5 Steps to Keeping Pets Safe in Freezing Temperatures

Dogs and cats may be furry, but that doesn’t mean they can face winter alone. Frostbite and hypothermia are just as much as concern for animals as for you and I.

Here are five steps that will help to keep pets safe in freezing temperatures.

1. Don’t Leave Your Pet Outside During Extreme Cold

This one seems like common sense, but it’s easy to become busy and forget just how fast the temperature drops this time of year. Aside from bathroom breaks, dogs should not spend an extended period away from the warmth of your home in freezing temperatures. Cats who ordinarily spend much of the time outdoors will have to live the life of a house-cat until the weather warms.

If you must walk your dog, keep it short and never let them off-leash. It is all too easy for a dog to run off and get lost when the visibility is poor. Frostbite can harm ears and paws quite easily, and both young and elderly animals are at particular risk of death from prolonged exposure to cold.

If you bathe your pet, make sure they are completely dry before venturing outside.

2. Don’t Rely on Dog Houses to Provide Protection

A dog house will not keep your pet sufficiently warm. While it might provide a moderate degree of protection from harsh winds, these flimsy structures do not shield the animal from extremes in temperature. Even if your pet customarily sleeps outdoors, let them stay inside this time of year.

3. Use Sweaters and Coats

Even if you are only letting your dog out to relieve itself, take the time to dress them in a coat or sweater. While this is particularly important with short-haired breeds, it really should apply to all dogs for safety’s sake (ease off on the clipping until springtime). Bring a towel along to dry off any other spots on the animal that get wet.

4. Use Paw Protection

Your pet’s paws need protection. Not only is the cold bad for them, but the salt we use to melt ice can also burn their paws.

You can buy small, pull-on booties to protect your dog’s paws from salt and help keep them warm. If booties are not available, use petroleum jelly instead. Trim any excess fur around the dog’s foot to prevent ice sticking in between their pads.

Once inside, wash the dog’s paws with water and check the pads and between toes for inflamed or cracked areas. If you find salt anywhere else, clean those spots as well.

5. Don’t Leave Pets in the Car

We all know the dangers of leaving dogs and cats inside cars during the height of summer, but the same holds true this time of year. An unattended vehicle will trap the cold inside and become the equivalent of an icebox in no time. Limit winter car rides as much as you can, and if you must take your pets along for a ride, never leave them alone in the vehicle


Image: Jaromír Chalabala

7 Things Your Winter Storm Kit Needs

Winter storms are a fact of life here in Ontario. Each year, Mother Nature brings us at least one wallop of a storm that knocks out the power, sends trees toppling, and glazes the roads with a slick sheet of ice.

That’s why your home should have a winter storm kit with essentials to keep your family safe through an extended power outage.

Most of the things your kit requires are inexpensive and easy to find. Here’s what you need to make a basic winter storm kit for your home.

1. Water

We take for granted the fact that we have clean drinking water available to us on demand. That’s not always the case after a winter storm. Water pipes can freeze and burst in freezing temperatures; storms can force stores to close, or the sudden demand can dry up their supply of bottled water.

A winter storm kit should include at least six litres of drinking water for each member of your household, or two litres per person for three days. Be aware that sweet beverages like pop and juice are no substitute for water, as the sugar and caffeine will increase your thirst rather than quench it.

2. Food

A power outage limits your options when it comes to cooking. Not everyone has a wood stove, and it is never safe to use a gas or charcoal stove indoors. If the storm shuts down your local restaurants and grocery stores, you could find yourself without much to eat.

In the event of a winter storm, you should have at least three days of food that doesn’t spoil. Good options include canned meats, canned fruits or vegetables, energy bars, dehydrated foods, peanut butter, and cereal.

As for the food in your refrigerator and freezer? An unopened fridge should keep food cold for about four hours; a full freezer will stay frozen for about two days, while a half-full freezer will keep for one day. If you’ve thought about placing food outside in the snow to keep it cold, think again; the sun’s rays can thaw it even in frigid temperatures.

3. Flashlight

These days, many people use their cell phone’s flashlight application instead of a real flashlight. That won’t do in a winter storm, as you’ll want to save your phone’s battery life to keep in touch. Instead, your kit needs a wind-up or battery-power flashlight. An energy-efficient LED flashlight will usually last the longest.

4. Emergency Cell Phone Charger

Cellular phone networks are typically more reliable than landline phones in the midst of a fierce winter storm. But a cell phone is only useful if it has power. Given how quickly these devices’ batteries can drain, you should have an alternative method of charging your cell phone when the power goes out.

Solar and wind-up chargers are an option, as are portable power banks. Another way to charge a cell phone during a power outage is with a car charger. Having an emergency charging option will help you stay connected to the outside world while you’re hunkering down.

