With the long-range weather forecast for the Madison area calling for a frigid start to 2023, making sure your home is safe during what could be a nasty winter should be a top priority. Here are five suggestions to do just that.


1. Prevent your pipes from freezing. 

The City of Madison suggests double-checking outdoor hose bibs to ensure all hoses are disconnected and faucets are turned off and drained; insulate pipes in unheated areas like unheated garages and attics; and if you are away from home for multiple days, set the thermostat to at least 55 degrees and open cabinets where sink plumbing is against an outside wall. City officials also recommend locating the master valve that shuts off water to your entire home and confirming everyone in the household knows where it is in case a pipe does freeze and burst. And, of course, never try to thaw a frozen pipe with an open flame.


2. Trim the trees — and not just the holiday ones. 

A wintry mix of rain and snow can cause ice to accumulate on tree limbs — which could snap and cause some serious property damage. That’s why DirectEnergy.com recommends trimming branches that otherwise could go through the roof or a window. Sometimes icy buildup can bring down power lines, too, and leave your home without electricity in the middle of winter. In that case, MGE.com suggests closing off unneeded space to conserve heat, limiting how often you open and close exterior doors, and not using the stove for heat. Which bring us to…  


3. Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. 

As outside temperatures drop, the stove, furnace and water heater — all common sources of invisible and odorless yet toxic carbon monoxide — can work overtime. As FirstAlert.com notes, “winter is a peak time for carbon monoxide poisoning, as more people start to utilize their fuel-burning devices. Carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced if they are more than five years old, while smoke detectors should be replaced after 10 years, according to SafeHome.org, which also recommends creating an evacuation plan should a detector go off. Also worth noting: A furnace vent clogged with snow or ice can cause a backup of carbon monoxide in your home.


4. Use caution around the fireplace. 

If you haven’t lit the fireplace yet, you probably will soon. And when you do, keep Christmas trees at least three feet away from it. Heat dries out a real tree, making it ignite easily. A fireplace flue should remain unclogged, too, so it can draw smoke out of the house, and do not close it until the embers die. A closed flue could help the fire heat up again and force carbon monoxide into the home. Additionally, clean out ashes from previous fires and store them in a covered metal container that is kept outside and at least 10 feet from the home or other structures, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Consider burning a chimney-cleaning log that will reduce certain types of creosote buildup, too, and don’t forget to have the chimney cleaned every year. 


5. Use caution when shoveling the driveways and sidewalks 

Thousands of people are injured — and an estimated 100 die — every year while shoveling snow. The American Heart Association warns that the risk of a heart attack may be higher for some individuals because the combination of colder temperatures and physical exertion increases the heart’s workload. Sedentary people or those with existing heart conditions, high blood pressure or high cholesterol are at a greater risk for experiencing a heart attack while shoveling snow. So, remember to lift with your legs (not your back), take frequent breaks and consider opting against the biggest shovel you can find for a smaller one (which will force you to lift smaller amounts of snow and reduce strain). Or try using salt, de-icing sprays or heated sidewalk mats instead of shoveling.

As winter settles over south-central Wisconsin, take the time to keep yourself, your home and your family safe. Stay warm! 

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