Winter weather can be a study in chronic aggravation.
From the trifling trial of a frozen car door lock to the major menace of frozen pipes, winter storms and power outages, the cold can simply drive you batty if you are forced to contend with these maddening annoyances.
But there are plenty of things you can do to prepare for or avoid many winter worries. Here are a few tips on facing winter from a variety of sources found on the Internet, such as the American Automobile Association, as well as local sources including Homer Electric Association.
n Let's start with the car lock. When daylight doesn't come until 9 a.m. or later, most of us prefer to sleep in a few extra minutes which means heading out the front door with little time to spare, only to see our plan dissolve when the key won't turn the car door slot because ice has fouled the mechanism.
The easiest solution requires planning ahead.
Spray a little lubricant, such as WD-40 into the keyhole to help prevent freezing. Acquire some lock de-icer from the auto-parts store. Usually, the product has a small nozzle that fits into the lock allowing an alcohol-based liquid to be sprayed into the mechanism. A couple of minutes later, the lock should turn. Keep the de-icer in the garage, your purse or your pocket. It does you no good locked inside the car.
What if you don't have de-icer? Sometimes heating the key with a cigarette lighter and inserting it warm into the keyhole can help free the lock. You also could try a hair dryer, which should work after a few minutes. Don't pour hot water on the keyhole. It may free the lock, but the water will freeze, recreating the problem.
Sometimes, however, the problem isn't the key mechanism itself, but other parts of the linkage that opens the door. Those parts can become wet when the gasket that seals against leakage along the base of the window deteriorates. The same issues apply to the door gasket, which can freeze to the doorframe if water gets to where it shouldn't be. You could have the door adjusted to fit tighter or try leaving the doors unlocked during the winter. Replacing damaged gaskets, however, is the best idea.
n Frozen house pipes are an entirely different matter.
Proper insulation should prevent this problem. So can leaving a faucet slightly open so that water is moving in the pipe. Moving water will not freeze as quickly as still water.
Commercial heat tapes, which wrap around the pipe and use electrical current to keep pipes warm, will work, but they're risky, according to officials with the Homer Volunteer Fire Department, who counsel against their use.
"Our recommendation is don't use technology to treat symptoms," said Homer Fire Chief Bob Painter. "Keep the cold out and pipes don't freeze."
Anything electrical can fail, Painter said. If a breaker trips, great, but if it doesn't the heat tape could keep warming uncontrollably until it ignites something. Homes have been lost to fire as a result.
There are several things you can do to thaw frozen pipes. The Michigan State University Extension Service recommends wrapping the pipe in rags and pouring boiling water over them. Heating with a heat lamp, hair dryer, household iron or propane torch works, too, but heat from the faucet back along the pipe to prevent a build-up of trapped steam, which can burst the pipe. Keep the faucet open so you can see when the ice has thawed. Don't use ungrounded electrical appliances outdoors or near grounded water pipes. Also, know where your house water shut-off valve is located in case you need to turn off the water to repair a burst pipe.
Winter storms often result in power outages. A little bit of planning can make weathering blackouts easier maybe even a little romantic.
Keep an emergency kit flashlights, batteries, a clock, a radio (battery operated, or one of those wind-up kind). Something to remember, cordless phones won't work in a power outage. Have at least one regular phone.
Turn off the computer, VCRs and microwave ovens to prevent damage from power surges when the power is restored.
For longer-term outages, say those caused by truly severe storm damage or earthquake, preparedness is a matter of being ready for disaster, hopefully the kind of ready Alaskan families have spent time thinking about, said Joe Gallagher, public relations spokesperson for Homer Electric Association.
"It's about survival: water, blankets, sleeping bags, candles, matches, food, an alternative cooking method like a propane stove, axes and a saw to cut wood," he said.
A standby generator may be a good idea, but HEA encourages people who choose to purchase one to have it installed by or inspected by a qualified electrician. Installed improperly, a generator may damage your home, or send current back through HEA power lines endangering line workers, Gallagher said.
Also important for you and HEA is that the power company has accurate information about your home it's address and a correct phone number. Gallagher suggested that if you aren't sure, call HEA and give them the information. It could make a difference when a power outage happens.
HEA appreciates calls about power outages, but most often outages are going to be short-term events. If you lose power, Gallagher said, first check the breaker in your home. Call a neighbor to see if they've lost power, too. Often all it takes is a look outdoors, a night, to know if lights in your neighborhood are out.
"If a person has additional information, such as if they see a tree down on a line, or see a flash or hear a bang, that that can help out in restoration (of power)," he said.
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