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Warning signs, tips for surviving bitter cold

Published On: Jan 30 2013 03:25:47 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 21 2013 12:31:41 AM CST
MADISON, Wis. -

Wisconsin's Division of Emergency Management wants to make sure that people stay safe in this bitter cold.

The agency has put out a few tips to follow over the next few days.

Since frostbite can occur after being outside less than 30 minutes, if you notice a loss of feeling and a white, pale appearance on your fingers, nose, or toes, get medical help.

Make sure you have a car survival kit, with water, food, a flashlight, and battery charger.

And don't forget about your pets: Check out their paws in case they step in salt. And don't keep them outside for long.

As the temperatures plunge, homeowners need to remember to follow a few simple steps.

Especially if they don't want to have a flooded mess come next spring.

Specifically, now is the time to make sure faucets that may be near an outside wall don't freeze over this week.

Homeowners would rather see professionals like Curt Johnson of Action Plumbing, Heating, A/C, and Electric now than in the spring.

"The water in here turned to ice and expanded, and cracked the pipe," said Johnson, recalling a recent homeowners' nightmare. "So then in the spring, when this goes to get turned on, the water just floods the basement."

Johnson said it's the most common problem he is called on to fix.

"Every spring we probably change over a hundred of them," said Johnson.

But homeowners don't have to take a visit from someone like Johnson for granted: It's a problem that can be prevented relatively easily.

Most have probably put their garden hoses away for the winter.

But bitterly cold wind can still get in and split the pipe.

Johnson said you need to shut off the value in your basement too.

"That silcock goes outside, that valve should be shut off right there," said Johnson.

Moving from water to air, with the cold that's coming to southern Wisconsin over the next couple of days, your first move might be to turn the thermostat up.

But if there's no heat coming out of your vents, the problem might be your furnace.

"We're really looking for the filter to see if it's dirty or not," said Johnson about normal furnace maintenance.

If you've got furnace filters, replace them monthly.

Something else homeowners can do: make sure that the pipe bringing fresh air from outside so your furnace can run is clear.

"If we get a lot of snow and the wind blows and the drift comes up against the house and plugs these off, your furnace goes off," said Johnson.

But what's the most telling sign that you have a problem with your heating?

"House gets cold," laughs Johnson.

Oh, and one other thing: Johnson says to find your main water shut-off.

If you're going away for the weekend, just turn it off.

That prevents pipes from freezing.

And if you're worried about a particular pipe near an outside wall, just keep water running from it at a very slow pace.

The analogy is, lakes freeze but rivers don't, so best to keep the water moving.

"Water flowing through the pipes is not going to freeze as easy," suggests Johnson.

Homeowners with faucets and pipes below that are close to an outside wall, should just open up the cabinet.

It lets the warm air from your home into that cabinet space and keeps those pipes warmer.

And if you think a pipe might be frozen, don't do anything drastic.

Just call the experts.

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