5. Wrench or Pliers

Do you know how to shut off the gas to your home? What about the water? Knowing how to cut the utilities can be vital in some winter storm emergencies, like a burst pipe or structural damage.

Your winter storm kit should include a pair of pliers or a wrench you can use to turn the shutoff valves for your gas and water connections. Of course, these aren’t very helpful unless you know how to use them. Take time to learn how to cut the connections in case of emergencies.

6. First Aid Kit

Most people who invest in a first aid kit will (fortunately) never have to use it. But that doesn’t make it any less important. Help may not reach you as quickly when the road conditions are bad, and a power outage increases the risk of minor injuries like scrapes and falls.  The Canadian Red Cross sets out a list of must-have items in a first aid kit here.

7. Spare Blankets

Warmth is as essential as food and water. Even if you have an alternative heat source (such as a wood stove or a space heater), your winter storm kit needs to include warm, dry blankets for everyone in your family. The extra layer of insulation can make a huge difference in their safety and comfort.

Image: Kulkaan75

Furnace Safety: 6 Warning Signs You Should Never Ignore

There’s nothing worse than your furnace dying in the dead of winter. Very few furnaces up and quit after only a few years; most provide warning signs that trouble is ahead. As a homeowner, it’s your job to spot these signs and take action.

Here are six furnace safety warning signs that you should never ignore.

1. Rising Utility Fees

Utility companies are not the only culprit when it comes to higher monthly bills. When a furnace is not operating at its peak, it consumes more energy. The furnace may just need a repair, but in some cases, rising utility costs could signal that the unit is on its last lap.

2. Uneven Heat Distribution

Are some rooms colder than others? The quality of its heat distribution suffers when a furnace is malfunctioning. Not only does this make the home less comfortable, but it could be a sign of bigger problems.

3. Dust

When a furnace is failing, it often expels greater levels of dust because it can no longer properly clean the air. The first thing you should do if you notice excessive dust is clean or replace your filters. If that does not help, call for a technician to inspect the unit.

4. Strange Noises and Smells

Just as your car makes odd sounds when something is wrong, your furnace can give you audible warning signs. If the unit is making sounds you’ve never heard before, that’s not a good sign. These noises can be the result of anything from loose screws to a failing inducer motor or blower fan motor. Call in a professional to find out.

We all know that awful “rotten egg” smell (actually a chemical called mercaptan) which is added to natural gas as a safety precaution. If you smell it in your home, this is a serious problem because it can mean a gas leak. Leave your home immediately and call the gas company.

5. Carbon Monoxide

A properly functioning gas furnace has a blue flame; if your flame is yellow, that is almost always a warning sign that the unit is producing excessive amounts of carbon monoxide (CO). Other signs to watch out for include rust accumulating on pipe connections, moisture on nearby surfaces, no updraft in the chimney, water leaking from the base of the chimney, and soot streaking.

If you notice any of these signs, have the utility company shut down your gas immediately and make a service call.

When a furnace’s heat exchanger starts failing, it can develop cracks, and that’s another way for carbon monoxide to leak into the air. Burning eyes, nausea, flu-like symptoms and general disorientation are signs of CO exposure.

6. More Frequent Repairs Over Time

You can buy a top-of-the-line furnace and have annual inspections, but all machinery eventually succumbs to age and mechanical failure. A modern furnace should perform effectively for 15-20 years. Anything beyond that is taking a risk you may later regret. An increasing number of repairs in the past 2-3 years is a good indicator that you should start shopping around for a new furnace.


Image: Brian Jackson

Still Cold? 4 Overlooked Areas That May Need Weatherproofing

Having an energy-efficient home is a priority for many Canadians these days. An increasing number of homeowners are choosing eco-friendly dwellings. Whether old or new, all homes require a careful annual inspection to identify spots that could use some extra attention in wintertime.

Almost everyone thinks to check around doors and windows, but here are some potentially overlooked areas that may need weatherproofing repairs as well.

1. Garage

Whether you use it to store vehicles or as a workspace, don’t forget to include the garage on your list of weatherproofing projects. The garage often sits right under a home, so its temperature can affect the comfort level of the floors above.

In addition to insulating the garage door, replace the weather-stripping that runs along the bottom. Even the most durable rubber strips will wear out over time and let frigid air inside. Finish off by using caulk to seal any cracks or openings you can find inside or outside the area around the door.

2. Balconies

Balconies are wonderful places for rest and relaxation in the warmer months, but you probably don’t spend much time thinking about them the rest of the year. That is unfortunate, as cold air can seep in around the doorframe just as easily as any other doors in your home. Check the weather-stripping here and replace it, if necessary.

