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Editorial: Prepare the home for winter

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Winter's here and it may be the most challenging of the four seasons.

Mother Nature can throw some obstacles at this area's population during the other three, but not with the consistency as she does at this time of year. That's why it's important to be ready.

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Cold temperatures alone bring carbon monoxide risks. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has offered some safety tips for protection from the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, as follows:

--Make sure to have a carbon monoxide detector on each level at home, especially near bedrooms. Carbon monoxide detectors are as important to a family's safety as smoke detectors. If they aren't already in the home, purchase and install them immediately.

--Have the furnace or wood-burning stoves inspected annually to ensure they're structurally and functionally sound, and vent properly to the outside of the home.

--Never run a gasoline or propane heater or a grill (gas or charcoal) inside the home for warmth. Any heating system burning fuel will produce carbon monoxide. Use a battery-powered detector where there are fuel burning devices but no electric outlets, such as in tents, cabins, RVs and boats with enclosed cabins.

--Never run a car in an enclosed space. If a vehicle is running, have a door to the outside open.

--Generators should be run a safe distance from the home. Never run a generator in the home or garage.

Breathing carbon monoxide displaces the oxygen in the blood and can cause death in minutes at high levels. Symptoms of overexposure to carbon monoxide are often mistaken for the flu and include: headaches, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath/chest pain, nausea/vomiting and confusion. If experiencing any of these symptoms or the carbon monoxide detector sounds an alarm, a building's occupants should head outside immediately for fresh air and call 911.

What about buildings themselves? If heavy snow is left on a roof, it can result in costly water damage or even cause the roof to collapse. The following guidance is from the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS):

--Snow removal equipment meant for pavement should never be used on the roof because they can damage the roof cover system.

--Stay grounded. Use a snow rake with a long extension arm that will allow removal of the snow while standing on the ground.

--Don't use a roof rake while on a ladder.

--Hire a snow removal contractor if feeling uncomfortable removing snow from a roof. Look for an established, licensed and bonded professional. Be sure to check references and ask to see the contractor's certificates of insurance.

Damage from freezing weather can manifest itself in several ways. The IBHS addresses these and refers the public to related computer web sites for assistance, as follows:

--Freezing pipes. Frozen water in pipes can cause them to burst. Pipes in attics, crawl spaces and outside walls are particularly vulnerable to freezing in extremely cold weather. Find out how to keep water in pipes from freezing here, Prevent Frozen Pipes

--Roof strength. The age of a building is a major determinant of how much snow and ice it can handle before collapsing. Get more information about roof snow and ice load ranges here, Disaster Safety

--Ice dams. When interior heat melts the snow on the roof, the water will run down and refreeze at the roof's edge, where temperatures are colder. The ice build-up blocks water from draining off of the roof, forcing the water under the roof covering and into the attic or down the inside walls of the house. Check out guidance on how to decrease the likelihood ice dams will form here, Prevent Ice Dams

--Alternative heating devices. Falling temperatures also mean increased fire dangers linked to the use of heating devices. Rising fuel prices and environmental concerns have driven many consumers to seek alternate ways to heat their homes and businesses. Consult IBHS' "Alternative Heating Sources" guide to be safe when choosing or installing space heaters, wood pellet stoves, fireplaces or other heating sources.

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