in the house for a few days. Lift the phone and call friends and family for a blether.
If you have elderly relatives or neighbours who might need help, please check up on them. You can get a warm feeling inside by ensuring they are warm on the outside!
Cutting the risk of slipping and falling when the weather turns colder is essential.
Make sure you will be able to clear your paths and driveway if severe weather strikes. It’s a good idea to keep a shovel (specially-designed snow shovels are best), and some salt or grit at home, and find out where your nearest local authority public grit bin is.
Being a good neighbour and clearing paths of ice and snow is the kind of practical step that most of us can take during cold weather. In fact, a helping hand with this can make all the difference for people who may be unable to clear their own paths, or who need to use local paths to access services.
It’s much easier to clear fresh snow, so make a start before people squash it down if you can.
When clearing paths you should follow this advice:
Do not use hot water. This will melt the snow, but may well replace it with black ice, increasing the risk of injury.
Choose suitable clothing for the task, e.g. footwear that provides a good grip.
Do not take unnecessary risks in the road. Traffic will find it difficult to stop quickly in icy conditions. When clearing snow and ice, wear visible clothing that helps traffic to see you.
If shovelling snow, think about where you are going to put it, so that it does not block people’s paths or simply shift the problem elsewhere. Make sure it will not cause problems when it melts. Piling snow over gullies or drains may stop melting snow from draining away and allow it to refreeze.
Clear a small path down the middle of the area to be cleared first, so you have a safe surface to walk on. You can then shovel from the centre to the sides.
Spread some grit on the area you have cleared to prevent ice forming. If necessary, ordinary table salt or dishwasher salt will work, but avoid spreading on plants or grass. Don’t use too much; a tablespoon for each square metre cleared will be enough. It will take a little while to work.
If there is no salt available, then a little sand or ash can be used. It will not have the same de-icing properties as salt, but should offer grip under foot.
Use the sun to your advantage. Removing the top layer of snow will allow the sun to melt any ice beneath, but you will need to cover any ice with salt to stop refreezing overnight.
Salt can be washed away by further snowfalls or rain and then refreeze, leaving black ice. If this happens more salt should be used soon after the rain has stopped and before temperatures reach freezing.
Particular care and attention should be given to steps and steep slopes. Additional salt could be used in these areas to reduce the risk of slipping. Try to sweep up any excess grit, sand or other substances used come the thaw, to prevent these from blocking drains.
There is no law preventing you from clearing snow and ice on the pavement outside or on paths to your house (or any other building you are responsible for).
Provided you are careful, use common sense and don’t do anything which would be likely to cause harm or distress to others – it is highly unlikely that you will be found responsible for any accidents.
In fact, it’s prudent to make sure your own property is safe for other people to use it. Users of areas affected by snow and ice also have responsibilities to be careful themselves.
For everyday activities that you might do to help your neighbours, in a personal capacity, your ordinary household building or contents insurance will generally provide personal liability cover.
You will need to take reasonable care, and should not take unnecessary risks. If you are in doubt, you should check your policy or ask your insurer.
One of the main things you will want to do is protect your pipes against freezing. Here are some handy tips from Scottish Water:
Know where your stop valve is and how to turn off your water.
If cold weather is forecast, and during a cold snap, keep your heating on at a low temperature to help prevent pipes from freezing.
Know how to turn off your electricity supply at the mains.
Making your home energy-efficient will make it cheaper and quicker to heat during cold weather. Call the Scottish Government’s Home Energy Scotland Hotline on 0808 808 2282. Check the terms of your household insurance policies, and find out what cover you have for risks such as flood or storm damage, or for the costs of temporary accommodation if your home is not habitable. Consider taking out insurance if you don’t have any.
After a period of severe winter weather, the thaw comes as a relief. But it has its own risks and challenges. You can prepare for these by taking some simple steps and keeping up to date on the current situation. Look out for:
Melting snow can cause localised flooding. Keep informed by signing up to SEPA’s free Floodline direct warning service and take action if required. Follow SEPA’s advice on preparing for flooding and what to do if you are flooded.
Your stopping distance is increased 10 times when driving on ice. If you can put off your journey until road conditions are better then it’s a good idea to do so. See page 46.
Drains can be blocked by excess grit, leaves and other debris.
Where this happens there is a risk that the blocked drains could cause localised flooding. If you see a blocked drain, help everyone in your area by reporting it to your local authority.
Thawing ice on frozen ponds and rivers
Even in severe cold weather, do not assume that ice will take your weight. You have no way of knowing how safe it is. The only safe course of action is to stay off. Frozen waterways can be a particular temptation for young children and animals – keep your dog on leash, and ensure young children are supervised.
In an emergency dial 999.
Falling icicles and snow on guttering and roofs
If your property has large amounts of overhanging snow or large icicles, try to make anyone entering it aware of the risk (a simple note on your door may do the job).
If you are confident that it is safe to do so, you should try to remove overhanging icicles that pose a threat on your own property – but ladders should not be used in icy conditions, nor should you hang out of windows to reach roof areas.
It is important to let children know of the risks of falling icicles – and of the danger of throwing snow or any other objects onto (or at) icicles or snowy roofs.
Remember to keep up to date with the latest forecasts and weather warnings, and plan ahead if you are travelling.
For more advice, visit http://www.readyscotland.org/are-you-ready/winter-weather/winter-at-home/