3. Electrical Outlets, Switch Plates, and Floor Gaps

Most people never get close enough to their electrical outlets to notice a draft, but you can find them in homes that lack sufficient insulation in those spots around the plug panels. An outlet may not seem like a big opening, but that heat loss adds up over time.

While you’re down on your hands and knees checking the outlets, look for gaps in the floor and walls that pipes and wires pass through. These areas may also need weatherproofing. Fill them with appropriate insulation where needed.

4. Attic/Roof

Most people worry about leaks in the roof, but wear and tear on top of your home can also provide spaces for cold air to enter. While water damage often points the way to a roofing problem, this is not always the case. Also, be sure to inspect the inside by carefully examining the insulation in your attic for trouble spots that need additional weatherproofing.

Image: Antonio Guillem

What Everyone Needs to Know About Their Gas Fireplace

Much as we complain about winter here in Ontario, there are some upsides to frosty weather. Cozy fires are one of them. A fireplace can be a comfortable heat source and a fond gathering place, and gas fireplaces offer both benefits at the click of a button.

But many people aren’t sure what to think when it comes to gas fireplace safety. Are gas fireplaces safe? Are they environmentally friendly?

Here are 8 things everyone should know about their gas fireplace.

1. Safety Screens are a Must-Have

Many gas fireplaces have a tempered glass window to provide a view of the flames within. Though this glass can withstand high temperatures, its surface becomes extremely hot.

The glass window of a gas fireplace can reach a temperature of 200°C (400°) within only six minutes of the fireplace roaring to life and can remain hot to the touch over an hour after it turns off. At this temperature, burns can occur in a split second. The glass is especially dangerous to young children, who are naturally curious about fire and may not understand the risk.

Safety screens are a critical part of gas fireplace safety. Since 2015, all gas fireplaces sold in Canada with a glass front must come with an attachable safety screen. But many older models lack this important safety feature. Safety screens are a must-have purchase for anyone who has a gas fireplace in their home.

2. Be Careful When Cleaning

Like any surface in the home, the fireplace’s glass window can use a good cleaning from time to time. However, you should always follow the manufacturer’s guidance on how to clean it properly. An important rule of thumb when it comes to cleaning a gas fireplace is never wipe the glass with a damp cloth while it’s hot, as doing so can cause the glass to crack.

3. Not All Gas Fireplaces Are Equal

On the whole, gas fireplaces are clean and energy efficient. They produce far less carbon monoxide and other emissions than their traditional wood-burning counterparts. But not all gas fireplaces are equal.

There are important distinctions between gas fireplace models that impact their efficiency and performance. Some gas fireplaces are classified as ‘decorative,’ while others are heaters by design. Be sure to note the difference when comparing gas fireplace efficiency ratings.

4. Keep Flammable Materials Away

One of the perks of choosing gas over a wood-burning fireplace is the absence of red-hot sparks. However, just because the fire cannot escape doesn’t mean it presents no hazard.

The fireplace’s glass, metal, and ceramic components reach extreme temperatures during use. Some objects can ignite if left too close.

You should leave at least three feet of space between a gas fireplace and flammables like furniture, curtains, pet beds, or rugs. Use caution when it comes to decorating the mantle for holidays; always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Never place or hang anything on the fireplace that isn’t meant to be there.

5. Bigger is Not Always Better

Nothing is cozier than a roaring fire. But when it comes to heating a home, bigger isn’t always better. A high-output fireplace in a small room can cause discomfort rather than coziness.

There are many factors to consider in choosing the ideal size of gas fireplace, including the home’s layout, insulation, airtightness, and other heat sources. Taking these issues into account, a well-located fireplace can meet up to half a home’s heating demand.

6. Beware of Carbon Monoxide

Gas fireplaces are safe. But as with all gas appliances, they do produce carbon monoxide. If something goes wrong, carbon monoxide put the home’s occupants at risk.

It’s not always easy to tell when theres a carbon monoxide leak. Carbon monoxide has no colour, smell, or taste, and the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are subtle. Therefore, carbon monoxide detectors are a critical part of gas fireplace safety, even if you don’t use the fireplace often. Ensure your home has at least one on each floor.

 7. Don’t Use It During Renovations

Planning to undertake a home renovation this winter? Avoid using your gas fireplace during that time.

Drywall dust and other debris can accumulate and cause fan, motor, or burner damage. Plus, it’s never wise to have the fireplace on when there are flammable materials like drop cloths and paint cans nearby.

8. Get an Annual Tune-Up

Overall, gas fireplaces are safe and energy-efficient. But like all parts of your heating and cooling system, they require service to perform at their best. The best way to guarantee your unit runs safely and at peak efficiency is to schedule a fireplace inspection with a professional. A skilled technician will also polish the inside of the glass and clean the fans to ensure good circulation.


Image: Paul Maguire