Winter Care Tips and Precautions for Pets, People, Plants, and Possessions: Less Money, More Safety
By Vicki McClure Davidson
While it does get cold here in my region of Arizona during the winter, rarely does it get anywhere near freezing, especially during the day. While it doesn’t snow here in the Phoenix area, it does in the higher Arizona mountain regions.
We do get a few frost warnings for nights during December and January. So, the kids and I round up several large towels and old sheets and drape them over all my delicate, heat-loving plants. The next day, we remove them so the sun can warm the plants. That’s a big chunk of my hands-on winter care experience.
For folks in other parts of the country, it’s so much more time-intensive than that. A lot of precautions must be made before the first snow falls and continued thereafter.
Here are all sorts of inexpensive winterizing tips for dealing with extreme cold, heavy rain, snow, sleet, ice, fog, or blizzards. Many of these winter care tips can be used no matter where you live in the world. By following them, you’ll not only save money by preventing more costly repairs or replacements later, but you and your family will be safer.
Winter Care Hints & Tips
Family and Pets
- To protect your skin, and that of your family’s, from the ravages of winter cold, be sure to drink plenty of water to keep hydrated, always wear gloves when going outside, use plenty of moisturizer, put on protective lip balm, and apply a sunscreen of 15 SPF or more when going out during the day. The sun is still damaging to skin during the winter months, and is even more damaging when reflected off snow or ice. Be sure to put sunscreen on your children’s faces before they charge outside to have a snowball fight with friends. Inexpensive choices to seal in moisture in your face and hands are using a bit of petroleum jelly or baby oil. These work just as well, sometimes better, than pricey cosmetic-company creams. They also act as a block to the dehydrating effects of cold winds.
- If you or a family member is walking in a snowy area that has nearby vehicle traffic, you need to keep warm by dressing in layers, but you must also make sure that your hat or scarf doesn’t prevent you from hearing what’s around you. Snow drifts can act as sound blockers or sound absorbers, muffling the sounds of approaching motor vehicles. Wearing hats, ear muffs, and scarves that cover your ears also can distort or even eliminate these sounds. This is not to suggest that you should forgo wearing head protection when walking, but rather, be aware of the potential dangers they can impose on you and take action to be more aware of your surroundings and vehicles. Dart your eyes back and forth from your path to the street, as you would do from your rear view mirror to your side view mirror when driving your vehicle to continually assess what’s going on around you. If you’re listening to an iPod, turn the volume down. Better still, leave it at home. Being aware is cost-free to keeping you safe.
- Pets should be kept inside, except when taken out for walks and for exercise, when the temperatures outside drop low. However, if keeping your dog or cat inside the entire winter isn’t possible, let them out for only short periods during the day and supervise them whenever possible. If your pet spends a lot of time out in the cold, be aware that Spike or Fluffy will need more food than usual because keeping warm uses up a lot of body energy. If your pet’s water dish is kept outside, check it daily to make certain the water is fresh and not frozen. Use plastic food and water bowls outdoors rather than metal; when the temperature is low, your pet’s tongue can actually stick and freeze to the metal.
- Short-haired dogs will benefit from wearing a protective doggie sweater or coat when taken for walks or exercising. Limit the time outdoors for older dogs if the temperature is below freezing.
- When on walks, protect your dog’s feet with some kind of waterproof dog booties, especially if you live in a snowy region. Snow can camouflage hidden rocks, sharp edges of broken branches, and other dangerous debris that your dog may step or leap on (especially in snow drifts or piles), necessitating a costly trip to the vet. Also, chemicals or salt used by the city to melt snow can be drying or cause allergic reactions if your dog’s bare feet are exposed to them for any length of time. Slush, icy water, and snow, in addition to it being just plain COLD, will dry out your dog’s foot pads. After each walk, check his or her feet to see if there are any cracks in the pads. A preventative, cheap method to keep the pads hydrated and supple is to apply a cream made for animals, like Bag Balm (helps soothe cuts, scratches, skin irritations, and paw abrasions) or Udder Cream (it’s available at any tack supply) every few days to protect the pads from developing painful cracking and possible bleeding, thus saving on expensive vet visits.
