South Africa may be marketed as “sunny South Africa” but our winters can be very cold, and we sometimes even have snowfalls in high-lying areas. Here are some essential checks that should be done to keep your property and your loved ones safe during the winter.
Stay warm, safely
Chimneys and fireplaces account for nearly three in every 10 fires caused by home heating. Get your chimney, fireplace, and roof inspected by professionals and cleaned, if necessary. Ask them to check for loose tiles while they are up there.
Use a fireplace screen to keep burning embers from shooting out and landing on a rug or carpet. Check that ashes are cool before you dispose of them.
Get gas heaters that will keep working during load shedding (and ensure you have a backup gas cylinder). Heaters – gas and electrical – may be essential for staying warm but they are potentially dangerous, and are responsible for 80% of HHE (home heating equipment) deaths and injuries. Never leave an open flame, fire, active heater or electric blanket unattended. Keep a ‘safety zone’ of at least one metre clear around heating equipment, especially if children or pets that could knock them over are in the home. Never position a heater or have an open flame near flammable or combustible materials such as rugs and curtains. Turn heaters off when you leave a room or go to sleep.
Keep rechargeable LED lights, torches or other battery-powered devices on hand in case of power outages so you don’t have to rely on candles. Have a pile of thick fleece blankets in your living areas to snuggle under.
Insulate or ‘winterise’ your home
Pipes located on exterior walls or in unheated interior spaces such as the garage are most vulnerable during icy conditions. Lag water pipes to prevent them from freezing and cracking or bursting. If very cold weather is anticipated, disconnect garden hoses and drain sprinkler systems.
If you live in a winter rainfall region, check your gutters and drains and remove autumn leaves so that rainwater can flow away. Cut away overhanging branches that could fall and damage buildings in storms and high winds.
It costs money to warm your home, so check that your heat stays inside – prevent loss of warm air from under doors and window frames.
It will get darker earlier, so install solar- or battery-powered movement/light sensors and security lights outside so that you can see clearly when arriving home after nightfall.
Most falls that cause injuries in older adults occur in or around their home. Be cautious when stepping onto tiled or paved areas after rain and frost.
Caring for pets and plants
Ensure that all animals that live outside have adequate shelter and that dog kennels have the entrance protected from the weather. Add an extra washable blanket or two for added insulation and warmth. Keeping pets inside during winter nights is the kindest option.
Cover frost-sensitive plants as soon as the days get colder, and move smaller potted plants inside or under a patio. Cover plants before nightfall to trap in the warmer daytime air.
Very cold weather can cause batteries to drain, fluids to freeze, and seals to crack, so you need to show vehicles a bit of extra care at this time of year.
Car batteries tend to give more problems during winter because increased amps are drawn by the starter to crank a cold engine. The AA advises, “If you struggle to start your vehicle, do not crank the engine continuously as this may damage the starter, car battery, and other electronic components.”
Ideally, book your vehicle in to be serviced before the cold arrives. Get the battery, brake and coolant levels checked. This will help to identify any potential problems and will ensure that your car is in good condition for winter. Also check the condition of your wiper blades and replace them if needed.
Tyres keep you and your vehicle connected to the road surface, so ensure they are in good condition – worn tyres are always potentially dangerous but even more so when roads are wet and icy. Check that your tyres are inflated to the correct pressure according to the manufacturer’s guidelines for optimal road-holding and tyre life.
Ensure that your vehicle headlights are working properly – you maybe commuting in darkness now that winter is here, and you should always turn on your headlights when driving in bad weather for increased visibility. Always switch the headlights off when you reach your destination – another AA tip is to try to park your vehicle facing a wall, so the reflection of the lights will act as a reminder to switch them off. Also ensure you turn off interior lights as these may drain your battery if left on.
If you park outside at night, you could find a layer of frost on the windscreen next morning. Never use warm water to clean this away as the windscreen might crack. Rather use a plastic scraper (an old credit card is ideal) to remove the ice. Using the air-conditioner to demist the interior of the car will also help. Make sure it is clear before you drive.
Finally, note that you should never warm up your vehicle in the garage, even if the door is open. Letting a car idle in a confined area can expose you to carbon monoxide and other harmful gasses.
So there you have it: a few handy hints to keep your property – and you – safe this winter.