Dealing With Subzero Temperatures

As I’m preparing to ring in the new year, I’m already over these cold temperatures (and I’m sure many of you are, too!). 

This biting cold causes our pipes to freeze, increases our heating bills, makes our cars more difficult to start, and quickly becomes the primary topic of conversation every day. 

We can’t do much about the conversation part, and we aren’t experts on cars, but we can certainly give you some tips on dealing with this frigid, subzero weather! And here they are: 

1. Learn to love socks. If your feet are cold, your whole body will feel cold, so make a point of wearing socks around the house in the winter. The next step if you’re still feeling cold: Bundle up in a sweater or a blanket rather than cranking up the heat. 

2. Tap heat that’s there anyway. There are plenty of activities you do around the house that generate warmth, such as cooking a meal or taking a shower. When you shower, keep the bathroom door open so steam spreads to other rooms, and don’t turn a ventilation fan on; it will rapidly remove the warm air you’re hoping to keep around. 

3. Lower your thermostat. You likely won’t notice a huge difference if you turn it down just a few degrees, a move that can shave 5  to 10 percent off your heating bill. It’s especially wise to turn down the heat whenever you leave your home for several hours. 

4. Watch that water heater. It’s also not likely to be noticeable if you turn down the thermostat on your water heater to, say, 120 degrees from about 140 degrees. 

5. Consider a programmable thermostat. They cost between $30 and $100, but that’s money you’re sure to make back over the course of a year because your heating bills will drop. A programmable thermostat allows you to adjust the heat on a predetermined schedule, so you can lower the heat when you’re not home or when you’re sleeping. 

6. Don’t let heat escape unnecessarily. Keep your doors and windows shut when the heat is on. If your home has a fireplace that you aren’t using, be sure the flue is closed and glass doors are in place to minimize heat loss. In addition to those bathroom ventilation fans, turn kitchen ventilation fans off when they aren’t needed. 

7. Call for a checkup. Proper maintenance will help your heating unit run more efficiently. Your furnace should get professional attention at least once a year. Also, here’s a step you can take all on your own: Remember to check the filters in your heating system and make sure they’re clean and clear. Dirty filters lead to higher heating costs. 

8. Keep windows covered when it’s dark outside. This will help you reduce heat loss and keep cold air at bay, especially if you have older windows. But be sure to let in the light during the daytime — those rays of sun will help heat your home. 

9. Light a candle. Not for warmth, but for the purpose of doing a little sleuth work. Hold the flame near windows, doors and light fixtures and look for smoke moving in a horizontal direction. If you see it, that means you’ve spotted an air leak, and it likely means heat is escaping your home easily. To solve that problem, install some low-cost caulking or weather-stripping, or consider adding some insulating material. 

10. Keep an eye on the outside temperature. Propane boils at -43.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperature lower than that CAN make it so the propane doesn’t turn into vapor, and then your furnace won’t work at all! So if the temperature is approaching that ungodly-cold level, use some snow or other insulating material to surround your tank. This is done commonly in colder states such as Minnesota and Alaska in order to insulate the tank from the cold air temperatures and wind chill. 

On the other hand, fuel oil (aka home heating fuel or #2) does not freeze but rather will "gel" or thicken to a soft wax. This begins to occur when temperatures drop below 32F, when the fuel starts to become "cloudy" (but still flows readily). As temperatures continue to drop (20F to 15F), wax or paraffin in the fuel begins to crystallize and separates from the oil. These crystals collect on filter surfaces and cling to the interior walls of the fuel lines that are subjected to these low temperatures and can reduce oil flow rates enough that the furnace shuts down. To prevent this from happening, contact your fuel provider for tips such as adding K-1 (kerosene) to the tank. This will mix with fuel oil and lower the "freeze" point, as the freeze point for K-1 is about -20F. K-1 will burn successfully in just about any home heating fuel oil furnace, but the downside is the expense. 

We hope these tips help you out, and we wish all of you a safe and Happy New Year!!

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