Even though recent days have been unseasonably warm for the greater Washington DC area, sporadic cold spells and snow showers remind us that winter is still here. While some folks live it up on the slopes and school-aged children cherish the snow day, snow safety is an important topic for homeowners. Below are some tips to keep you, your family and your home safe during the winter season.
Snow Shoveling Safety
On average, more than 11,000 people are injured while snow shoveling per year. But doing some light exercises and stretches before getting started, dressing in layers that can be easily removed as needed and wearing good, slip-resistant boots are the first steps to a smooth outing. Next, to avoid injury, make sure you have the proper equipment and are using the correct form when shoveling. Your shovel should be proportionate to your body size and strength level; a handle that is too short will cause you to learn forward more and increase risk of a back injury. To reduce the stress that is placed on your back and spine while shoveling, keep your back straight, bend your knees, and squat down with your legs apart to lift a shovel full of snow. Once lifted, don’t throw the snow over your shoulder or to the side. Instead, carry it to your pile, with your arms close to your body and not outstretched. Finally, it’s important to stay hydrated, pace yourself, and take breaks as needed to avoid overexertion.
Inspect your snow blower before each use, checking the oil level and making sure the tires are properly inflated. If using an electric model, check the cord to make sure it hasn’t become frayed or damaged and always be aware of the cord’s location during use. Getting the cord caught in the machine could lead to electric shock. With gas models fill the tank prior to use, as you never want to add fuel to a hot engine. Always move outdoors before starting any unit, and be careful to note the direction the discharge chute is pointing to avoid damage and injury from shooting rocks, ice and other objects. And never under any circumstances, stick your hand into the chute of a clogged snow blower. While this may seem like common sense, many people are unaware that even when the engine is shut off, enough torque is built up to actually rotate the blade once the blockage is removed.
Treating Icy Patches
To prevent slips and falls, sand or kitty litter (the old fashioned, non-clumping kind) can be used to provide traction on icy patches and snow. Both are greener alternatives to deicers, and won’t harm your concrete, lawn or pets. Green or not, some homeowners prefer to use a deicer because they generally create less mess. When selecting a deicer, BOWA’s experts recommend either calcium chloride or magnesium chloride, which aren’t as corrosive as sodium chloride, also known as rock salt. If a deicer is for you, consider treating only the walkways with it, and using sand or litter for the driveway. Also keep in mind, with new concrete you should avoid using all deicers in the first year.
Ice damming occurs when the melting and refreezing of snow forms a ridge at the valley or eave of a roof, and prevents proper drainage. As additional melting occurs, it causes water to pool behind the dam, which can lead to serious water damage to not only the roof, but also the ceiling and walls inside your home. The most common culprit of ice damming is insufficient attic insulation and/or ventilation, which allows heat to escape, warm the roof and accelerate melting. Ice can also clog gutters, and if too much builds up it can cause significant damage if the gutter tears away from the structure. To clear away heavy, built-up snow consider using a roof rake. With many varieties available, including a soft style specifically designed for roofs with solar panels, they are an inexpensive, easy-to-use tool for protecting your home from damage.
If severe weather causes a power outage, be sure your generator is operating safely. If you have a permanent or standby generator, make sure it’s up-to-date on any routine maintenance so it’s ready to perform in tip-top shape. While you should never operate a portable generator inside your home or garage, it is important to make sure it is protected from the elements to avoid an electric shock. Ensure the equipment is placed on a dry surface under a canopy-like structure or tarp. If you own a gas generator, always keep a supply of fuel on hand, and never refuel your generator while it’s in operation. Even though Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow this year and has predicted an early spring, remember that winter weather can happen well into March. Settle in with your favorite warm winter beverage and keep safety top of mind.