- If your dog is kept outside and you live in a cold region, he or she must have protection from the winter elements. A doghouse or other sleeping area that is outdoors must be dry and draft-free. Check the doghouse for leaks in the roof or cracks or loose boards in the walls; make repairs, if necessary, before winter sets in. The doghouse’s entrance should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic to keep snow, rain, and wind out. The interior must be large enough to allow the dog to sit and sleep comfortably, but small enough to be able to trap and retain the dog’s body heat. The floor of the doghouse shouldn’t sit on the cold ground. Be sure that it is raised a few inches off the ground. To better insulate it, cover the floor with cedar shavings or straw. The doghouse itself should be turned to face away from the wind—many people forget how frigid it can be with a significant wind chill. But as stated previously, it is much safer and healthier for your dog to be kept in your warm house with you and the family during the bitterly cold months of winter. He or she will be much happier, too.
- A major winter storm can be deadly, particularly if it lasts for several days. To make sure that you have the proper inventory of emergency supplies on hand, click here to go to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s website to read their emergency facts sheet for winter storms. The list is provided in Adobe Acrobat PDF format and provides valuable information not only for the members of your family, but for the family pets as well.
- Change your home’s furnace filter at the beginning of the fall season to save money. Filthy old furnace filters can block air flow and force the blower to work harder to pull air that’s needed to move the heat throughout your home. A fresh, clean furnace filter allows the air to move through freely. You should check your filter at least once a month and change it every three or four months. To test for replacement: If you hold the filter up to a light and can’t see much light passing through it, it is time for a filter change.
- Check all weatherstripping in your home before cold weather hits and replace if worn or damaged. Cold air seeping in will make your heating costs sky-rocket. For a few dollars of prevention, the savings is significant.
- When shoveling snow, spray nonstick vegetable spray on the snow shovel and the snow will slide off it easily. Be sure to pile all shoveled snow to the right of the driveway so that, later, a snow plow won’t undo your hard work. If you’re no longer in your 20s, there are some precautions you should take when shoveling snow. Make sure that the shovel is the right length. It should let you keep your back straight while you lift. If it’s too short, you’ll have to lean over while shoveling. Too long and the snow feels heavy. Lift small loads of snow, rather than large ones, to protect your back. Bend your knees. Keep your back straight and lift with your legs, not your back. Don’t twist and bend forward. The best time of day to shovel your driveway or sidewalk without hurting your back out is in the afternoon. You’re more likely to rupture a disk in the morning because they fill with fluid while you sleep. Also, the sun melts some of the snow, making it easier to lift. Another note is to step in the direction you’re throwing the snow and take frequent breaks. Gently walk around and straighten a bit to extend your lower back. If you have a history of heart trouble, do not shovel snow unless your doctor gives permission.
- Coating the outside of pipes during winter with WD-40 will help prevent freezing damage or pipe bursts.
- To protect your plants in the yard or garden, lay down layers of wet old newspapers followed by a layer of mulch around the plants. Recycling newspaper in this way is not only frugal, but it will help insulate the roots and keep them from freezing, as will the mulch. Both will help retain heat. The newspaper will also help keep down emerging weeds when spring arrives. Poke several holes in the newspaper before covering with mulch so that water can drain. In regions where freezing overnight temperatures are infrequent, tropical or desert plants need to be protected. Cover with fabric, like sheets, towels, or blankets, or pull container plants under patio roofs or awnings. Cold-sensitive container plants can be brought into the house or garage for protection.
- Some additional pro-active prevention can protect your trees and shrubs. If you live in a region that gets a lot of snow, be sure to gently brush off the branches of the shrubs and trees in your yard. Snow can be extremely heavy. A cubic foot of snow can weigh from seven pounds for snow that is new and dry, up to 30 pounds for old, compacted snow. Rain falling on accumulated snow will add more weight. Granted, small branches likely don’t support a cubic foot of snow, but larger ones with more girth or are close enough to other branches so as to “cradle” a large accumulation, most certainly can. When branches get wet and freeze, they can snap off from the added weight. Dormant plants are especially fragile and brittle, so be gentle and take care when removing snow from the branches.
Watering your plants before a freeze will protect the plants’ roots from freezing. Water, even when frozen, is warmer than freezing air.
- Spray some WD-40 on the bottom of your garage door to keep it from sticking to the concrete during winter. Other applications that will help include petroleum jelly and baby oil.
- If you have an outdoor fountain, before freezing temperatures hit, be sure to thoroughly drain the fountain and, if possible, cover it to protect it from harsh winter conditions. This will extend the life of it because frozen water expands and can permanently damage the fountain if water is trapped and frozen.
- If you live in a rural area, install snow fences to reduce snow from drifting in roads and paths, which could block access to homes, barns, and animals’ feed and water.
- As winter approaches, inspect the tread depth on your vehicle’s tires. Put a penny headfirst between the treads. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s hair, it’s time to replace the tire. While you’re checking the tires, be sure to do the same with checking your spare tire.
