TWIN FALLS — More snow is in the forecast. Are you ready to handle the cold, the ice and the upcoming holidays?
As Magic Valley residents complete their preparations for the season, the Times-News reached out to area experts to ask about some of the common pitfalls and mistakes people make — and how to avoid them. Here are some lists of “do’s and don’ts” to consider as you work to make your family safe and warm this winter.
When decorating for Christmas…
Don’t go to the store and ask for an extension cord with male prongs on both ends, said Kit Gikiu, a clerk at Krengel’s Hardware. That doesn’t exist, but he still gets asked about it every year. “No manufacturer is ever going to make something like that,” he said. Instead, before you start putting lights on your house, make sure that the string ends will plug into each other.
Don’t connect more light strips than the manufacturer’s recommendations, and don’t overload extension cords. “Stringing several electrical cords together is a bad idea,” Twin Falls Fire Chief Les Kenworthy said.
Do make sure outside lights are Underwriters Laboratories listed and approved for outdoor use, Fire Marshal Tim Lauda said. Don’t leave them outside for extended periods of time, because sunlight can damage the wiring if it is left out after the holidays.
Do replace loose bulbs and frayed wires before installing lights.
Don’t leave lit candles unattended or around small children. If possible, keep a candle in a container that’s non-combustible and doesn’t overheat — and consider LED alternatives, Kenworthy said. And, “Never ever put a lit candle on a Christmas tree,” Lauda said.
Do make sure Christmas trees are 3 feet away from a heat source. “Do not set them up where they block an exit,” Lauda said.
Do make sure your tree is fresh by checking to see if the needles are green and pliable and don’t fall off easily. Keep the tree well-watered and in a stand that will not tip over.
Don’t burn a Christmas tree inside a fireplace. It will burn too hot, Lauda said. “It’s best just to get rid of them” after the holidays — and don’t lean them against the house.
Don’t plug surge protectors into one another; this can cause a fire.
Don’t use tinsel, holly, mistletoe or poinsettias if you have animals that might ingest them. The Minidoka Extension Office of the University of Idaho says candy canes can also be a choking hazard for dogs, and the sugar-free ones made with xylitol are poisonous to them.
When trying to stay warm…
Do put clear plastic over your windows if they aren’t double-paned, Gikiu said. This will help keep your house warm.
Do make sure your weather stripping is intact.
Don’t turn your thermostat up higher than normal to try to heat your house faster. “A home will warm up to 70 F just as quickly if the thermostat is set at 70 F as it would if it was set at 80 F,” Idaho Power spokesman Jordan Rodriguez said. Setting it higher won’t heat your home faster, and it will use up more energy as the heating system continues to run to reach the set point.
Don’t close off vents or doors to unused rooms. Heating or cooling systems typically balance their load throughout the duct system, Rodriguez said, so if one vent gets closed off it throws the system off balance and will waste energy as the heat kicks back on. The exception: If your home has baseboard heaters.
Do insulate your home well. Good insulation and no drafts will help keep your home warm, Rodriguez said. There’s really no such thing as too much insulation, he said.
Do have your furnace and fireplace maintained regularly, Kenworthy said. Buildup on chimney walls can catch fire, crack mortar and get up into the attic.
Do open your curtains and blinds during the daytime, Rodriguez said. That can help your house warm up naturally.
Don’t place a space heater near any combustibles. Make sure you have a newer model that switches off if it is tipped over — and test it out yourself, Kenworthy said.
Don’t plug space heaters into extension cords or surge protectors. They should be plugged directly into a wall because they have too much amp draw for a surge protector, Lauda said.
Don’t burn wrapping paper in the fireplace, as it may contain metallic materials that’s hazardous to breathe in.
Don’t leave the kitchen. If you do, take a mitt or spoon or something to remind yourself that you’re cooking, Lauda said.
Don’t throw water on a grease fire. Twin Falls fire officials say to put out the fire, try smothering it with a lid or use baking soda to extinguish it. Flour and sugar are flammable so they will not work, Lauda said.
Do make sure your fire extinguisher is rated for all types of fires.
