Illinois winters are notorious for snowfall and below freezing temperatures.
Here are some tips to stay warm, safe and energy efficient.
Staying safe in low temperatures
- Check on neighbors and loved ones. If you or someone you know doesn’t have access to heat, Keep Warm Illinois lists warming centers near you.
- Be careful when doing outdoor tasks like shoveling snow. Wear multiple layers of lightweight clothing rather than one thick garment, as this will help keep you insulated. Make sure to cover your head, wear mittens and take frequent breaks.
- We know pets can be part of your family, too. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has plenty of cold-weather tips for your pets.
- Remember: Stay inside if you can, and be wary of the wind chill. Prolonged exposure to cold can lead to frostbite and hypothermia. (Know the signs!)
Prepare yourself for wintry weather
Maintain an emergency kit with the essentials. This includes practical items such as bottled water, snacks, a battery-powered radio, flashlights, a first aid kit and extra cash. (Have batteries and a portable cellphone charger also.) Experts say that you should be prepared with enough supplies to last three days. Some examples of sufficient supplies include:
- One gallon of water per person per day.
- At least a three-day supply of non-perishable food.
Be ready to report any outages to your utility company. Wintry weather can spark power outages. By reporting these failures, utility companies can get to work as quickly as possible to restore your power. The following is a list of resources from the major utility companies operating in Illinois.
- See power outage maps for Ameren Illinois, ComEd and MidAmerican.
- ComEd: Visit https://www.comed.com/Outages/ReportAnOutage/Pages/default.aspx for information on the variety of ways to report outages. Sign up for ComEd’s messaging program for outage updates, including estimated restoration times.
- Ameren: Visit https://www.ameren.com/illinois/outage-center for information on reporting outages and preparing for bad weather. Sign up for Ameren’s outage alert system.
- MidAmerican: Report outages using https://www.midamericanenergy.com/ecss/Outage
- The major gas utilities, Ameren, Nicor, North Shore Gas, MidAmerican and Peoples Gas, also have tips on heating safety, including what to do when you smell gas and how to identify carbon monoxide poisoning.
Additional winter weather resources:
- Need to call utility? Here’s a list of utility hotlines.
- The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has a winter storm preparedness guide. It also has an updated list of county-level Emergency Management Agencies (EMAs).
- Ready Illinois has winter tips as does the Illinois Department of Public Health.
- The National Weather Service has detailed information on winter storm alerts. (Illinois-specific info is here.)
Follow these guidelines if you experience a power outage:
- Contact your support network to let people know that you are OK. Also, monitor alerts about the outage.
- Keep your freezers and refrigerators closed as much as possible. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full).
- Use perishable food from the refrigerator first. Perishables should have a temperature under 40 degrees Fahrenheit to be safe to eat. (Use a food thermometer to check, and throw out the food if it’s 40 degrees or higher. When in doubt throw it out.) THEN use food from the freezer. And THEN use your non-perishable food and staples.
- If it looks like the power outage will continue beyond a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items. Keep food in a dry, cool spot and keep it covered at all times. Monitor temperatures with a thermometer.
- Prevent power overloads and fire hazards. Unplug appliances and electronics to avoid power overloads or damage from power surges once power is restored. (Leave one light plugged in and switched on so that you will get signaled when the power comes back on.) Use flashlights, not candles. If any circuit breakers have been tripped, contact an electrician to inspect them before turning them on.
- Evacuate if your home is too cold, or if you have medical needs that require power. See if there’s a warming center (equipped with power charging stations) near you.
- Stay away from fallen or low-hanging wires or anything they contact. Don’t try to “help” utility workers by moving branches off the lines. Keep a safe distance (at least 10 feet) and call your utility.
- Stay alert for natural gas odors. If you smell natural gas, or if you hear a blowing or hissing noise, leave the area immediately and call your utility.
Preventing frozen pipes
Take extra steps to prevent frozen pipes, which is a costly repair:
- Let your faucets (just barely) drip cold water overnight to prevent pipes from freezing. Consider collecting the water to use for later, such as watering houseplants. During a relatively brief cold-weather snap, a short-term trickle is less costly than a burst pipe, one water company says.
- Open your cabinet doors under the sink to expose pipes to warmer room temperatures. (If you have small children at home, just remember to hide any harmful cleaners and chemicals.)
- Do not turn the heat off at night. If you’re going out of town, do not keep your home lower than 55 degrees–that could cause the pipes to freeze and burst. Have a friend or neighbor check your home periodically to ensure your pipes don’t freeze.
Read these tips from the American Red Cross.
Tips on heating safety
- Fireplaces can be warming and cozy, but dirty chimneys account for nearly 30 percent of home-heating fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). As with space heaters, keep objects away from fireplaces. Efficiency tip: When you’re done using the fireplace, close the damper so warm air doesn’t escape up the chimney.
- As the Illinois Department of Public Health points out, “any heater that uses wood, coal, natural gas, or kerosene produces carbon monoxide (CO), so adequate ventilation is essential.” To prevent possible carbon monoxide poisoning, only use generators outdoors and avoid warming up your car inside your closed garage. (Know the signs of poisoning.) It may be tempting during extreme cold, but don’t use an oven or grill to heat your home. Don’t use outdoor stoves indoors for cooking. Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas to provide early warning of problems. Make sure they’re all in working order. (Same with smoke detectors.)
- If you use a space heater, keep children and pets away from it. Place it on a hard, level surface; keep it away from flammable objects; and don’t leave it on overnight. Also, the Department of Energy recommends that such heaters should be plugged directly into the wall outlet. (If an extension cord is necessary, use the shortest possible heavy-duty cord of 14-gauge wire or larger. Check and follow any manufacturer’s instructions.) The department also recommends buying a unit with a safety switch that automatically shuts off the heater if the unit is tipped over.
Home tips and energy efficiency
Practicing energy efficiency is the safest and most reliable way to stay warm during the winter.
- Keep your home at a steady, safe temperature (about 68-70 degrees). Blasting the heat can be bad for your furnace and your heating bills, but going too low is dangerous to your health. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends keeping your thermostat at about 68 degrees when you’re home and awake, and lowering it when you’re leaving the house or going to sleep. Don’t ever set it below 55 degrees–that risks freezing your pipes.
- Don’t overwork your heating system. Clean your radiators, air returns, vents and make sure your furniture isn’t blocking any sources of heat. Close blinds as an extra layer of protection against icy night winds. But open them during the day so sunlight can help heat and light your home.
- Circulate the heat with the help of a ceiling fan. (In the winter, run the fan clockwise.) Make sure to turn the fan off when you leave.
- Cold weather is a great way to discover drafts in your home. Sealing your windows and doors with weather-stripping will help prevent cold drafts from coming through. If you’re not able to seal drafts immediately with tools from the hardware store, roll-up a towel and push it against the bottom of doors to temporarily reduce the drafts during extreme weather. Drafts not only let heat escape from your home, but they can cause money to escape from your wallet. According to Energy.gov, poor insulation can account for up to 30 percent of your energy bills.
- More energy efficiency tips.