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Protecting yourself in cold weather

Protect your family, pets, homes, cars and plants from freezing temperatures.

Posted Updated

Follow these tips to deal with a deep freeze.

Resources for help
Warmth for Wake – helps people pay their heating bills
Meals on Wheels – delivers meals to seniors
Shelters in Wake and Durham counties
  • Durham Rescue Mission Men's Division, 1201 E. Main St., Durham (men)
  • Durham Rescue Mission Women and Children's Division, 507 E. Knox St. (women and children)
  • South Wilmington Street Center, 1420 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh (men)
  • Helen Wright Center for Women, 401 W. Cabarrus St., Raleigh (women without children)
  • The Healing Place of Wake County, 1251 Goode Drive, Raleigh (women without children)
  • Salvation Army, 215 S. Person St., Raleigh (women with or without children)
  • Raleigh Rescue Mission, 314 E. Hargett St., Raleigh (women with or without children)
Before winter storms
  • Make sure your cell phone is fully charged.
  • Get a battery powered flashlight and radio, and put them in a place where you can find them easily.
  • Keep extra batteries on hand.
  • Stock canned goods and bottled water.
  • Have extra fuel on hand for alternate heating sources, such as wood for a wood-burning stove or kerosene for a heater.
  • If you rely on medical equipment that needs power, have a back-up plan, such as a generator, or another place to say.
During a power outage
  • Don't go near downed lines. Always assume they are live wires.
  • Don't stand near icy limbs and lines. They could fall on you.
  • Don't heat your home with an oven or grill. They are very dangerous inside.
  • Make sure there is no damage to your weatherhead, which is the weather-proof entry point for electrical wiring into your home. Crews cannot restore power if it's damaged, so you might need to call an electrician first.
Avoid hypothermia and frostbite
  • Do not walk on frozen ponds or any other body of water. The ice must be at least 4 inches think to support a person or large animal, and ponds in central North Carolina to do not have enough water to form that much ice.
  • To prevent the illness: dress in layers; remove wet clothing; drink warm fluids; avoid alcohol; and seek medical attention immediately if needed.
  • Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can be produced. It can be fatal. Symptoms include:
    • shivering, exhaustion
    • confusion, fumbling hands
    • memory loss, slurred speech
    • drowsiness
    • In infants, symptoms also include bright red, cold skin and very low energy.
  • Frostbite is an injury usually to the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes, caused by freezing. It causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas and can cause permanent damage. You should get out of the cold at the first signs, including
    • redness or pain in any area of the skin
    • numbness
    • a white or grayish-yellow skin area
    • skin that feels unusually warm or waxy
  • Pets
    • Keep pets, especially short-haired ones, inside if possible.
    • Make sure that outdoor animals have a four-walled shelter with a roof and layers of bedding. Bedding made from a mixture of cedar shavings and wheat straw or hay is recommended. At the very least, a blanket should be placed under your pet. A roof is necessary to keep the frost off of your pet’s coat.
    • Remember to check your pet’s water bowl frequently. Cold temperatures can freeze the water dish several times a day. Heated water buckets are available at most feed-and-seed stores, as well as pet stores.
    • Keep your house heated to a minimum of 65 degrees. The temperatures inside the walls where the pipes are located are substantially colder than the walls themselves.
    • Leave a trickle of water running from the highest hot and cold faucets in the house. The trickle should be a steady stream about the size of a pencil tip. Keeping water moving within the pipes will prevent freezing.
    • Pipes in unheated areas of the house, such as crawl spaces and basements, have the greatest chance of freezing. Seal openings and air leaks in those areas with insulation, cardboard, plastic or newspaper.
    • Insulate pipes in unheated parts of your home.
    • Remove garden hoses from outside faucets, and cover or wrap exposed pipes.
    • Check that the cover on your water meter is closed to prevent water inside it from freezing.
    • If your heat fails and the temperature inside your house gets close to freezing:
      • Turn off the water at the master shut-off valve in your plumbing system.
      • Turn off the water heater, so the lack of water doesn't burn out the heating elements.
      • Drain pipes by opening the highest and lowest cold water faucets in your house until the water is gone.
      • Before turning on your hot-water heater again, wit until water service is restored and the tanks refills.
    Home and heating
    • Never leave space heaters unattended.
    • Keep furniture and curtains away from heat vents and space heaters.
    • Don't use an extension cord with an electric heater.
    • Keep your thermostat between 68 and 70 degrees. Every degree above 70 degrees increases your energy costs by 3 to 5 percent.
    • Caulk, seal and weather strip all openings from your home to the outside. Eliminating air leaks in your home can save you up to 10 percent in energy costs.


    • Cover outdoor shrubs; bring hanging or potted plants into a garage or shed.
    • Check the antifreeze levels in your car and the firmness of hoses.
    • Check the power levels and water in your car battery. If your car is not housed in a garage, it is crucial to have a heating system for your engine if there are extremely low temperatures for long periods.
    • Keep garage doors closed.
    • If you don't have a garage or carport, parking near a wall or building can protect your car from the cold to some degree.
    • Keep your gas tank filled. Doing so will keep condensation from getting in the tank. Condensation can contribute to fuel line freeze-up.
    • Let the vehicle run for a few minutes before driving. This will allow the transmission and power steering fluids and motor oil to circulate.


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