- Check all rubber hoses and belts on your vehicle to be sure that they’re not damaged from the summer heat or old age. Coolant hoses wear from the inside out. Inspect for heavy cracks or chunking in the belts. If necessary, have a professional inspect all the hoses and belts.
- You can prevent ice from covering your windshields during a storm with these easy (and frugal) measures. If you’re traveling during a storm, once you’ve parked, put a large, flattened piece of cardboard or the floor mats from your car over the windshield, securing them under the wipers. When you’re ready to leave, gently crack the wipers free and remove the covering. Your windshield will be clear and ice-free, without any scraping. Another option to eliminating ice is putting large garbage bags that are taped together across the windshield, closed in the driver and front passenger doors. If you forget to cover your windshield, rather than buy an ice scraper, a heavy, sturdy plastic spatula or old credit card will make for an adequate ice scraper substitute.
- To keep your car or truck door locks from freezing during the winter, spray them with a little squirt of WD-40. Another option, if they should freeze, is to warm the vehicle key with a match or a lighter, then try putting it into the frozen lock, thawing your way in. You’ll have to do this several times. You can also try putting the key in as far as it will go, then burn a piece of twisted paper near the frozen lock and key.
- Check your vehicle’s antifreeze before winter sets in. The best ratio of antifreeze to water is 50/50. After adding any antifreeze to your vehicle, thoroughly clean up any spills. If your cat walks through a small spill of antifreeze and then licks its paws to clean them, that could be enough to kill it. Many animals like the smell and taste of antifreeze. Ingesting even a small amount can be deadly. Store antifreeze in tightly closed containers and store where pets and children cannot get to them.
- You can eliminate foggy windshields and car windows during the winter months. Buy an inexpensive chalkboard eraser and keep it in your vehicle’s glove compartment. When the windows fog up, rub them with the eraser. This method is great, working better than a cloth rag.
- In snowy regions of the country, snow and ice in the roads are melted by using vast quantities of salt. This salt can build-up under your car and create all sorts of havoc, including rust. For a DIY solution to remove the salt and mud from your undercarriage, try this on warm winter days or when the worst of the storm is over. Place a lawn sprinkler underneath the car and run it for half an hour. An easier, but more expensive, option is frequent trips to your local car wash to remove the salt. To get the tracked-in salt out of the car’s carpets and floor mats, wash them with a solution of one part vinegar and two parts water. The vinegar should break down the salty residue.
- A light coating of WD-40 will easily prevent your car’s antenna from freezing.
- Baby oil is a cheap and useful polish for vehicle hub caps, keeping them preserved and shiny. Don’t put too much on, though, as you don’t want them to become dirt magnets. Whatever dirt, mud, or salt does collect should wash off extremely easily.
- Assemble a winter emergency kit for the trunk of your vehicle. It should include a blanket, extra boots and gloves, jumper cables, an ice scraper, windshield washer fluid, a first-aid kit, flares, a small snow shovel, a flashlight, non-clumping kitty litter (for traction, should your vehicle get stuck in the snow), a small container of Vaseline, and bottled water. Tossing in a few packaged energy bars and beef jerky strips wouldn’t hurt, either, should you or your family be incapacitated or stuck for an extended period of time.
American Veterinary Medical Association’s website, “Emergency Facts Sheet – Winter Storm,” (www.avma.org/disaster/responseguide/E_winter.pdf).
Henry J. Fishman, M.D., Shoveling Snow Painlessly – It Can Be Done… But Do You Really Want to Do It?, Consumer Affairs website, (www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2007/02/snow.html), February 14, 2007.
Humane Society of the United States website, “Protect Your Pet from Winter’s Woes,” (www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/protect_your_pet_from_winters_woes.html).
Lyken Garner, Anne, “10 Top (Legal) Things to Do if You Find Yourself Left Holding a Bottle of Baby Oil,” (www.gomestic.com/Home/10-Top-Legal-Things-to-Do-If-You-Find-Yourself-Left-Holding-a-Bottle-of-Baby-Oil.185849).
Merel, Marc, Dog Hobbyist website, “Winter Time Warnings: Cold Weather Care for Your Dogs,” (www.doghobbyist.com/articles/DogHobbyist/WinterWarnings.html).
MinnSNOWta website, “Roof Razor,” (www.minnsnowta.com/snowloading.html).
WD-40 website, (www.wd40.com/).
Russell, Ellen, Do It Yourself website, “Winter Car Tips and Tricks for Easier Winter Driving,” (http://www.doityourself.com/stry/winterdrivingtips).
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