When removing ice outside…
Don’t use ice melt if your home is less than a year old, Gikiu said. “On any new concrete, they don’t want to use any ice melt on it at all,” he said. Concrete sidewalks or walkways take about a year to cure, and ice melt will erode even older concrete over time. If you can, try sweeping it off the pavement when it’s dry, to help preserve the concrete, he said.
Do clean snow away from gas vents, as a way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, Lauda said. Also make sure the leaves are picked up around vents, as these can create mold in a crawlspace, for example.
Do make sure your sprinkler system is turned off and blown out, Gikiu said. Disconnect your hose from your faucet and consider getting a foam cover for your hose bib to help prevent your pipes from freezing.
When hitting the roads…
Don’t turn on your car’s heater until the engine has warmed up, recommends AAA Idaho’s Matthew Conde. Otherwise, the heater will pull moisture from outside and fog up your windshield. “You can always use air conditioning to help with that” or crack a window, Conde said.
Do take the time to scrape as much ice as you can off the windshield. Otherwise, built-up ice will increase the likelihood of your window fogging up.
Don’t clear off ice using your wiper blades, Conde said. That will hurt the plastic lining and cause them to skip and streak over your windshield. “You definitely don’t want to create a situation where that tool can no longer work for you,” Conde said.
Don’t use warm water to deice your windshield. Conde learned the hard way in college that that will only create another sheet of ice. Instead, a deicer spray can help you get off what you can’t scrape.
Do consider putting on winter tires. These are different than all-weather tires, which have a tread that hardens in winter and reduces traction control. Softer winter tires have deeper tread and a better grip, Conde said. “Those things that make it great are the things that make you want to take it off in the summer,” he said.
Do keep your gas tank at least half-full while driving around, Conde said. This will not only ensure you have the extra gas available for idling and staying warm, but it can help prevent condensation building up in your gas tank. Condensation can make a vehicle harder to start, he said.
Do clean your headlight lenses. These often get neglected, Conde said, but a dirty lens can reduce illumination power by up to 90 percent — making it harder to see and to be seen. Take the squeegee at the gas station and use it to clean your lenses at the same time as your windows, he said.
Don’t slam on the brakes when you’re sliding. Instead, focus more on steering over braking and continue to steer in the direction you want to go, Conde said. If you have to stop, avoid pumping the brakes if you have an anti-lock braking system; just plant, steer and apply pressure. The pulsing of the pedal is normal. If you don’t have ABS, keep your heel on the floor and use the ball of the foot to apply pressure and ease off. “Your finer control is in your ankle muscle,” Conde said. “If your foot is completely off the ground, then you’re actually using your thigh muscle.”
Do increase your following distance two to three times more than normal in slick conditions, Conde said.
Do keep some emergency items in your vehicle. If you’re afraid of getting stuck, have a good folding shovel and some sand or kitty litter to dump in front of the drive wheels, Conde said. In a pinch, even the floor mat of your car could provide some traction because the rubberized material on the bottom will help it grip the ground better.
Do make sure your tailpipe is clear of snow or debris, Conde said. This might happen, for instance, if you backed into a snowbank or get stuck. The danger of leaving it blocked is you could end up with carbon monoxide in your car.
Don’t ever leave a car running inside the garage — even if the door is open. Carbon monoxide can seep into the home.
When you leave your home…
Do unplug appliances that have lights on them when they are turned off. DVR players and computers, especially, will continue using a small amount of power even when they are off but still plugged in, Rodriguez said. This is known as “phantom load” and can play a part in your power bill even when you’re not using them.
Do lower your thermostat 10-15 degrees if you’ll be gone or asleep for six to eight hours, Rodriguez said. A heating system will use more energy to maintain a set temperature than it will to bring your home back up to that temperature. For heat pumps, set them back only 2 to 4 degrees.
Do lock up your house. Tell neighbors that you trust that you’re going away and to keep an eye out. The Minidoka Extension Office recommends having the post office stop your mail, and have indoor and outdoor lights set on timers so they go on and off at random times during the night.